Living on Purpose: The false dilemma fallacy

Have you ever heard of the false dilemma fallacy? A false dilemma is an argument that presents two (often extreme) solutions. In every instance there is at least a third if not more options.

Perhaps a few examples will help:

“Go big or go home,” “My way or the highway,” “You’re either with me or against me.”

Does this clarify things? Let me offer a few more:

“Mandated mask wearing is a violation of my rights!” “Wearing a mask is the highest level of compassion!” “All lives matter!” “Blue lives matter!” “Black lives matter!”

Broken down even further the above false dilemma fallacy examples sound like:

“Either allow me the choice of wearing a mask or violate my American freedom!”

OK, listen, I too value freedom, and speak out passionately about it. However, maybe just maybe the mandate has something to do with doing our part during this unexpected worldwide event. One where the loss of life has been swift and in mass. Never having experienced anything like this, our leaders are grasping at straws, desperate to find what works. Just a point to consider.

“Either wear a mask, or lack the moral ability to have compassion for other people!” 

A bit harsh isn’t it? Authorities are trying their best to make sense of new data, some of it being gathered in real time and making quick decisions in order to hopefully save lives. Yes. There are holes and conclusions that are retracted almost as swiftly as they are drawn. This causes more distrust on top of an already delicate situation. Change is always hard, but drastic changes like this must be difficult to adjust to in quick succession. Another form of expressing compassion? Extending grace as well as trying to understand the perspectives of other people.

Either say “All Lives Matter” or denounce the validity of all other races. Either say “Blue Lives Matter” or stand against all law enforcement. Either say “Black Lives Matter” or condone the brutality faced disproportionately inflicted on African Americans by those in authority. 


Where do I start? Talk about a serious breakdown in communication. With all of these hole-filled arguments we are going nowhere fast. I grieve.

We can compromise. We can believe more than one thing to be true at the same time. We are capable of the work that needs to be done. If only we showed up to hard conversations ready to listen to understand. Using divisive tactics like the false dilemma fallacy whether on purpose or accidentally will hinder all good intentions.

So how do we combat this issue?

Understand that seeing validity in an opposing viewpoint does not mean that yours is wrong.

Mixed feelings can co-exist within individuals, relationships, and conversations, and do not have to equal conflict. 

Consider in the moment if the solutions presented are truly your only two options. If not, present a third, a fourth, above all, in as much as you can — present peace.

Before I go, one more example:

Either subscribe to Watershed Voice for all amazing things local, or be square. 

See what I did there?

A native of Phoenix, Arizona Aundrea Sayrie is a firm believer in the power of words, faith and a strong spirit. Her greatest desire is to encourage those around her to discover and honor their truth, and to passionately live on purpose.

Any views or opinions expressed in “Living on Purpose” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.