Choose Door Number Three
I am preparing myself for the escalation of the binary. I don’t know if you guys know this or not, but 2020 is a presidential election year. And seeing as how 2016 was just so much fun, I’m really looking forward to all of the goodwill and kindness and nuanced discussion that I’m sure we have coming.
You guys. We have to get ready. Next year is going to be so ugly.
I’m here to push for a quiet revolution. In a world that’s constantly pushing the binary, I’m asking my fellow anarchists to say, “I’m gonna go with Door Number Three.”
Do you guys remember that show Let’s Make a Deal? Contestants would dress up in crazy costumes, play some games, and then they could pick a door number to win the grand prize. (Apparently, there’s a reboot of the show with host Wayne Brady, but I did not know this until writing this post.)
Actually, my Door Number Three reference came from an old episode of Cheers where Carla, not enthused about a double date to the Postman’s Ball with Cliff, Diane, and another mailman, quips this: “This is going to be a laugh a minute. An evening with the Stick, the Nerd, and Door Number Three.”
Tyler and I have used Door Number Three as part of our marriage vernacular for years, incorporating it when we feel forced into choosing ONE or THE OTHER. Door Number Three eliminates the binary. We often say, “Where’s our Door Number Three?” It gets us out of arguments. It helps us resolve conflict with our kids. It’s just a reminder that we can always say, “Neither.”
In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (yes, I’ve referenced this book a million times, but whatever), Lori Gottlieb talks about one of her patients in therapy to help her walk through a cancer diagnosis. Her patient would repeatedly and defiantly choose neither.
It started back in high school when her patient would play Would You Rather? with her friends — the game where you have to pick between two terrible scenarios, like “Would you rather be covered in fur or covered in scales?” Here’s the good part:
“One time when it was my turn to answer, I said, ‘Neither.’ And everyone said, ‘No, you have to choose one,’ and I said, ‘Well, I choose neither.’ And that kind of blew people’s minds, just the concept that when presented with two awful alternatives, maybe neither was an option.”
I like to think that neither can be an option for us, too. We don’t have to choose one or the other in everything. Binary is too exclusive — it delineates winners and losers in every single thing. And 2020 is going to have winners and losers, for sure. But the conversations around those winners and losers don’t have to be binary, too.
I recently finished Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ, where in one chapter, he spends some time exploring the consequences of binary thinking in our spiritual lives:
“The binary mind, so good for rational thinking, finds itself totally out of its league in dealing with things like love, death, suffering, infinity, God, sexuality, or mystery in general. It just keeps limiting reality to two alternatives and thinks it is smart because it chooses one! This is no exaggeration. The two alternatives are always exclusionary, usually in an angry way: things are either totally right or totally wrong, with me or against me, male or female, Democrat or Republican, Christian or pagan, on and on and on. The binary mind provides quick security and false comfort but never wisdom. It thinks it is smart because it counters your idea with an opposing idea. There is usually not much room for a reconciling third.”
In other words, we like to think we are being smart by eliminating choices to one or the other, forcing a decision and feeling smug because we are right. But this kind of thinking really only excludes others and promotes anger.
Jesus was a Door Number Three guy. (I actually read a post about this at least a decade ago and can no longer find the source. Thank you for this original thought, internet person.) He refused to pick binary answers. Time and time again. Let’s look real quick:
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
Or this one:
As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. (John 8:3-8)
Jesus, time and again, chose Door Number Three. When those around him wanted him to chose one answer, Jesus would choose neither.
Friends, this next year won’t be easy. We are going to have this “Either You’re For Us Or You’re Against Us” Thinking hitting us from all sides. Let’s be the voice who says, “I choose neither.” Choose nuance. Choose gray areas. Choose complicated and messy. Open up your mind to opposing thought. Be willing to listen longer. Choose Door Number Three.