Another Perspective – the Problem with Dichotomies

By Jenny Fulton

Have you ever noticed how many established dichotomies there are? I mean, in a way, it’s understandable. Life is much easier to process and deal with if we set up a system of either/or. It’s either this way, or it’s that way. You’re either a pessimist or an optimist. You’re either an extrovert or an introvert. You’re either happy or sad.

Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple. It isn’t a set of mutually exclusive dichotomies. Most of our existence isn’t an either/or scenario. In large part, this is because we as human beings aren’t one-dimensional creatures. We are spirit and flesh. Both are present, both are important. We may be happy and sad (Proverbs 14:13). It’s possible to see and acknowledge both the positives and the negatives of life – to be dissatisfied with that which is not good in the world while being simultaneously thankful for that which is.

Throughout this pandemic, I have seen a number of news articles and social media posts/responses which highlight this mentality of either/or dichotomies.

  • You are either selfless and stay at home, or you’re selfish and gather in groups.
  • People either care about the physical health of others and follow the CDC guidelines, or they don’t follow all the guidelines because they callously don’t care about anyone’s health.
  • The hospitals either care about people’s health and cease any “non-essential” procedures, or they offer “elective” surgeries only because they care about more about profits than they do about anyone’s health.
  • You either see the positives in the situation and are thankful, or you see only the negatives and complain.
  • You either respect the governing authorities as God’s appointed rulers and do everything they tell you to do without question, or, in rebellion against God, you question and disobey their earthly mandates.
  • You either believe this virus is serious and do everything you’re told, or you deny its existence/seriousness and question the policies.

If only life were that simple. But it isn’t, and we aren’t. We are far more complex than dichotomies allow. The motivations of one’s heart and spirit are deep and multi-faceted. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (*I Corinthians 2:11).

So let’s take a look at another perspective. What if those dichotomies don’t accurately represent the hearts and actions of everyone who is impacted by this pandemic? What if there are more options? For example:

  • Someone may stay home because they are selfishly concerned for their own good and/or selflessly don’t desire to bring harm to others. Maybe its one or the other. Maybe its both.
  • Someone may selflessly choose to gather in a group to bring hope and encouragement to others and/or selfishly do so in order to be personally encouraged.
  • A person may care about someone’s physical health and be equally concerned with that individual’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health. This consideration for the other aspects of a friend or family’s being may prompt them to not follow some of the guidelines in order to better minister to those other facets of wellness.
  • Hospitals may wish to resume other operations because they care about the patients who need them, the staff who will become unemployed if they don’t, and the overall health of the community that would suffer if they were forced to close.
  • Someone may complain about the evils and difficulties of one situation while simultaneously being content and thankful about another.
  • You may respect God’s principles and the governing authorities while also questioning their man-made decisions and choosing to operate according to God’s call and direction on your life.
  • You may obey the worldly authorities and be in rebellion to God in one area while still serving and being obedient to Him in another.
  • Someone could believe the realities of the virus but question the policies that surround it.
  • Another person might doubt its severity yet still do what they’re told without question.

The truth of the matter is, many of the dichotomies we establish include matters of the inner person – the feelings, thought processes, and motivations of the heart, mind, and spirit. Nothing about these aspects of humanity is simple and none of them can be known by mere observation of outward appearance or actions. The only way to truly know where someone’s heart is at is to personally engage them and listen – listen to their words, listen to their heart, listen to their perspectives that may be different than ours. Our inner workings are often revealed through our words and spirit. They shine through our eyes and expressions. They radiate out and give people a certain “feel” when they’re around us. Actions alone do not reveal the true nature of the inner person.

  • 1 Samuel 16:7 – for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.
  • Romans 14:4 – Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
  • Romans 2:16 – God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
  • I Corinthians 4:5 – Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.

As we go forth through these rough, stressful days, may we suspend judgment and anger against those who think and act differently, especially among our friends and family. May we love and serve one another with grace and compassion. May we “examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22).

*All Scriptural passages taken from the NASB.

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** This post was written from a Five-Minute Friday prompt.  Every week on that site, a topic is posted.  The idea is to turn that internal editor off and write for five minutes straight.  Then you post your blog and link up with others who have done the same.  This week, in order to not disrupt the flow of the article, I didn’t make note of when my five minutes ended. To see more of this week’s Five-Minute Friday posts, check out the link-up here.

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***Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay



  1. Some cats dig dichotomies
    that they point out in a wink,
    but they’re rational lobotomies
    that have no call to think
    about the soul’s complexity,
    much more than we’ve supposed,
    and God’s great gift, ability
    to hold two views, opposed
    like the Chinese yin and yang,
    the obverse of each other,
    on whose tension we can hang
    a love-hate for our brother.
    To say we’re binary’s really odd,
    made as we are by triune God.

    Liked by 1 person

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