This is an honest dilemma. We’ll talk about what a lemma is in just a moment. It may not be a dilemma for this particular child, whom Bette says is about 8 months old. And even if it were a dilemma for this child, I have no intention to attribute this particular phrasing of the dilemma to this particular child. The phrasing is clearly inappropriate to this child, which is why someone thought it was funny and put it on the web. I thought it was hilarious, which is why I downloaded it.
A lemma is a proposition. The fact that is comes from the Greek lambanein, “to take,” will help us phrase “proposition” as “taken for granted.” But having two lemmas doesn’t really bring us to di-lemma. To be a di-lemma both of the courses of action must be unsatisfactory and/or uncertain. If you have to go one way or the other and can’t tell which way you should go, you have a dilemma. Door #1 or Door #2 is not a dilemma. “The Lady and the Tiger” is a dilemma.
Now, is the situation this child faces, a dilemma? There is absolutely no way to tell whether a child that age could construe alternatives of this kind. I, however, face that choice very nearly every day and I don’t always resolve it in the same way. And neither do you.
Yesterday, I watched the Seattle Seahawks manhandle the San Francisco 49ers. Looking back on the game, one of the commentators lined up a series of plays in which a very good Seahawk cornerback completely covered a 49er wide receiver. Lots of physical play, all legal, but intensely frustrating. Toward the end of the series, there were several plays when the wide receiver didn’t even run his route. He just ran up the the cornerback and started pushing him. He had decided to cry about being tired. He had lost all interest in his nap.
Here’s a clip from a piece I wrote in anticipation of giving up university teaching.
Now let’s consider the player whose job it is to make the free throws. This is the character in the drama with whom Clarence Thomas identifies. This player’s job, as Thomas sees it, is to focus on the rim and ignore the distractions. But now imagine that he begins to think that the behavior of this unruly mob behind the backboard is intolerable. He, the player who is trying to make the shot, is doing what must and should be done. They, who come to the game with entirely malevolent intentions, are doing what should not be done. Justice Thomas has just been changed from a player—focus on the rim, make the shot, win the game—to a critic. As a critic, he will not be as good a player.
I think that is where I am as an educator; I am becoming a critic. I am having more and more trouble remembering how much more important it is to make the shot than it is to disapprove of the mob behind the basket.
I found myself right on the edge of crying about being tired—right on the edge of passing up a really restorative nap. So I decided to give it up the crying and take a nap instead. That is what I am doing now.
This child feels bad. Look at his face. He doesn’t know why he feels bad, but even he has the choice of calling the kind of bad he is feeling “sleepy,” and falling asleep or calling it “uncomfortable” and being angry about it. And so do we all.
The choice to “cry about being tired”—and all of the analogs that make up adult life– is a moral choice; it is a protest. It expresses our unhappiness. It holds someone “accountable”—although it might just be the person who is nearest. At that point, we don’t really care.
The choice to “take a nap”—and all the adult analogs– is not a moral choice. It is an instrumental choice. We feel uncomfortable and we are not sure the means of dealing with that discomfort are available to us, but some means are available, and we incline toward those. If “taking a nap” doesn’t work, there will always be time later to “cry about being tired.”
I really don’t approve much of people who think that “crying about being tired” is “the wrong approach” and consequently don’t do it. They are stoic. I think that’s too much. The people I like are the people who try the solutions that are within their power (“napping”) first but who are willing to express their displeasure (“crying”) effectively should the occasion call for it.
All this to say that this kid’s face illustrates a dilemma that seems very familiar to me. I wonder if it seems familiar to you as well.