Some of you may have seen the cartoon “All in the Family” in Sundays Comics. The older boy is telling his little brother as his mother carries away a toy they were fighting over—-“Everytime I say “its mine” and you say “its yours”, Mommy gets it !! That’s the way things are in a competitive world where we either win or lose. We often end up with both of us losing. This is true in our schools where we compete for grades when teachers grade on the curve. Instead of learning together so that all can succeed we compete with our schoolmates for the grade that will tell the world whether we are intelligent or stupid; whether we will stop education after high school or go to college and graduate school. It’s all competitive. How much brainpower and talent is lost because of this? In our business world we are either successful or not—-success means we stay in business, not successful means bankruptcy. In national affairs you are either a Democrat or a Republican and when one or the other has to win the big losers are the American people and the general welfare. In international affairs you either a friend or an enemy of our country. It goes on and on.
Most of our individual, national, and international problems are caused by this dualistic type of thinking. What is dualistic thinking? In this type of thinking there are only two sides. There is right or wrong, good or bad, decent or indecent, holy or of the devil. We must be either for or against issues. In many of our churches we must believe a certain way or we are going to Hell as heretics. If we are not “for” something we must be “against” it. It seems that our brains are almost hard-wired to think this way. And yet, there is another way we can think. It is called “holistic thinking” . To think “holistically”—not from the point of view of our own egos but from the point of view of our shared humanity is achieved by looking at the big picture rather than the picture through our own individual and ego-limited view. It is to consider that the answer may lie in “both/and” rather than “either/or”.
I recently attended a meeting at our church which featured a lady from our denomination’s Reconciliation Ministry. Her answer to racism was for us to dialogue about our differences. Never in the time she spoke did she say anything about sharing what we have in common! If we dwell on our differences then to bring about reconciliation some or both of us have to change. If we dwell on our agreements and our common needs and beliefs then we can say that there is not as much need to change. There is a common ground that we as humans all share that is somewhere between our differences. Searching for that common ground is the result of holistic thinking. Looking at the big picture rather than the limited ego-drive view that we as inidividuals have is to think holistically.
When we come to the the place where it doesn’t have to be either/ or but can be “both/and” we will find that most of the problems that divide us have solutions. The solution is to begin to look for commonalities, not differences.
A few examples may help: Those who are from different ethnic backgrounds who see things dualistically say: ” I must keep my culture and not allow anyone to change it—-or they can say—my culture is important and I will hold on to the parts important to me; but everyone doesn’t have to think of my culture as I do.” The latter is “both/and” thinking. It holds that it’s o.k to love my culture, but I am also a part of a larger culture that is the American culture and I have many things in common with my fellow Americans. I can be a “both/and” individual. Both my ethnic culture and my American culture are important to me. I don’t have to give up one to keep the other.
Think what this different way of thinking (“both/and”) might mean in politics. It doesn’t have to be the Democratic party winning or the Republican Party winning—it can be what is good for the American Way winning and both parties are a part of that way so both parties and the the American people as a whole win! Wouldn’t that be revolutionary in today’s partisan political warfare?
If we can give up our either/or ways and focus on the “both/and” ways, what a difference it would make, not only in politics, but religion, ethics, racial problems, and many other areas of our lives.
I have been reading a book by Karen Armstrong called 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life. In her book, Armstrong carefully documents how “compassion” is one of the key points in all of the principal world religions. That is a starting point for agreement among all countries and all religions. What a difference that might make if we did things for each other and for all of those around us on the basis of compassion. It would be revolutionary!!