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When arbitration fails, try arbitrary

Submitted by on Tuesday, 7 April 2009 No Comment

It’s a lesson I should have learned long ago, back when I was directing a community theater production and my costume selection for the female lead in a crucial scene was vigorously debated for 10 minutes.

“She’s way too meek to ever wear red.”

“She’s too frugal to ever buy chiffon.”

“It’s a too-big thrift store bride’s maid gown that’s perfect,” I finally said. “The democracy is closed now. Just wear the dress.”

Yet, here I am 20 years down the road still trying to haggle my way through the day with two beings who don’t get compromise or collaboration. To make it even worse, much of the vigorous debate isn’t about anything nearly as important as an actress’s ball gown.

“I want the red cup,” Boots cried.

“I want the red cup,” Big Guy countered.

“I called first!” Boots said.

“No, we’re taking turns picking now and you called first the last time. Remember, Mommy?” Big Guy asked.

I have to admit my legendary memory had zilch recall on that one. I owned up to that, and Big Guy pounced anew. “Well, I remember. We’re taking turns, and it’s my turn.”

“No, it’s my turn,” I said. “And it’s my turn from now on, because we’re spending a lot of time arguing about things that don’t matter. The milk will taste the same no matter what color the cup is.”

“I want chocolate milk.”

Oh, sheesh.

The art of being arbitrary is a hard one for me to master. It’s not that I’m incapable of making solid decisions quickly. It’s that I know mine aren’t the only good ideas and hearing other viewpoints is good. I want the guys to learn that, too.

Problem is, they’re not old enough to grasp that. Come to think of it, I know some adults who aren’t either. “You’re wrong, I’m right, na na na na boo boo. You have to do it my way.”

And, really, most of the things we debate – the color of milk cups, who gets which cartoon character on their dinner plate, which bath towel is better – cease to be relevant about five minutes later when we move on to the next irrelevant conflagration.

It reminds me of the passionate discussions at a paper I once worked at about the color of the color bars that appeared with some stories. Isn’t blue the style? But didn’t we approve black in some instances? Was it black or was it gray? Can’t we use magenta?

Dear God, someone just make an arbitrary decision. Lay down an edict and rap the knuckles of anyone who violates. Anything would be better than wheel-spinning debates that are more like water boarding than collaboration.

I’m laying down an edict now . Milk cups, dinner plates and bath towels now are my bailwick, as is any other thing that’s going to make me want to impale myself with chop sticks if we talk about it for longer than five seconds.

There. It’s settled.

If the guys feel like debating second-hand clothes in a few years, though, I’m ready to talk. I’d hate to have them leave for the prom feeling frumpy, frugal or overdressed in red chiffon.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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