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Schoolyard Wisdom


“Don’t worry. I’ll launch that nuclear warhead so fast it will make your head spin.”

Someone recently reminded me that the international tension building about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a whole lot about politics–here, in Israel, and in Iran. Even if there is a lot of show afoot, however, it is nerve-racking; because we are looking at potentially cataclysmic consequences. Something has to give, big-time, and perhaps that is The Ways of Men. That means that The Ways of Women will be needed in greater measure.

I speak as both a participant and very early observer of schoolyard behavior, which is pertinent here. To give you the framework, I went to an elementary school in El Paso, Texas, where Anglos were outnumbered by Hispanics. The disadvantages of being in the minority, of being “the other,” were most acute on the playground. There I was picked on enough to resort to forging notes from my mother excusing me from recess. The teacher caught on after a while, and I had to return to the arena. What I endured was generally unpleasant, but I don’t remember a specific incident. That suggests that the animosity was tempered, which is typical of girls.

Things were different with the boys, whose tensions typically escalated. Something would begin with a little shove, then there would be a reacting shove, followed by a bigger shove back, leading to a lunge and a blow, and then the boys would be thrashing around in the dirt. Sometimes I’m sure there was a little trouble-maker in the melee, emboldened by a big brother who would come to the rescue if needed or be the later agent of revenge.

Regarding these two memories, I consider myself the innocent victim of the first and an objective observer of the second. In a third memory, I am sorry to confess that I was the trouble-maker. There was a boy in my class named Fernando whom I didn’t like for cause I have forgotten. There came a moment on the playground when he was in confrontation with two Anglo boys who were my friends. I must have seen them as the champions of my grievance, and I egged them on: “Get him!” I urged. Outnumbered, Fernando backed off, and my friends dropped it. But I will never forget the moment when he turned and looked at me. His face was full of a quality of hatred that I remember as mature, implacable, and murderous.

The dynamic in the Middle East brings up these schoolyard memories for me. There are first and foremost big differences among the participants–in race, religion, language, weaponry, wealth, education, technology, and history–that makes all of them look like “the other” to all of us. There is a lot of symbolic pushing and shoving and threatening going on to dominate Iran in the same humiliating way that made Fernando hate me. In a manner of speaking, we are still at a very elementary level of education in learning how to resolve complex issues with nations very different from our own.

So how do we fix this? My mind, as I mentioned at the outset, turns to the role the feminine could play. This is due to the fact that, in the absence of physical strength, we are naturally endowed with the ability to find creative ways to avoid a physical fight we can’t possibly win. And as with my forged note to the teacher, that creativity can create options.

I have introduced the kind of generality that makes masculine eyes roll. “I know what you’d do,” the men are thinking. “You’d roll over. You’d give in.” This kind of anxiety pushes the feminine into ludicrous response. For example, in running for the country’s highest office, a woman feels the need to assert: “Don’t worry. I’ll launch that nuclear warhead so fast it will make your head spin.” Great.

I freely concede that women simply haven’t had enough experience in negotiating as equals with our men to tap into our real potential in governance, and we need to begin now thoughtfully to prepare for that responsibility. I think that means developing some principles of leadership that are unique to the feminine perspective. These will be very different from the principles established by men since the beginning of what currently passes for civilization, and they may serve to take the latter up a notch or two.

The fact is that, in the international arena, The Man’s Way seems to have brought us very close to a dead end, pardon the pun. Violence has classically been the favored means of achieving some form of victory or domination. We just can’t afford this anymore. The magnitude of potential violence has become too horrifying to contemplate, and yet bullying remains our country’s foremost means of getting our way in international relations.

And that takes us back to the playground. All over the country, our schools are implementing programs to prevent bullying. If we really believe it’s wrong, then we need to walk that talk at the very highest level of government. And if that approach is so imbedded in the masculine psyche that the mere thought of alternatives is repugnant, then it’s time to make room for more creative thinking from the feminine psyche. For the sake of all life on earth, let’s say.

I have some thoughts about the new principles of leadership we might bring to the table, but they can wait until later. I mean, I hope they can wait until later.

One Response to “Schoolyard Wisdom”

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