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  • Writer's pictureHeather Simmons

The Truth About False Choices

There is a current of duplicity running rampant in our society these days, just beyond our line of sight. Acting as an undertow, if you will. It pulls at us ever so slowly while we're just swimming along, and before we know it we're hundreds of yards from the shore. It's the riptide called false choices.

You've seen it, even if you haven't named it. It meanders through our media and our politics and our belief systems and our own personal narratives. It decides whether or not we make a friend. Whether or not we go to bed thinking we're failures or if we've spent the day well. It goes like this: either I'm for this candidate or I hate him/her. Either I hold onto my values and shun someone, or I abandon my principles and love others. Either I agree with you or we can't be friends. Either I go to the gym right now or I'm a sloth. I win or I lose. If I win, you lose. If I'm a good mom, I can't be a good friend. Either I'm an artist full-time, or I can't eek out quality time for the craft and might as well just quit. Insert your own dilemma here.

This either/or mentality is designed to be crippling. It is designed to force a choice or an outcome. Politicians, charlatans, and just plain evil will use it to back you into a corner that isn't really there. Your own ego will use this device on you. And it always occurs - ALWAYS - when something important is on the line.

This Warm December | Watercolor on vellum 6" x 8"

I'm not going to spend too much time on the propaganda and political divisiveness that seems to be coming at us from every news outlet imaginable. I think we can all agree that anyone who says "you're either for us or against us" is probably not someone we should be for. And if you are for that someone, I'm still for you. I do not abandon you, even if you hate my guts. Because that's what the false choice has presented us with: either we all believe exactly the same thing and have zero disagreements about anything, or we're not allowed to breathe the same air. I disagree. I think it's having the option to hold different opinions that forms the bedrock of democracy and allows free thought and better ideas to float to the top. You and I can disagree on multiple fronts, but I still believe we can find common ground and make each other better. As iron sharpens iron, you know?

What I do want to address are the very thoughts that you and I can control... our own. I have found myself giving into this line of thought recently. Not about others, but about myself. If I don't get up by 5AM and start my morning right, the day is ruined. If I make poor (but yummy) choices for lunch, I'm never going to turn things around. If I don't write a blog post for six months (ahem...) then I might as well shut this whole site down. If I can't balance it all perfectly all the time then I shouldn't be doing any of it. I've created a bunch of false choices for myself and unwittingly forced decisions that actually had more than one right answer.

Because here's the truth: the day was not ruined when I woke up late. I have yet to die from eating carbs at lunch. Not a single person - not even my mother - emailed or texted me to ask why I hadn't written a post in six months. I just sold two pillows to someone in Minnesota after being AWOL from Instagram for months. Months! My ego creates these false choices to either shame me into submission or into remorse for not choosing the right thing. The reality is, there's more than one way to skin a cat. If I don't get up at 5AM, I can still do all of those routine-y things on my lunch break. Every single one of them. If I ruin my lunch, I can make sure I have a sensible dinner. If I don't reach my design goals, I can celebrate the ones I have accomplished that don't get published or seen or liked.

I have more choices than I'm allowing myself to have. Let that sink in. We have more options than we're allowing ourselves to have. We are limiting ourselves to an either/or principle and making things really hard for ourselves and hard for others, when both/and is available for the taking. My dumb example about my lunch matters because when I limit myself to a narrow construct of acceptable and unacceptable, it won't be long before I start pushing that belief system on others. It's not long before I throw my "as iron sharpens iron" verse out the window and adopt a "love it or leave it" mentality. It's not long before I have so much of my own self loathing that I'm unable to give grace to others. It's just not possible. The riptide will drown us if we're not careful.

I mentioned earlier that false choices are always presented when something important is on the line. If anyone ever gives you an either/or choice, it's because they want to keep you from seeing the other possibilities that might not benefit them as well as the only clear option they've laid before you. There's an entire game of smoke and mirrors happening of which you need to be aware. If it's unintentional and they're just not thinking outside the box, feel free to expand that damn box to hold a host of other options. We should be visionaries, not cronies. And if it's your own inner voice painting you into a corner, then have a nice little chat with yourself about how this is unacceptable. Protect your personal narrative because no one is going to do it for you.

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