1.5 - Developing our “Both/And” Skill Set – Both/And Thinking as a Tool

1.5 – Developing our “Both/And” Skill Set – Both/And Thinking as a Tool (1 hour 10 minutes)

Materials needed: Paper, pens and pencils, Table with “But” and “And” handout, Conversations using “Both/And” handout

Point of piece: To begin noticing our use of “but,” “yet,” and “however,” and to shift toward the use of “and.”

Say to group: This activity is intended to help us generate a deeper understanding of “both/and” thinking and prepare to use it when interacting with others.

To do this, we’ll begin with an exercise inspired by something done by Sandra Kim, founder of Everyday Feminism. This is a short guided meditation that can help us get a sense of what happens in the body when we shift from “either/or” to “both/and” thinking.

To get started, I’m going to invite you to get comfortable. I invite you to notice your breath. Are you breathing deeply? If you’re comfortable, you can close your eyes. Or, you can let your eyes lose focus and shift your gaze downward. I invite you to notice how your body is feeling: your arms, legs, back, and chest.

I’m now going to ask you to think of something you want to do that involves very little anxiety. I’ll start with an example. I want to have a bar-b-q. So, that’s my something I want to do. I want to have a bar-b-q. Now, I’m going to think about something that might stop that from happening. It might rain today. I’m going to put these two ideas together, and it becomes…”I want to have a bar-b-q, but it might rain today.”

I now invite you to think of something for yourself, something that you’d like to do. And then if you’re willing, think of something that could likely disrupt that plan. It helps if you repeat that sentence to yourself a few times. I’ll ask you to take a moment to notice what it feels like in your body when you say that sentence.

The next part of the exercise then invites you to rephrase that sentence. Instead of connecting the phrases with but, yet, or however… can you connect the two ideas using the word “and”? What does it feel like in your body to say the new sentence? It’s possible that you might feel the need to rephrase the second sentence, and that’s okay.

Give participants a bit of time to process, let them know that they are invited to open their eyes and return to the group, and invite some share outs:

  1. How did it feel?
  2. In what ways was it different when you were asked to use the word “and”?

(15 minutes)

Facilitator’s Note: It is common for people to notice a sense of freedom, or less constriction, when using the word “and.” It can be surprising for those who aren’t used to checking in with their body sensations. Also, it’s common for people to find that they need to alter the second sentence in order make the “and” work, and often this rephrasing provides more of a positive, open, or solution-focused sensibility. This is okay. One thing you might want to highlight if this becomes part of the discussion is that it is useful to sit in the discomfort of holding two truths simultaneously. When we shift the language toward something that is solution-focused, that is also great (as it may derive from an increase sense of openness and possibility). And, at the same time, it can be useful to simply sit in the discomfort of the dissonance.

Say to group: Let’s try a few more. Let’s see if you can write down a few tensions you’ve experienced personally. First write them using the word “but” as the conjunction between the two ideas. Then, try rephrasing as needed in order to allow you to use the word “and” in a way that feels authentic to you. Try this on your own at first. After a few minutes, feel free to share with a partner and work together. (Distribute table with but/and columns). (10 minutes).

But And Body Sensations

What do I notice?

I want to go have a bar-b-q, but it might rain today. I want to have a bar-b-q, and it might rain today.
I promised to spend this Sunday with my friend, but I’m exhausted and need time to rest.


I promised to spend this Sunday with my friend, and I’m exhausted and need time to rest.
There is an event I really want to attend, but I have family or work commitments.


There’s an event I really want to attend, and I have family or work commitments.

Large group discussion: (10 minutes)

  1. What did you find when you created and recreated your sentences?
  2. What body sensations did you experience when you shifted from “but” to “and?”
  3. How would replacing “but” with “and” make a difference when dealing with issues of race?

Say to group: So far we’ve been working with our own internal process. Now, we’re going to shift to imagine how we might use a “both/and” mindset in an external way, in conversations with other people. Let’s start by working with some sample statements. (Distribute the Conversations using Both/And handout.) The left column provides some statements we might hear around us. The center column includes statements that are common replies by people seeking to disrupt privilege and promote a racial justice analysis that reflects “either/or” thinking. The right column reflects “both/and” thinking.

One thing to note as we get started is that although we’re focusing right now on using “both/and” statements, that doesn’t mean that there is no room for “either/or” responses when dealing with racist speech. It can be argued that this approach we’re working on today is too gentle and allows racist thinking or speech to continue. This is an important critique, and it’s essential to be clear that this is one strategy that might be appropriate sometimes when interacting with people who otherwise will not hear what we have to say.

With a partner, read and discuss the two completed examples on the handout, and then work together to finish the two partially completed rows. If you have time, see if you can create your own. Important to acknowledge is that figuring out how to use a both/and reply for some of these takes a level of knowledge and skill that we might still be working to acquire. That’s why we’re working together today, to begin to cultivate this practice. In other words, this is just a start, and becoming good at this is likely going to take a lot of practice and effort. (15 minutes)

Prompt Either/Or Reply  Both/And Reply
The only race that matters is the human race.


But the human race is divided, and we won’t get anywhere without dealing with race. Exactly. And that’s why it’s so important that we all join together to help rectify the damage racism has caused and continues to cause.
It’s not helpful to criticize someone when they’re new to issues of race. It just makes them feel bad and not want to keep participating. It might be feel hard, but people of color have had to deal with violence for centuries, and so it’s not okay to privilege white people’s feelings when talking about racial justice. I see that. And that’s why it’s so essential that we support each other to learn as much as we can as quickly as we can. A supportive community can help us locate the points of wisdom in those critiques.
The reason we have impoverished neighborhoods is because of crime. That’s not true. The reason for the poverty is because of a systemic lack of education and failure to invest in communities of color.
If they would just stop focusing on race all the time, they’d see how many opportunities there are for them.


There’s been a 400-year project in the U.S. to strip people of color of opportunity and it’s ongoing. The opportunities you’re talking about might help a few individuals, but they do nothing to change the system.
I think what you’re doing is so important. Keep it up. So sorry I can’t join you. Things are just so busy right now. I’m glad you think it’s important. I know you’re busy, and I’m busy too. But, it’s really important that we each step up to do our part, at least something, since it’s our privilege that allows us to prioritize other things.




Large group discussion: (20 minutes)

  1. What insights or concerns arose as you discussed the samples?
  2. What did you notice when comparing the “either/or” and the “both/and” oriented replies?
  3. Are there some circumstances where you would select one type of response over the other? What are the pros and cons of each?

Facilitator’s Note: Facilitators should consider their own answers to the discussion questions before leading the group. Specifically, participants may ask for an example of when it is appropriate to use both/and or not, and you would want to be prepared to offer an example that is well-suited for your context and community. For example, in my context, I might offer that using more direct statements that do not use the softer “both/and” approach may be preferred when interrupting a harmful situation and the injured party needs to witness a strong statement of support.

Also, It is likely that some people will ask if the replies in the center column labeled “either/or” are considered problematic, especially since the exercise is intended to help us craft responses that incorporate the “both/and”. What you can highlight is that the “either/or” orientation can sometimes provide essential push back messages. They may provide new information, and sometimes those “wake up” moments can penetrate resistance and be useful. In other words, there are times when responding in an “either/or” frame might be absolutely useful. At the same time, many people experience “either/or” statements as shaming and judgmental, and it can shut down the conversation. While some might rightly argue that white fragility is the ultimate cause of that shut down, we also want to find ways to pull people experiencing fragility into the conversation. Using a both/and approach might work, and it’s worth us developing that skill so we can use it as a tool when we feel it is useful.

Potential “both/and” reply for row 3: You’re right that there are opportunities out there, and I think at least some people are accessing them. And, from what I understand, part of the reason many of the opportunities currently exist is due to just the kind of focused activism we see today. So, we may be seeing the next layer of advocacy for new opportunities.

Potential “both/and” reply for row 4: Oh boy, I hear you! It seems that all of us are so busy these days. I have to admit, one of the reasons I’m excited about taking such an active part is that I feel rejuvenated after our meetings and events. It’s amazing how time seems to expand when I’m doing something with a community I enjoy. If you’d like to join me anytime, let me know. You’re always welcome. We really could use your skills.

Wrap Up: When trying to engage people who tend to deflect conversations about race or who do not want to be part of racial justice initiatives, it may be helpful to use a “both/and” approach. While it is not expected that this will quickly bring them into the fold, it is more likely to lead to future engagement and more mutual understanding. And that might be an important first step.