False dilemmas are logical fallacies that are disguised as rational arguments. When it comes to problem solving, they obscure the alternatives. “Either A is true or B is true. If A is false, then B must be true.” They are routinely (and effectively) used by politicians and children. Think “Either you’re with us or against us” or “Buy me this or you don’t love me”.
While restricting choices is savvy for preventing information overload in decision-making (see The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz), it’s vital to distinguish between parameter and polarization. We create false dilemmas for ourselves without realizing it. We unknowingly conjure them to solve complex problems, which leads to short-sighted solutions. We make life-altering decisions by constructing unnecessary forks in the road.
How do we break the constraints of the self-imposed false dilemma?
One way is recognizing that there are connections between opportunities. Instead of thinking, “I need to either stick with this career or break out on my own”, you could reframe it: “This career is the platform from which I’ll forge my own way.” How can you leverage the strengths of your circumstances?
Of course, we can also disregard options entirely and invent new alternatives. Can you invent a better mousetrap? Be wary of this, however, as sometimes we don’t need new solutions to problems, but rather the chutzpah to implement existing solutions.
Sometimes breaking the paradigm can be as easy as asking “What if I did the opposite?” As Mark Twain said, “When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” I’d add that when you find yourself taking sides, it is time to pause and reflect.
Don’t fall into the trap of dichotomic thinking. It limits your creativity. It restrains dialogue. It puts blinders on your vision.
Also published on Medium.