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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Silence is Complicity

False dichotomy

As an adolescent living in a religiously faith-sponsored children’s home, I was taught by a house parent the moral imperative, “If you don’t condemn it, you condone it.” From that time, the false dichotomy served as a guideline by which I conducted myself. No longer.

Some may think, “That’s not a bad standard.” However, the label of good, bad, right, wrong, righteous, evil, and so on and so forth also serves as a false binary equating to the “either-or” fallacy.

I’ll provide some examples of how flawed the false dilemma perspective is by using actual concepts I heard during my adolescence:

You either love all people or you retain hatred in your heart.

You either oppose homosexuality or you support it.

You either support our troops fully or not at all.

You either repent of your sins or remain a sinner.

You’re either saved or you’re not.

You’re either among G-d’s chosen or you aren’t.

One of the problems with this sort of polarized black and white thinking is it limits understanding of the complexity, nuance, and differing perspectives experienced in life. Rarely, if ever, are matters as simple as this-or-that, either-or, good-or-bad, and so on.

By rejecting the cognitive distortion of false dichotomous thinking we can improve perspective, better relate to others, and reduce self-disturbance when people don’t behave in the manner to which we think they should, must, or ought. Seeing gray areas of life may be healthier for gray matter functioning.

Silence is complicity

In what one presumes is a thinly veiled response to Kanye West’s recent behavior, Joe Biden—or at least the official Twitter account for the President—issued the following tweet:

To stay on topic, I will set aside personal quibbles with a United States (U.S.) government official using a state-sponsored Twitter account to promote religiosity (“demonic”) and encouragement of what one could perceive as a violation of First Amendment protection (“should be calling out and rejecting”).

Otherwise, the current post would be far lengthier. For now, I will simply address Biden’s “silence is complicity” statement.

As I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I find utility in using unconditional other- and life-acceptance. I don’t trick myself into believing that Biden isn’t as flawed a human being as I, or pretend as though I have control over the circles of influence or concern.

Moreover, I challenge myself to choose suffering related to evaluation of Biden’s false dilemma, thus increasing my frustration tolerance. In turn, this approach strengthens my resilience to the irrational beliefs espoused by a sitting ruler.

Because I’m not sabotaging the success of my personal interests and goals, I don’t use inflexible rules related to Biden’s behavior (e.g., “He shouldn’t advocate the suppression of free speech.”). Instead of angering myself about what the President believes, I instead evaluate the logic of his statement:

Premise 1: Silence is complicity.

Premise 2: Politician A has not spoken out against a U.S. citizen freely exercising his rights to speech.

Conclusion: Therefore, politician A is complicit in the views espoused by West.

Understanding that Biden is a person who continually uses flawed logic of this sort, I can escape the false binary trap he’s laid. To further elucidate this point, consider that when running for office Biden stated that black people who didn’t vote for him weren’t black. Let’s examine this faulty logic:

Premise 1: As a black person, if you didn’t vote for Biden you ain’t black.

Premise 2: I, a biracial individual (white and black), most certainly did not vote for Biden.

Conclusion: Consequently, I’m not black.

Can a person truly erase my racial or ethnic identity simply by proposing a false dilemma? Of course not. Likewise, a political leader’s decision not to call out or reject the free speech of a U.S. citizen doesn’t constitute complicity.

People, who think simplistically and use the cognitive distortion of black or white framing, are likely to fallaciously claim that “silence is violence,” which is akin to “silence is complicity.” Understanding that one doesn’t have to comply with illogical premises can be quite freeing.


Without a mechanism in place to disrupt illogical and irrational claims, I may self-disturb into an angry disposition. Instead, I’m able to assess Biden’s rhetoric with the same critical analysis and skepticism I use with West’s claims about Jewish people.

I want to avoid the hasty generalization fallacy concerning one racial or ethnic group of people as much as I want to refrain from use of the no true Scotsman fallacy regarding speech against those who question this group. Neither logical fallacy will serve me well.

In fact, I shrug to myself when thinking of my favorite meme of a dog sitting in a burning room while practicing denial, because a sitting president openly advocating the silencing of U.S. citizen voices could otherwise lead to my own flawed beliefs with which I’d disturb myself.

I acknowledge how little control I have and that is truly fine.

Therefore, I’m unbothered by what I tell myself about Biden’s rhetoric, because I don’t lie to myself about how he shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t use a false dichotomy. Rather, I constructively draft a poorly written blog entry and carry on about my day.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—demonstrating how illogical and irrational thinking may not serve you well—I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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