Binary arguments are the crack cocaine of human interactions. They are conversation killers and they serve only the interests of those who want to block co-operation and progress.
In the last few months, I have written several articles coining the not too popular term “Men’s Rights Feminism.” My goal being to agitate for a conversation about the extremist elements in both feminism and the men’s rights movements. Elements that seem to lay claim to the two halves of the gender discussion. (The gender discussion, by the way, actually has 106 halves.) Be that as it may, I am not seeking to open up a conversation BETWEEN these two binary camps, but instead ABOUT these binary camps and binary debates in general. This conversation I’m seeking is to be had by the rest of us.
Specifically, how do we stop privileging binary frames and ways of talking? And its an issue which is negatively impacting our personal, social and political discourses world wide. Binary arguments are the crack cocaine of human interactions. They are conversation killers and they serve only the interests of those who do not want to foster co-operation and progress.
It’s a central question for our media driven take down culture. Lets get back to the example of extremists in the Men’s Rights and Feminists camps.
For the record: I am not talking about the entire Feminism or Men’s Rights communities. Some of my best friends and closest ideological collaborators self identify as feminists. I do not. I do consider myself a person who is concerned with Men’s Rights issues (among many other things). My point is simple. The two camps I’m talking about here are the extremist factions in those ideological groups. If you’re not an extremist, I’m not talking about you. Okay? And, of course, I’m not talking about you because nobody self identifies as an extremist, right?
My point is, we must collectively push back against polarizing extremist voices. Otherwise, they control the conversation between men and women by virtue of their stridency and little else. They offer no path forward. They seek only to hammer each other into submission repeating over and over the litany of reasons why their side has it worse. It is a relentless victims lament. It a binary song of ideology gone stale.
The rest of us must take back these conversations if we are to to move forward in more collaborative and productive ways.
And that’s where the baby and the sword thing comes in handy. Because it contains a lesson about what people do out of compassion vs. contempt.
Wikipedia has this to say about the Judgement of King Solomon.
In the Judgment of Solomon, two women came before Solomon to resolve a quarrel over which was the true mother of a baby. When Solomon suggested they should divide the living child in two with a sword, one woman said she would rather give up the child than see it killed. Solomon then declared the woman who showed compassion to be the true mother, and gave the baby to her.
I’m always a bit shocked at how this biblical scene is depicted. Often the baby is hanging upside down by one leg with a sword perilously close by. But its actually a pretty accurate parable for what happens when people fight over something they think they hold to be precious. What do I hold to be precious? What does the baby represent to me?
For me, the baby represents the miraculous power of conversation. The redemptive process by which we hear each other’s stories. The idea, by the way, that the Good Men Project was founded on.
The Judgement of Solomon contains a lesson for anyone who is in a dialogue, discussion, disagreement, or an argument, personal, political, religious or otherwise. Fully understanding the importance of conversation is tricky. You have to see it as something that you are creating in partnership with others. You have to value the redemptive power that conversation and storytelling holds. That has to matter to you.
Conversations are relational. They are always created by more than one person. As such, they are the stuff of dreams. They can be magical. They can be very very powerful. Conversations are the way in which human beings evolve their thinking. They are the cosmic glue that keeps society from descending into chaos. They are what heals us and helps us grow.
So, back to the baby. The baby in the Judgement of Solomon represents the creative and connecting power of conversation. The subject can be a social justice issue, a relationship challenge, a political process, whatever you like. And here’s where it gets pretty straightforward. If you only care about your half of some argument you are holding up, if you only care about your half of the baby, then the baby is going to get torn in half.
And all the gifts that listening to each other brings will fail to materialize.
Dr. Kenneth Gergen of the Taos Institute puts it this way.
“Its not the care of individuals that counts the most. Its the care of relationships.”
The binary debates that plague us are the reason we have lost our forward momentum on a wide range of political and social issues. We must reject the angry ideological trench warfare that can define public discourses here at the GMP and else where. Solomon recognized extremism in the voice of a mother who would rather kill a baby than give it up. We can learn to recognize that madness, too.
Because the future of men and women is inexorably interlinked. We will all move forward together or we will all fail, together. To attack other genders is to attack ourselves, our children and our hope.
We must apply the wisdom of Solomon to the voices in our selves and those around us.
It’s time to start thinking about the baby. All the babies.