Out With Binary Thinking
This time of year I tend to fall into binary thinking even more than usual. Was 2018 a good or bad year? Was I naughty or nice? Beer or wine?
Looking at my favorite nativity scene I’m reminded that black-and-white distinctions are false and lead us into quagmires of absolutism that absolve us from thinking deeply about decisions and desires that we’d benefit from examining. Look at how the wild and domestic are combined here. It’s not just cute, it’s the truth. Not literally—though a literal interpretation of the nativity is never my aim. But this earth is a swirl of the wild and domestic, which interact far more than western civilization would lead us to believe.
As a very little girl, I didn’t see those distinctions. My backyard was wild, dresses were made for me to do headstands in, and I didn’t need a shirt in summer any more than my brothers did. When I turned five I had to beg to go shirtless one last time. I stopped wearing dresses in puberty when it was clear I needed to choose the kind of female I’d be. I chose tomboy even though I would’ve liked wearing dresses sometimes if people didn’t look around to see whom I was trying to impress. Tomboy seemed the only choice if I wanted to have a life of adventure.
After that first choice, others followed, all based on choosing the wild over the domestic. I’d hang out with uncles rather than aunts, Dad rather than Mom. I’d love trees, not flowers. Prioritize being strong and independent over being kind and attached to others.
Luckily I grew up to discover the falseness of such dualisms. I paint my nails and go long periods without a shower. I rock climb and knit. I love cooking, decorating my house, and raising my children as much as I love solo backpacking, belching, and letting my children run free. I love being a wife because my husband has no illusions that I am domestic, or that I am always wild.
My hope for everyone in 2019 is that the binaries begin to fall away even more. That any resolutions we might make will lead us closer to our authentic selves, and more open to seeing people in their authentic otherness.
Happy Binary-free New Year!
I write, read, recreate, and raise kids in rural Pennsylvania. I teach part-time in Outdoor Recreation Leadership, Creative Writing, and Women's Studies at Mansfield University.