Going Beyond Either/Or (Threes)

Black or white, the fork in the road, Republican or Democrat, male or female, smart or dumb, phonics or whole language, cats or dogs, tea or coffee, win or lose, right or wrong…  the list goes on, always focused on choosing one of two choices.

Why are we so drawn to these dichotomies?  And do they actually serve us in any positive way?

I often feel that these forced either/or choices close down conversations and limit the options and possibilities that would exist if we broadened the conversation to include more gray area, pathways between the two opposites typically posed.

What would happen to our country if our political system worked to solve pressing issues without regard to political party?  And what would happen in our schools if instead of classifying students as high or low achieving, we paid more attention to students’ strengths and interests and piqued their natural curiosity?  What if there were more options for success?

So when I saw the weekly photo challenge at the Daily Post today, I looked for a photo that not only met the challenge of threes, but also worked as a metaphor for me about moving away from these all-too-common dichotomies.  (In a footnote to this, after reading the threes prompt more closely, I see that I re-interpreted it before noticing the invitation to tell a three picture story.  I may be trying that in the next couple of days!)

I took this photo today from a bridge over a freeway leading to downtown San Diego.  I like the way you can see three distinct paths curving toward the city in the distance.  It’s interesting to me because I know that the freeway has southbound and northbound lanes…but at this juncture, there is a third route.  I love the idea of including additional options, of getting a more complete picture, of considering a bigger understanding of the story.


I’m not suggesting that three is the answer…we do enough with the ideas of high, medium, and low…but three does suggest getting beyond either/or thinking, making it at least a starting place for expanding the conversation.

What image would you chose to represent going beyond standard dichotomies?  How do you get yourself to go beyond the binary?

7 thoughts on “Going Beyond Either/Or (Threes)

  1. fmindlin

    Fascinating topic, a current preoccupation. One dichotomy which helped me to get beyond dichotomies is the distinction between deterministic systems, based on binaries, like all of computing with its ultimate reduction to 1’s and 0’s or + and -, and stochastic systems, like most of life, which allow for randomness and are indeterminate. The current breakthroughs in quantum computing will create computational capacities likely soon to outstrip the human brain, a stochastic system, whereas binary computations never stood a chance. It remains prudent to project benevolence onto our future mechanical and software augmenters.
    There is a two-cent version of numerology which I use to make a little birthday wish for friends, summing the digits of their birthday year: from the one who begets the two there then comes the three, activity, the triangle which always wants to move, followed by the foursquare structure, a firm foundation, then the five, the first true star, a real sparkler, drawn with a single line, making all these fancy crosses, then the six, double triangles, the earth’s profusion rising and the sky’s energy descending, meeting in perfect harmony, the seven is again a star, drawn with a single line, full of esoteric potential, combining the energy of the triangle with the stability of the square, creating a sum of more than its parts, the eight a double square, solidity elaborated and transformed into elegant structure, ending with the nine, three dancing triangles of energy, blowing it all out so we’re ready to return to the one again….

    1. kd0602 Post author

      Wow, Fred! You always teach me something new and add a new dimension to my thinking. Now I have to do some thinking and learning about stochastic systems understand where they fit in my tentative theories. Thanks for pushing my thinking!


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