A dichotomy refers to subject matter that can be easily classified into two discrete groups. I’ve been exploring this a great deal and in many different contexts. For instance, the “subjective” and the “objective” are generally seen as two opposing ends of a pretty clear dichotomy. Many believe that an experience or thought can either be classified as subjective to varying thought or objectified by proven fact. (Remember learning about fact and opinion?) Likewise, many are apt to classify decisions into “right” and “wrong.” This is a generally accepted and relatively clear dichotomy: There are certain things you do, and there are certain things you don’t.
However, most of us know that this dichotomous perspective, while ideal, is not the way the world works. Things don’t fit into neat categories, and life is not a flow map, laid before our feet, dictating all possible scenarios and painting clear paths along the way.
The idea of “dichotomy” can also be dangerous, in my opinion. If we begin to classify ourselves into categories, we also begin to classify ourselves into non-categories, limiting what we are capable of, which in turn creates false dichotomies. For those of you that are teachers or parents, this can be especially challenging for children, as they struggle to form and make sense of their own identities. While the original intent of a dichotomy is more so to help us, as people, categorize and organize, just like anything else, one must achieve a sense of balance with dichotomy.
Personally, I’m apt to classify myself into the logical/analytical category. In fact, just the other day, someone said to me, “Think deeply, Paul, but don’t overthink.” She hit the nail right on the head, because that’s what I was doing. But hey, at least I’m consistent. However, even classifying myself as logical or analytical limits me; likewise, removing this label would be limiting, which is why I think it’s important to embrace ourselves as a whole person, where we define ourselves not by the categories that we fit into, but where we define ourselves by our actions, our mistakes, and the lessons we learn from those mistakes.
Having said all of this, I’m grateful for somewhat of a dichotomy that exists within me today.
(1) I’m grateful for my logic. I used to view my analytical mindset as a fault. But sometimes it is okay to overthink, get lost in thought, and pick something apart because through this process, we get to know whatever it is we’re picking apart better. By getting lost in our “overthoughts,” we find peace in either a solution or the acceptance that there is no discernible solution. However, we’d never get there if we didn’t go through the process of overthinking and getting lost in our thoughts first.
(2) I’m grateful for my heart. Love is the other side of the logic dichotomy, and while the analytical corners of my brain are often firing at breakneck speed, my heart also beats with the same intensity. I respond to impulse, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I like to believe I lead very vulnerably with my heart, especially in my classroom.
(3) I’m grateful that these two parts of me are really not parts at all. My head and my heart are so intertwined–almost to the point of malignancy. Tearing them apart would most likely kill me, which is probably why I love to teach so much. Teaching requires an intricate mix of art and science, one that asks us to analyze, use what we know, and act pragmatically, while at times, follow our hunches, our values, and our hearts to provide the absolute best and most nurturing experience in the classroom.