DIVERGENT (adjective) different, varying, dissimilar, alternative

           Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
           And sorry I could not travel both
           And be one traveler, long I stood
           And looked down one as far as I could
           To where it bent in the undergrowth. . .

Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” has been studied and puzzled over by generations of college sophomores in in American Lit.  They have usually looked for enlightenment on the symbolic meaning of particular words and lines, with their professors nudging them along.

In the poem, the word I am interested in is diverged, which means “separated”  or “parted” ways. Frost’s speaker in the poem sees a fork in the road, which resulted in two ways, creating a moment of hesitation for him.  Oftentimes we are like the person in the poem. We see just two roads or paths to take, a limited choice. But do we always have only two ways to deal with a particular situation?

ALTERNATIVE: In logical argumentation, we speak of fallacies, which are inconsistencies or errors in reasoning.  There are about 15 main fallacies that have been identified. One of the major ones is the false dilemma or the either/or fallacy. This viewpoint sees only two ways of dealing with a problem. For instance, for a teenager, the dilemma may be either I go to college or end up with a low-paying job. But who says that these are the only two options?  There are other possibilities that could be considered by taking a larger view of his or her skills and potential. This youngster would benefit from doing some divergent thinking, creatively exploring other possibilities than the two obvious ones.

In this Black History Month, it is apropos  to stop and think of a wonderful example of divergent thinking that Martin Luther King, Jr. left us. When his house was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama, he was angry, naturally,  and so were his supporters, who were ready to demonstrate to show their outrage, but Dr. King calmed them by pointing them to the alternative: love. Thus he diffused a volatile situation by finding a more creative solution than either vengeance or passivity. 

And  we must learn from the Master  Teacher to think creatively,  to explore and embrace difference,  and to make the difference work for good.  Divergent thinking on such topics as religion, politics, and values is possible and allowable. Others must be allowed to think and to be responsible for their own thinking without being hemmed in by an either/or perspective.   

DIVERSITY: The either/or fallacy is sometimes seen in the way we look at other people.  If they do not do things our way, then there is something wrong with them, or they  are not good enough, or they are flawed in some way. Divergent thinking gets us away from having a two-dimensional view of others. We seek new ways to look at them, seeing the range of possibilities that their lives and experiences present instead of looking at them through limited lens. Divergent thinking is part of the diversity conversation that is taking place in our society today.  Instead of seeing people in our  usual two-dimensional ways–we and they, us and them–we see them bearing the unmistakable imprint of our Creator,  individuals with unusual backgrounds, colorful lives, varieties of likes and dislikes, people made up of wonderfully varied characteristics and admirable traits  from which we can learn.

When faced with a decision, become a divergent thinker and consider creative options, realizing that your choice doesn’t have to be this or that, but it can be the other. And whenever you are dealing with people who are different from you in status, race, education, or class, think beyond the immediate  perceptions of “desirable” and “undesirable” and look at possibilities for acceptance beyond appearance. Discard the false idea that  there are only  two ways to view another. There is always a better way.


“Isn’t it amazing that we are all made
in God’s image, and yet there is so
much diversity in his people.”

Desmond Tutu






  • Nanette Schell

    Divergent had me thinking about my life and the choices I made. I was never interested in only
    having two choices when there are so many out there to choose from.
    Taking people at face value has always been how I see people and I have friends from
    all walks of life. One should always make the choice to seek out other avenues rather
    than to only see the two pathways as described in the word Divergent.
    Thank you my dear friend Judith for your many interesting and valuable explanations
    in your books. I am learning every day from you.
    Love, Nanette.

    • Judith Nembhard

      Hello Nanette,
      You have truly spoken! You see others through eyes that look at individuality
      rather than group characteristics.Indeed, you are a divergent thinker.
      It’s a delight to hear from you. JN