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Excerpted from The Tao of Inner Peace by Diane Dreher. Copyright © 2000 by Diane Dreher. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Whenever you face a false dilemma, look beyond it. There are always more than two alternatives."

  Diane Dreher, The Tao of Inner Peace, Part 5

When I was a junior in college, my boyfriend offered me a marriage proposal which contained the false dilemma. He was a senior, concerned about his career. "If you love me," he said, "you'll drop out of school and work so I can go to grad school."

How could he ask me this, I wondered. Of course I loved him but I wanted to go to grad school too. Did I have to choose between love and my vocation?

We argued. Love, he said, meant caring about his future, our future together. He wanted to become a college professor. "You're being selfish," he said.

I refused to drop out of school and was angry at him for asking me to. How could he discount my ideals? I wanted to contribute something to the world.

Heartbroken, we each considered the other impossibly selfish, and we broke up. In our immaturity, we overlooked the other options. He could have worked for a year and saved his money. We could have gone to grad school together, working part time, getting student loans or scholarships.

As it happened, we both got Ph.D.s and became college professors. Sometimes I see his name in the alumni bulletin. But long ago our lives took different directions because we were blinded by the false dilemma.

Personal Exercise

If you find yourself wrestling with a painful internal conflict, step back. Don't get caught in the false dilemma.

  • Look beyond the conflict. Ask yourself, "What would I really like to do?" Then think of all the possible ways to get there.
  • Brainstorm with a friend who will write down your answers without comment. Later you can decide which ones win work for you.
  • Or take out a piece of paper and write down your goal and all the possible options-no matter how outrageous. Free yourself to see the infinite possibilities that he before you.
  • Then review your answers, accepting some possibilities, discarding others. Make an action plan.

Whenever you face a false dilemma, look beyond it. There are always more than two alternatives. Throw off the blinders of custom to reveal the creative wisdom of Tao.

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