Beware the False Dichotomy


The appeal of the dichotomy is understandable. It’s psychologically soothing to have two clear options, so we can act accordingly. Unfortunately, life is messy and complicated, and many of the dichotomies we embrace as a society are not only false, they are actively damaging.

Consider the false dichotomy of “fight or flight,” of which I’ve written before. If you believe you only have two possible responses to perceived threat of trauma, you won’t realize that freeze, flop, and friend may be more appropriate to the situation. You could end up punching your boss, because running away is for cowards.

Even worse, however, are the dichotomies we apply to sex, sexuality, and gender: you’re either gay or straight, male or female. What we are finally beginning to acknowledge is that these things exist on a spectrum, and the old labels just don’t work anymore. But there are still those who cling to these false dichotomies and refuse to recognize anyone’s identity if it doesn’t fit in a box. I admit that some of the new gender identities can be confusing; even I don’t understand them all. However, it is a core tenet of the Path that anyone has the right to self-identify, and have their chosen name and pronouns used, or their sexual orientations respected, as an expression of Compassion and Patience. (There is an absurdist argument presented against recognizing gender identity that one could identify as an Apache helicopter. To which I respond that, yes, I will call you an Apache helicopter if you wish, but I don’t think the military will buy it.)

Perhaps one of the most socially damaging false dichotomies is: You’re either with us, or you’re against us. That one becomes truly absurd when it comes to political topics, but that’s when it is most often used. However, it is almost always possible to be neither with nor against some group or movement, and the ones who demand otherwise are usually dangerous extremists.

So, when you are offered a dichotomy, ask yourself: Are there other options? So few things are truly black or white.


Reverend CJ Carlin


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