Following a dynamic U.S. mid-term election that continues to unfold, the heart-breaking destruction and death from the worst wildfires the state of California has ever experienced, and the ongoing madness of the US national political scene, I read a news headline that prompted me to ask myself, “how can we free ourselves from the either/or thinking that has us trapped in a downward free fall?”
While an excellent article on the political landscape for Democrats in the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election, the headline, Midterm elections return Democrats to a debate over their 2020 presidential choice: Passion or pragmatism? (Matt Viser, November 10, 2018), illuminates the either/or thinking trap that limits humanity’s capacity to respond to the challenges of our times creatively.
We, Americans and all peoples, live in a complex and interconnected world. We face unprecedented challenges to our quality of life and the lives of future generations such as climate change, natural resource depletion, political corruption, growing inequality, mass extinction of species, global terrorism and numerous economic challenges, war, and world hunger.
Given the scale of our challenges, it is essential that we all join hands to address our collective problems. Unfortunately, America’s current political climate and tone are divisive and regressive. How can we overcome the toxic and dark forces to effectively respond to our challenges and usher in a positive future? Our religious traditions have called humanity to live in unity throughout the ages. For example:
- Christianity: God hath made of one blood all nations of men.
- Judaism: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
- Islam: All creatures are the family of God, and he is the most beloved of God who does most good unto His family.
- Hinduism: Human beings all are as head, arms, trunk, and legs unto one another.
And, in Taoism, the theme of unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, represented in the religious symbol itself, is fundamental.
With all this encouragement for unity from our religious traditions, where might we start to begin to unify? The American Heritage Dictionary defines unity as the arrangement of parts into a whole. Thus, to unify as a people and solve our most pressing global problems, we must first unify our thinking.
We cannot solve problems at the same level of thinking that created them. We must learn to see the world anew. Albert Einstein
Unified thinking requires us to move from either/or thinking to both/and thinking. Actualizing this third way of thinking about and responding to the challenges before us – shifting from fragmented parts to an interconnected whole – -is the evolutionary imperative of the 21 Century, which does not mean everything is equal. It is not. Both/and thinking requires discernment of breadth and depth. How inclusive and how deep?
Much has been written about this urgent need to move from either/or to both/and thinking (i.e., from fragmented parts to wholes)- thereby expanding our thinking and creating comprehensive frameworks to guide our lives. A few such authors include Hazel Henderson, Fritjof Capra, Buckminster Fuller, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Duane Elgin, and Ken Wilbur.
Ken Wilbur, one of the most widely read and influential American philosophers of our time, has written over a dozen books, including, A Spectrum of Consciousness; A Brief History of Everything; and Up from Eden. He developed a unified field theory of consciousness, a synthesis, and interpretation of the world’s great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions. Wilbur refers to his approach as Integral which is synonymous with the concept of unified thinking. In his Integral Theory, he identifies four essential quadrants of reality and argues that we must integrate the truths of all four quadrants to solve our most urgent social problems and fulfill our potential. In other words, each quadrant is only a part of the whole. Standing alone, each quadrant is incomplete.
The essential message is that we face unprecedented and complex challenges to our quality of lives and the lives of future generations. We will not and cannot successfully overcome these challenges with the same fragmented thinking that created them. Starting with our own lives, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help lead the essential shift from either/or to both/and thinking at every level of society. Three areas that beg for unified thinking are reason and faith; the economy and the natural environment, and the individual and the common good (To be continued).