I forgot to tell Ruben before we got married that all of our conversations would serve as possible raw material for Mixonian Institute blog posts. Since my family members would usually prefer to have their teeth pulled without anesthesia than read what I write, I’m betting he won’t see this. Here’s what happened: Saturday night was our 1-week wedding anniversary and we had our first little spat because he wasn’t ready on time for our date. In response to my annoyance, he said something like, "Do you prefer a man who loves you or someone who remembers all anniversaries and who is never late?" Poor guy. He had attempted to argue the old False Dichotomy with a speech professor. Huge mistake. 😉
That’s one of the traditional rhetorical traps: presenting the audience with only 2 solutions, as if those were the only choices available. When a president tells the people they have the choice of supporting the war or supporting the terrorists, that’s a False Dichotomy. When an advertisement suggests that either you buy this wrinkle cream or you age prematurely and fall apart, that’s a False Dichotomy. If you look closely, you’ll see it ALL the time in media messages.
When I tell my son that either he mows the lawn or he forgoes eating dinner that evening, that’s not a False Dichotomy because he really won’t eat at my house if he fails to do his chores. As parents we often have to simplify complex situations for our children, even sometimes for those who are old enough to know better.
See the difference?
Most of the time when we’re debating between 2 options, we’re falling for the trap of the Either-Or fallacy, otherwise known as the False Dichotomy.
The thing is, when we’re faced with a challenging decision, we often see only 2 options: either A or B….we don’t see all the other possibilities. False dichotomies show up in all sorts of issues: work, relationship, health treatments, shopping choices, investments, child-rearing issues. It can be a matter of attaining a balance between overcomplicating the situation and oversimplifying it.
The solution is found in knowing what you want. When you are clear about that, your next step usually becomes apparent. Sometimes it helps to get compassionate and objective feedback from someone outside your situation, to see if you’re overcomplicating or oversimplifying things.
If you’re debating 2 options, and neither one appeals to you, take some time out to reflect on the situation.
What you can do is ask yourself, What option is out there that I’m not seeing right now?