When did the world become so binary? Perhaps, it has always been that way, and I just refused to play along. I’m not sure, but I am sure I do not like it. In fact, I “buy nary” a shred of it (Apologies for the sophomoric pun.). I still impart to my students that the world is NOT black and white but gray and understanding that concept is a major prerequisite for becoming a functional student and a compassionate adult. What I do know and find profoundly disturbing is that this insistence on binaries is growing worse and expanding the social, religious, and political divides that threaten to render any sense of community impossible.
I’d like to think that life isn’t a children’s game of Red Rover in which one has to be entirely on one side or another, “against us or for us,” “love it or leave it” without being considered an enemy or traitor. I’d like to believe that adults are capable of more nuanced thinking than that, even to the point of grasping cognitive dissonance, which allows for the notion of two opposite ideas both being valid and true. Not to be too flippant about it, but why can’t I be, like Donny and Marie, both “a little bit country and a little bit rock-and-roll”? The current state of affairs, however, suggests that I’m a bit of a romantic in my way of wishful thinking, maybe even, God forbid, a pollyanna.
Allow me to share a few examples of contemporary binaries that I wish we could move beyond:
- Buckeye or Wolverine fan. I happen to be a Michigan fan, but I actually root for Ohio State every week but one. Apply your own sports rivalry.
- David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar. I’ll always be a David Lee guy, but I can still appreciate the more top-40 sound of the Hagar era.
- Red or Black licorice. I prefer red but still enjoy black.
- Boxers or Briefs. On second thought, let’s skip this one (TMI)
- Liberal or Conservative. Although I’m a proud liberal, I’ve voted for conservative candidates when I believed that candidate to be a more qualified potential legislator and/or simply a better person. There was once a day when one could be a conservative democrat or a liberal republican and cross party lines without being labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only) or be a so called Pro-Life Democrat without also becoming a pariah in one’s political party.
- God fearing or God dubious. Remember that it was Saint John of the Cross who wrote the poem “Dark Night of the Soul” in which he ruminates on the fundamental unknowability of God. Also, consider this quotation from no less than Mother Teresa: “So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul.” If two literal saints are allowed to express doubt considering the existence of God, who isn’t?
- Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. I hate the simplistic binary with which this issue is presented. It’s far more complicated issue with a number of extenuating circumstances that need to be considered in any discussion of it; however, we insist on this oversimple either/or argument. Does this notion of pro-life extend beyond the birth? Does pro-life also mean anti-capital punishment? Does pro-life also mean anti-assisted suicide? On the other hand, does pro-choice have any limitations?
- Male or Female. One may argue that, biologically, a person’s “sex” is indisputable at birth as being either a male or female; however, I firmly believe that “gender” is a matter of training and, ultimately, choice. Now, this requires the reader to accept a semantic splitting-of-hairs between the terms “sex” and “gender.” I, for example, was born and raised to be male, and I’ve never had a compulsion to be anything but. Still, I’ve always accepted as true the great Carl Jung’s, the noted Swiss pychiatrist, assertion that all men have an unconscious “feminine side,” and all women an unconscious “male side.” I believe we all possess traits that are typically associated with our opposite sex. No one understood this or played upon that idea than Shakespeare, who bent genders half-of-a millenium before anyone thought it was cool. Perhaps, in some of us who choose transgendering, the need to manifest, express, and live our opposite gender is stronger than in most of us — as is the courage to do so. I’m totally cool with and respect that and proudly admit to possessing characteristics more commonly associated with females myself, including an affinity for reading fiction, adoring Oprah Winfrey, and enjoying shopping, for women’s clothing among others. Just a note of clarification: I enjoy shopping for women’s clothing with and for my wife to wear. There is just such better variety and forward fashion in women’s clothing.
- Heterosexual or Homosexual. I’ve never understood the need to classify people based on which gender they preferred to have sexual relations with. Believe it or not, these terms didn’t even exist until about 150 years ago. I believe that people then, as now, were simply “sexual” with the caveat that it’s perfectly acceptable to be asexual. Does it make me gay to recognize and admit that there exist handsome men or to appreciate a man’s body? If so, feel free to call me such. In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed so-called “straight” males, especially athletes, engage in all sorts of homoerotic behaviors while calling it “hazing” or “horseplay,” and though many will not admit to it, most people have the occasional homoerotic dream. I’m a huge fan of celebrities who blur these ridiculous lines of gender and sexuality: Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Bowie, Prince, GaGa, Harry Styles, just to name a few.
For me, the most off-putting of persons is the zealot, defined as a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals. Sadly, I’m afraid, we have entered an age of zealotry. Such periods typically result in heinous acts of persecution and only end with many lives ruined or ended.
I suppose I will receive backlash from a few readers for the ideas expressed in this post. Instead, and I know I’m being naive, but why don’t you take the advice of Maren Morris and Zedd and “meet me in the middle”?
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