Years ago, I recall being consulted about a young boy whose father was in prison for a terrible crime. The child wanted to visit his father in prison, but the mom was conflicted. Should she exposure her son to the prison environment, which could be traumatic? OR Should she keep him away from a father was had done horrible things, which could also be traumatic?
It isn’t an easy decision, but the child could see a place for AND.
The young boy was aware that his father had committed a despicable crime, AND he could still love his father. Both realities could co-exist. He didn’t have to choose.
So often in life we want things to fit neatly into categories and boxes. Things are either good OR bad. They are right OR wrong. The problem is that life isn’t neat, and the boundaries are not so clear. People who see life as simply black OR white are chronically frustrated and often angry.
Commonly, I see people who are angry as hell with someone and still love that person enormously. They can hate what a person has done and still love that person. We are all multi-dimensional, and we can accommodate layers of emotions — even ones that conflict — all at once.
Feelings are not rational. It is when we judge those feelings that things get very cloudy. We can’t help what we feel. We can help what we do. No need to judge feelings. They can’t help but be messy.
More and more it feels like we live in a world that wants categorical commitment to one side, when I don’t think it is healthy or realistic. For example, I solidly stand behind Black Lives Matter, AND I also solidly support the work and sacrifice of police officers. I don’t see an OR. I only see AND.
Another issue I commonly see is among women who want to be assertive, AND they also want to be liked. Women have been socialized to see these as separate choices rather than co-existent. They believe: “I can be pleasant and well-liked, OR I can be outspoken and a bitch.” The feeling of forced choice is likely not even in conscious awareness.
We also do OR in relationships. In blended families, a parent feels pressure to side with a spouse OR a child. We may expect partners to agree with us OR be against us. Choose a side.
In a world that has become hyper-partisan, we can feel like it is complete support of a party OR traitorship. It feels like there are forces in the world that compel the forced choice of OR because it works to their advantage. It scares me.
AND still exists in the the reality of human feelings and relationships. AND is inclusive. AND is reality. There is more than enough room for AND. Stop fighting it, AND make some space.