The human brain really likes two-sided arguments. They are easy to understand. However, the either/or mindset produces some interesting false choices that then shape the cultural narrative. The danger is that people make real choices about their lives without considering other variables.
A few I’ve heard over the years:
From a high school student: to get into a good college, should I take hard classes and get lower grades, or easy classes and get As? Here’s a different way of looking at it: a “good” college is probably more challenging than even a “good” high school. To show you’re capable of the work at a rigorous university, you should be taking hard classes in high school…and getting As in them.
From someone contemplating careers: Should I do what I love or do what pays the bills? Another way of looking at it: The labor market is getting more efficient, but is still pretty “sticky.” People land in jobs because they know someone, or happened to be looking at a certain time, not because that particular job optimized on any variable: pay, enjoyment, etc. If you’re at the absolute peak of one variable — enjoyment, say — then it would be impossible to find a job that you enjoyed more and paid more. But are you sure you’re at a peak? There are lots of jobs in this world. If you don’t like what you’re doing now, it’s always possible you’ll like a better paying job more.
From armchair historians: Women entered the workforce in droves between 1960 and now. Therefore, they must be spending less time with their children. Another way of looking at it: women do not spend 100% of their time on two categories: work and children. There turn out to be other categories too: housework, sleep, bridge games, etc. When you consider all these other categories, it is quite possible that time spent at work and time spent with children could rise in tandem. And, in fact, that’s exactly what serious time use historians have found happened.
I’m always looking for other examples…