Either/or’s are usually neither.

We know this when we’re presented with false choices like “gentrification versus blight,” “jobs versus environment,” or “productivity versus special treatment.” We know we’re being told the story in an intentionally divisive way, that we can bring another perspective to light another pathway forward.

forked path

© Shutterstock.com/Andrew F. Kazmierski

Good organizing has always found ways out of the either/or trap. In the midst of massive displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area, Causa Justa/Just Cause is organizing low-income tenants, workers, and families to demand policies that create “development without displacement.” In the face of climate disaster, Climate Justice Alliance is helping to show that vibrant communities can anchor a world we’d all like to live in. Forced to carry heavy boxes or stand for long shifts, women employees of WalMart came together with women’s groups calling for workplaces made strong by worker commitment over the long haul. This past month WalMart began to shift its policies.

So, how come we get stuck in either/or’s within our movements? Why do we seem to spend so much time fighting each other?

I’m sure there’s a lot of great analysis/diagnosis/critique out there but in case we never sort through all that, here’s a nice little tool we can put to use right away. Whether it’s called “transcending dualities” or “transformation of opposites” or “finding a third way,” there are a few simple questions we can ask to get into a forward, not oppositional, stance.

As part of MSC’s work with Move to End Violence we put together a nice version of these questions – printed on small cards – that we could use in meetings when we start to feel stuck in an either/or moment.

Transcending Either/Or: Five Questions To Ask

First, take a nice relaxing breath. Then ask yourself:

1. What is the either/or thinking playing out here?

2. Where is there alignment?

3. Where is there difference and what is at the root of the difference?

4. What are the deepest needs and hopes being communicated?

5. If I take a step back, what is a third way, bridge, or bigger perspective on this issue?

Try these out the next time you’re in a social justice gathering and feel stuck.

Let’s transcend the “either/or” thinking that leads to false choices and false enemies, missed opportunities, and limited possibilities.