Both, And.

Moving Out of An “Either/Or” World

“One thing is sure. We have to do something. We have to do the best we know how at the moment…; If it doesn’t turn out right, we can modify it as we go along.” — Franklin Roosevelt

Our society is addicted to problem solving.

In fact, there are many professionals out there who are WELL compensated for their ability to find answers to problems, and to help enterprises “just get on with everything.”

Problem solved. Right? Not so fast…

Want an example? Our two-party political party in the United States is ALL about either/or approaches to problems — instead of finding both/and ways to develop solutions. Democrat versus Republican is the ultimate example of “either/or” thinking. If you don’t agree with my way of thinking, I’ll just run one attack ad after another, and push the electorate into “either/or” choices. Getting elected is the goal. Finding solutions? Ahh… Different question.

Clearly, our politicians are a reflection of our culture. In our rush to move from one problem to the next, from one “quick answer” to another, we rarely take time to examine the “best” right answer, instead of settling for the “first” right answer. Or most “politically-safe” right answer, or “easiest-to-get-buy-in” right answer. Sound familiar?

I think this is one of the MOST deadly traps we fall into our fast-paced, go-go-go world. We’re constantly forced into making either/or decisions because we’re in the mode of problem solving. Now, don’t get me wrong — problems need solutions. But, there’s a different way to approach the whole thing — where amazing answers come forward, where incredible choices are available, where REAL power is everywhere.

It’s in “Both, And.” — not in either/or.

It is the rare leader who understands the need to live in the tension of opposites (as Jung would say) long enough to allow the teaching from the problem to be fully squeezed out. But… Again, we tend not to be rewarded for our abilities to be patient, to think long-term, to allow the best, right answer to come forward. We’re on incentive plans to “make things happen…” Even “not so good” things.

As Einstein is credited with saying, “We cannot solve today’s problems using the thinking that created them,” (or something to that effect), it’s time to change our thinking about either/or, about our addiction to problem solving and start the process of “Both/And solution finding.”

I am convinced the primary reason we are totally unable to elect a “both, and” president in the United States is because of this situation. We cannot look toward the middle, toward finding solutions instead of solving problems. Until more “both, and” thinking is pervasive, we’ll continue to have MAJOR problems, and lots of conflict in Washington (and Denver, and Sacramento, etc.).

Okay — for an example from an unexpected source. From Einstein to — well, Dr. John Gray. I’m reminded about our addiction to problem solving in a passage from his best known book, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” (excerpt from chapter two, “Mr. Fix-It and the Home Improvement Committee):

“The most frequently expressed complaint women have about men is that men don’t listen. Either a man completely ignores her when she speaks to him, or he listens for a few beats, assesses what is bothering her, and then proudly puts on his Mr. Fix-It cap and offers her a solution to make her feel better. He is confused when she doesn’t appreciate this gesture of love. No matter how many times she tells him that he’s not listening, he doesn’t get it and keeps doing the same thing. She wants empathy, but he thinks she wants solutions.”

By the way, I think this book should be required reading for all of us at three stages of life: 14 (when dating is on the horizon), 25-ish (when marriage is on the horizon), and 40-ish (when mid-life changes are on the horizon). Haven’t read it yet? Order it here.

So — what’s the answer?

Yes, the woman in John Gray’s excerpt needs an answer — eventually… Most importantly however, she needs understanding, empathy, listening, she wants both an answer AND empathy, not either/or. How many married relationships have suffered because of this dynamic? Most. Maybe nearly all.

And — the “Mr. Fix-It” is not just limited to males these days. There are plenty of “Ms. Fix-It’s” out there too.

Where else to you see a rush to solve problems — to create “either this, or that” thinking? How about politics? Quarterly financial results for public companies? What about approaches to education, to global climate change, to beliefs about parenting, religion, etc. How about everywhere?? Ever wonder why we have so many problems to solve? Because we’re addicted to the process of solving them.

Let’s move — just for a little while — into the world of “both, and…” — and let’s look toward finding solutions, not solving problems.

When we do that, the whole world looks different. Better. Both — And. Try it.

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