The Lady and the Tiger

I’ve watched the school-reopening debate grateful that my own child is well past compulsory education age. What strikes me about the debate (it never seems to be a discussion) is the forced-choice quality: Either we re-open schools, OR we bludgeon an already ailing economy (meaning Main Street, I suppose, because Wall Street is largely doing fine).

The benefit of forced-choice thinking is that it can make us re-evaluate priorities. Just how important is education for a child on the schedule we all grew up with? Socialization? Access to supportive services? Was Main Street dying anyway, and might the pandemic simply speed up to the inevitable? When we’re faced with lady or the tiger decisions, we focus on what matters to most us and why.

The downside of binary thinking is that we oversimplify, ignore nuances, and become polarized. Maskers vs. Anti-maskers, vaxxers vs. anti-vaxxers. The versus gets more emphasis than it deserves, and become a means of identifying people rather than positions on issues. I met an older, white, male US citizen the other day who described himself as “very conservative,” but he’d spent 15 years raising a family in Costa Rica, and said, hands down, their universal health care approach made much more sense than the racket we have going here. That is not a position the typical “very conservative,” white, male, older, American would espouse.

So binary thinking leads to inaccurate labels. The other downside of binary thinking is that it creates false dichotomies. I was told I had to study classic piano or jazz. I studied both. I had to choose between Spanish, Latin, and German in terms of language classes in high school. I studied all three. I was supposed too choose ONE major in college, I ended up with a B.S. in political science, and B. Music in Music History, because I was interested in both (and very lucky to be able to afford the extra classes, but forty years ago, college was affordable).

The false dichotomies were presented to me as fiat, as reality, as How We Do It, but once you sniff out one or two false dichotomies, you get a nose for them, and a nose for the road less traveled that lies between, around, and under them. You can be a patriot who favors gun safety reform, a soldier who hates war, a conservative in favor of universal health care. You can look for solutions instead of divisions, and that is much more the sort of person I want to be.

Have you ever had to blast through a false dichotomy? Plow new ground, stand a problem on its head? Have you ever had to tell somebody, “I’m doing it anyway.” Have you ever wished you could? To three commenters, I’ll send an eARC of My Heart’s True Delight.

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21 comments on “The Lady and the Tiger

  1. 1
    Karen H near Tampa says:

    When I decided in my late 30s that I finally knew what field to get a Master’s Degree in (Computer Science), I investigated both UCLA and USC (since I lived in LA at the time). UCLA insisted that I had to go full-time and at least 2 UCLA grads I knew agreed. But I felt that I had been working for almost 20 years and didn’t need the immersive experience. So I ignored them and enrolled at USC that not only allowed part-time grad students but also had off-campus and televised courses (this was in the early 1990s) so I could keep working full-time while I attended. I have never regretted my decision and I also don’t regret telling the UCLA folks that while I might (though probably really wouldn’t) agree that their way was the best way, I would never agree that it was the Only way, as they insisted. While I haven’t always pushed through, the older I get, the more likely I am to do so.

  2. 2

    Thank you for this wise sharing. I agree, life is much more interesting without dichotomies taken at face value. Thank you for encouraging courage here and in your books. I appreciated Hamish hating war and perhaps you referenced that in this blog.

    Thank you for sharing your stories and talents. I’m enjoying rereading many of your series yet again, so many layers to enjoy.
    Take care and best wishes.
    Sincerely,
    Charlene Avery

  3. 3
    Teenie Marie says:

    I’m a woman choral conductor. I had wanted to be a CONDUCTOR but was told girls don’t conduct orchestras…..that wouldn’t happen now but it did happen when I expressed my desire….not by my parents, thank goodness.Anyway, when I was told I couldn’t do something, I tried to do it anyway. And succeeded, mostly.

    Classical music is a very sexist profession and women have long been told they couldn’t do something and yet, somehow we find a way to do it anyway. With the 100th anniversary of women being granted the right to vote in the USA on Tuesday, it just proves what can happen when determined folks decide to do it anyway. 🙂

    • 3.1
      Sunny Dee says:

      I am a stay-at-home wife and mother. I am not uneducated. I earned a four-year degree in 3 years. I laugh every time I say that I earned a B.S. in Journalism.
      You would think that full time mothering wouldn’t need much trailblazing. I thought i would have massive support from my family.
      Nope.
      I met my husband in April, was engaged mid-June and married in September (all in the same year). My parents were less than thrilled. My mom tried to get me to cancel the wedding. She pushed so hard that we never did go wedding shopping. Some of my siblings were openingly hostile. It sucked big time.

      When the babies came, my life got more complicated. Both mother in laws had strong opinions om how to care for my children. And when most of them became special needs, they pulled farther away. 2015 was the only year where I felt supported.

      Despite the aggravation, I chose option C (a being full parental support and b being cutting grandparents off) and lowered my expectations and still involve the grandparents. I still hear them when they tell me how to raise my kids (even though my kids because of their disorders need highly specialized behavioral management care that i have spent YEARS learning the perfecting). I still invite them to functions and i rarely scold them when they screw up all the efforts I put in to allow my kids to thrive.

  4. 4
    Brenda U.K says:

    This week I want to share with you a part of my life before I went into a career of management of social care services vulnerable children /adults,which lasted thirty years.Many years of finding and fighting for solutions ,outcomes to improve lifes.I was seventeen and it was in the sixties.I decided to change my job (worked in a record shop) had a great time but wanted a change.I applied for a job in a man and boys outfitters they wanted to take on a female for the first time.My family ,friends said I was mad and would regret it.I would be treated by some men with disrespect.This was true in some situations.Inside leg measurements when selling trousers could be a challenge when they said they did not know.The smile on their faces disappeared when I asked them to place the tape measure I held out to them and from the top of their inside leg to the bottom of the leg.The tape measure was weighted and provided the corrected reading.Done by them not me.Many situations can have solutions ,those cheeky young men in my young woman’s time were shot down in flames but I sold a lot of trousers!!!!.A simple tale but a good example.It still brings a smile to my face when I recall those times back then.How things have changed.

  5. 5
    Susan G says:

    In the 1980’s, I worked for a mutual fund company. I worked in the sales and service division for 2 years and took a job in corporate communications. I coordinated, edited and proof read fund reports. I really enjoyed the job and it’s perks. After a year, I was promoted over a male employee who had been hired about 6 months before me in the same position. I remember how disappointed he was the he did not get the promotion. I can hear my boss explaining to him that I was organized, made few errors and knew how to talk to people— skills he didn’t possess. My coworker actually said to our boss—But, she’s a woman. Honest to God.

    I had to prove myself a lot more in the 1980 and 1990s. The position I have now incorporates the same skill set as above. There is a man who has the similar job as mine in another state. He approaches things differently than I do and is very territorial and critical. I have been helping him on his work for a month or so as it’s been busy. Word got back to me that he is thrilled that I have been helping him even though I do things differently. Ha!! there is really no right or wrong way to do our job.

    I have encouraged my daughter to think outside the box when faced with a situation or decision. And to treat everyone fairly ( until they don’t deserve it) and work hard.

    PS still waiting out the mister on the furniture. The bookcases, tv console and tables arrived Tuesday. And we ordered a tv yesterday. Yes, I am sticking to my plan of a matching leather couch and chair.

  6. 6
    Make Kay says:

    Yes, several times in my schooling and career I have said to the establishment, “You can just go jump in a lake. I can succeed MY way, and just watch me do it.” It’s so satisfying to succeed and show up the naysayers. But so infuriating to be told that ‘females can’t do that’ or similar BS of that ilk. Grrrr.

  7. 7
    Marianne says:

    When my mother retired, her co-workers brought a cake that said “I Did It My Way.” She still does things her way.

    Her children aren’t quite the free spirits she is, but there is still time.

  8. 8
    Elaine says:

    Once upon a time, I couldn’t imagine people hunting. Then, I met some folks who hunted deer and moose and used all the meat to feed their families and friends during the winter, and, suddenly, I understood. Perhaps it was sport, but it was also practical. So much for that liberal bias!

    BTW, love the kitten embracing its pal in your photos. So heartwarming.

    • 8.1
      Karen H near Tampa says:

      Hunting for food is one thing and probably better than the factory farming most of the animals we eat endure. It’s the “humans” who hunt, but do not eat, exotic animals just so they can put an animal’s carcass on their wall (or social media page these days) that deserve our enmity and certainly have mine.

  9. 9
    Sarah Lee says:

    I’ve always thought I had to do everything perfectly or else no one would like me. Truly ridiculous, and not true at all, but it’s eaten at me for too many decades. Life and health have made being perfect no longer an option, and time’s a wastin’. So I just do what I can and make my own priorities.

  10. 10
    Molly R. Moody says:

    My mother and stepfather tossed me out on my ear shortly before my senior year in high school when I refused to do all the housework and pay them room and board. Neither appreciated it when I reminded them that they had allowed my older sister to work half a day and go to school the other half for her last two years and keep all of the money she was allowed to keep all of the money she earned. She looked me in the eye and told me I’d never graduate. I proved her wrong and graduated with a B average. A little over a year later I entered the community college and earned a degree in Library Technology. My first semester I was given 15 hours so I had trouble and the instructor told me maybe I shou;ld find a different program. The following semester I signed up for just 12 hours and was able to get a part time job on campus, I finished with a B average. Once I finished all of the required courses and my chosen electives I had earned a strong B average and got my AAS in Library Technology. Except for a volunteer position as church librarian I never worked in the field but I remembered a great deal of it. In the ’90’s I became a regular at the Central Library here and became acquainted with several of the librarians who were amazed when they found I only had a two year degree instead of a Master’s in Library Science.

  11. 11
    Glenda M says:

    The first time I remember doing something someone told me I couldn’t was when my older sister told me I would never learn to read or write because of my dyslexic tendencies. I ended up with better grades than her and a college degree which she never managed. Several years later at summer camp, I was told that girls couldn’t take the canoeing class – they took arts and crafts instead. I told them to pretend my name was Glen and sign me up – after telling me I only had a day to change my mind they finally relented. The next year, half the class was female including many girls who were in my cabin the year before.

    Twenty-nine years ago when I told my family I was going to stay in Texas and get married 2 months into my temporary job assignment I heard nothing but warnings about how rushed marriages never worked out; that we were too different for it to last; and my favorite that since he was of Italian descent, he was misogynistic, would want me barefoot and pregnant, and of course would never help out around the house. Two (not 10) kids later the only reason I do more housework now is that I am unemployed. However he fusses when I try to do too much or lift heavy stuff because of my neck problems and he always helps out. As a matter of fact, he is doing the rest of the dinner dishes right now.

  12. 12
    Kate Marshall says:

    A difficulty I found as a young woman was seeing who was entitled to participate in a choice I was involved in. I eventually learned how to figure out who was truly involved – sometimes people with loud opinions weren’t, while others who really were stayed silent, from fear/insecurity/shyness. Once it was obvious who was actually impacted, it became easier. Someone told me to look for solutions that benefited the most people. Not always possible, but largely, it’s a two-step strategy that’s worked for me, when faced with apparent dichotomies.

  13. 13
    Karen says:

    Do you remember the movie “Mr. Mom” in 1983? That was my husband & I in the late 70’s bucking the system.
    When our son was 6 months old my husband was laid off work. Since I had a good paying job with excellent benefits we decided that he would stay home & I would continue to work. I received more grief from my female coworkers than he did from his male friends!
    He remained a stay-at-home dad till our daughter was in 1st grade. He volunteered at their school & did everything both inside & outside the house except cook!
    Needless to say 44 years later he’s still doing everything around the house except the cooking & all the nay-sayers are in awe that we’re still together.

  14. 14
    Ilonka Molano-Pena says:

    That is exactly the way I have felt for a long time!!! I can be labeled in so many different ways in today’s society, that it would be pretty naive to think that others are not as complex.

    The solutions are not where we diverge but in the common ground…

  15. 15
    Sarah says:

    This is my superpower! I don’t have use for paradigms that categorize people, they are only limiting and are the root of so much conflict and violence. No one is *just* who you think they are, especially at first glance, we all have depth and value. When people create a story in their heads about me, it is wrong 100% of the time. I refuse to do that to other people. I hate being underestimated and dismissed and refuse to do that to other people. I hate to be demonized or exoticized and won’t do it to others. I don’t like everyone but I won’t hate them based on an assumption either.

    In college I created my own interdisciplinary major. This was not supported and the college actively undermined the process. But at the time of my graduation there was already a student scheduled to graduate the following year in the newly accepted major. I felt like such a trailblazer.

  16. 16
    Margaret says:

    Here’s a comment that will probably get me in trouble as it’s something I’ve argued about endlessly with my grown children: one can be against abortion and pro-choice. I personally believe that abortion is, in fact, the intentional killing of a living human, which probably makes it murder. Yet I also believe that such a “murder” is nobody’s damn business other than the woman involved and her god, if she has one, and if there is one. A hell of a lot worse is done to fully functional and sentient human beings on a regular basis, often by self-proclaimed pro-lifers.

    • 16.1
      Marianne says:

      Another hot topic. My husband gave up the marriage commissioner part of his professional certification because he did not wish to participate in the union of underage children, same sex couples or first cousins, all of which are legal in this jurisdiction. As a service provider, he otherwise had no choice in the matter.

  17. 17
    Rita Gerstheimer says:

    I have gotten really good at ignoring willful ignorance. If I didn’t, I would be working at a job that pleased everyone but me. My parents, as good Germans, told me for the entirety of my K-12 education that it was my duty to do well in school, everything else was secondary. I had a minimal social life as a result. They were pleased about me earning a scholarship and were pleased to send me off to a year of study abroad. They weren’t pleased when I came home from that year abroad able to balance school and a social life. I got lectured about my duty to my school work, it all got done. They demanded to know why I wasn’t finishing my duel major in four years. Any support I had previously received evaporated. They never attended a university and had no idea what was required to finish a duel major, or even one major. They were listening to their German relatives and friends who talked negatively about the Eternal Student at the university. The German system paid tuition costs, so some students did take longer to complete their degrees, not all. I had a scholarship for four years and only had to pay for an additional year of classes. I was able to pay the bill. I was also told that my duel degrees weren’t going to get me a job, and I needed to study engineering or computers, that’s where the jobs were. All this advice came in year four and five. I am currently looking into teaching ESL classes, I certainly have enough experience growing up with family whose second language was English. Teaching adults German dried up during the Great Recession. I am married to an engineer with a specialty in IT. He has repeatedly said that I would have taken a hammer to my computer, if I had to do his work. He knows my interest has never been in either area. I am trying to work my way through a book he has written on his area of expertise, I am still trying to finish the first chapter.