Both/And Thinking

September 22nd, 2013

shades of greyHave you ever played the game, “Would you rather?” You have to answer scenarios about what you prefer. It could be anything from “Would you rather have no eyebrows or a monobrow?” to “Would you rather spend a year marooned on a deserted island or five years in prison?”

We tend to buy into the idea that we have to choose; either be this or that. Some common ones;

Introvert or extrovert!

Optimistic or pessimistic!

Thinker or feeler!

Ambitious or peaceful!

Independent or relational!

Creative or logical!

A lot of the time we hold on for grim life to either/ors as a feeble attempt to control situations, put ourselves and others in a box and feel a sense of self righteous security. But that’s not even real. No one and nothing is that black and white. We’re all changing, ALL the time.

What if we didn’t have to choose, one or the other? How liberating would it be to say “I’m BOTH and more?”

There are some times where you have to nail your colors to the mast and say “this is where I stand.” I know what’s true for me, and I will stand by it even if my knees knock, my voice shakes and the ground trembles beneath me.

But more often than not, your truths are many and varied. Be an enigma. Confuse yourself and surprise others, if you have to. You are a whole, ever changing, sometimes paradoxical, work in progress.

I love the image of a rose being both connected to the light of the sun AND the darkness of the soil.  Science Fiction author, Robin McKinley wrote,

The rose shadows said that they loved the sun, but that they also loved the dark, where their roots grew through the lightless mystery of the earth. The roses said: You do not have to choose.

rose in sun






This is SO liberating. You don’t always have to choose. Be all sorts of things and let others be all sorts of things. Be an introvert one day and an extrovert the next. Some days, be an extroverted introvert. Be a thinker on one issue and a feeler on another. Sometimes be a thinking feeler or feeling thinker. Be both optimistic and pessimistic in a blend you can’t even fully explain. Be liberal on one issue and conservative on another. Be happy and sad and so much more, all at the same time.

Stephen Chbosky wrote in Perks of Being A Wallflower,

I am both happy and sad at the same time, and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

Refuse to be pigeon holed. Be YOU, knowing that the “you” that is you is different in each moment. Accept it all. Go with it.

There is so little that is solid in your identity, so much less than we imagine, or even wish, sometimes. But think about it in a new way. Instead of thinking about change as insecurity, think of it as freedom. You are more than your thoughts, more than your emotions, more than your personality. None of that defines you, and none of the boxes people put you in are big enough to hold you. You are free to change and grow and become more of everything all the time.

Learn to love it all, even the grey. Author Libba Bray wrote,

In each of us lie good and bad, light and dark, art and pain, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. We’re each of us our own chiaroscuro, our own bit of illusion fighting to emerge into something solid, something real. We’ve got to forgive ourselves that. I must remember to forgive myself. Because there is a lot of grey to work with. No one can live in the light all the time.

I had to look up “chiaroscuro” and now it’s my favorite word. It’s about the shades of light and shadow used in art. Even light and dark are arbitrary distinctions. We’re ALL shades of light and shadow, modeling life as best we can.

Billy Joel had it so right in his song, Shades of Grey,

Some things were perfectly clear,
seen with the vision of youth
No doubts and nothing to fear,
I claimed the corner on truth
These days it’s harder to say
I know what I’m fighting for
My faith is falling away
I’m not that sure anymore

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  1. Beth Kindig says:

    What a great post. Thanks!

  2. Sandra Griffiths says:

    Yes, a great post – and so true!I was reminded of a game of strategy I played with two other people. At the end one of them told me I had made certain moves because I was either malicious or stupid, and would not be convinced that I had just done my best within the rules of the game! It can be neither “either … or …”! 

  3. Anonymous says:

    I laughed because I am all of those things.   We all are.  Some of us just don’t know it.   Thanks for bringing it up!!

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