A sucker’s choice happens any time we come to a fork in the road, and it seems there are only two options. If we choose one, we forgo the other. However, most of the time when we face such a dilemma, if we look a little harder we can find several new options. My wife and I have often been reminded of this when discussing two angles to a situation and it dawns on us that it doesn’t have to be a sucker’s choice; we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.
The tension that arises so readily today between differing opinions – the sucker’s choice – is partly what has led us to a culture of those who cancel or ghost another whose ideas are different from their own. This is a culture where social media becomes the stage of division and derision.
But tension between opinions or choices can be healthy. In spiritual terms, the great Italian monk and hermit Carlo Carretto wrote often where his faith and skepticism were manifest. In what is know as his “Ode to the Church,” he states “How much I must criticize you, my church and yet how much I love you! How you have made me suffer much and yet owe much to you. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more obscurantist, more compromised, more false, and yet never in this world have I touched anything more pure, more generous, and more beautiful. Many times, I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face—and yet how often I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!”
Wow. Some might view this statement and conclude how confused he was. And yet, he could express his ideas and thoughts without putting to rest the unsettled arguments within his mind and heart. The tension allowed him to discover and grow more fully and wholly. He became a revered man.
Life is not black and white in all aspects; there is not always a clear right or wrong. Almost nothing is so cut and dried as our brains would like it to be. We tend to want the world to be easily categorized like heros and villains in a Marvel movie.
Our minds are not simple. They know the importance of nuance. They can hold things in tension without prematurely resolving that tension. They have equal capacity to have both faith and skepticism; to hold reverence for others’ beliefs and opinions while at the same time allowing tension between two points of view.
I was a rancher for a time in my life, and we built a lot of fences. A proper fence must hold enough tension to fulfill its purpose—of keeping critters in and people out. Too little tension and the fence will be useless, too much tension and it can cause injury when it breaks. Perhaps ideally, we can appreciate and enjoy life on both sides of the fence while we work toward the eventual day when most fences between us can be taken down. Perhaps there are fences between us that should always be there as a reminder that some boundaries are good.
I have heard that loving your enemy doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them. There are acquaintances in my life who I avoid because the anxiety of mingling is greater than my need to be with them. That’s OK. HOWEVER, while distancing myself from these types of folks, I don’t allow the cauldron of my thoughts to swirl singly in the pot of my current beliefs. Analyzing all the information I process solely from my own preexisting ideas and convictions will limit my understanding, empathy, and ability to expand my horizons. So for those I don’t prefer to hang out with, I won’t close the door on my opportunities to gain more understanding – when the time is right.
Three helpful statements to make when there is tension
- I appreciate your perspective. If you are honest and authentic in making this statement, then it will create an atmosphere of friendship and trust, allowing tensions to be healthy.
- Help me understand. When you disagree or can’t simply visualize someone’s perspective, then seek help in how they arrived at their destination. Only good will come of understanding their point of view, even if there continues to be tension on the topic.
- Let’s talk. This might seem like an invitation for anxiety if you are not into verbal tennis. But holding court is how we really discover the tensions that hold us both together and apart.
Statements that are NOT helpful when there is tension
- Let’s agree to disagree. What a cop out. What you are really saying is “I’m not interested in your opinion, I have my own, and I’m not budging.” The point of dialogue with tension is NOT to convince the other to come to your side of the fence. Rather, dialogue can create understanding, compassion, and a healthy existence.
- That’s “your” truth. I hear this a lot. I understand it. Everyone seeks and discovers their own truth about things. However, this statement to me says, “I might or might not appreciate your “truth,” but I know you own it. Therefore, take your truth and have a nice life.” Wouldn’t it be better to say “I see your point of view. Can we discuss the tension between your point of view and mine? It will help me understand and appreciate the situation in a healthy way.”
- Cancelling or ghosting. This usually happens on social media, where a person can state their opinions without any angst about consequences. Again, what a cop out. I have been both cancelled and ghosted. It makes me feel like there is no hope of gaining the perspective of the person who cancelled or ghosted me. Rather than cancelling or ghosting, can’t we have a real conversation using the helpful approaches stated above?
Finally, while we seek to both understand and to be understood, please know the tension that exists between faith and skepticism, does not establish a sucker’s choice. Rather, it allows deeper understanding and appreciation as we think through and discover what settles in our minds and hearts. As individuals, communities, and tribes, who can’t benefit from this approach?