Now the Yang to the Best Bad Choice Yin is choosing between Irreconcilable Goods.
Making a choice between two “good” things sounds pretty great right? No matter what you pick, a positive will come to the world. But don’t Stories require conflict? How can a choice between two good things, not just drive a Story forward but actually create a catharsis?
The key word, of course, is “irreconcilable.” Choosing one good precludes the other. What’s good for someone else is a different kind of good for you and what’s good for you is a different kind of good for someone else.
But any good is just as good as another good, right?
No, it isn’t.
One of my favorite movies, Kramer vs. Kramer, starts with a double “best bad choice” scenario but then is all about irreconcilable goods.
Wife Kramer (an impossible part played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) is at a crisis point with Husband Kramer (played by Dustin Hoffman). Only problem is that they have a four-year old little boy.
Is staying with her husband—a narcissist of the highest order who cares little for her and barely registers the existence of their son—until her boy is grown worse than denying her inner self? Wife Kramer thinks staying is worse. She’s gotta go. That’s best bad choice number one.
Now should she take the little boy with her? She’s an emotional wreck and has no idea of what she’s going to do with her life or how. So wouldn’t it be better to leave the boy with the father until she gets squared away? Wife Kramer thinks leaving the boy is the best bad choice. That’s best bad choice number two.
This movie is so brilliantly written that everything I’ve just described happens in the first sixty seconds…
Now left to care for the little guy after his hysterical wife flies the coop, Hoffman’s character has to make a series of irreconcilably good choices.
He can hire a full time nanny and stay on his career track as an up and coming advertising exec. Or he can take the kid to school, pick him up, make his dinner, clean up after him, discipline him, read him stories, and answer endless ridiculous and often impossible questions from his maddening four-year old point of view.
Hiring a third party caregiver would be good for Kramer personally and it would be good for his kid too. All of his hard work making something of himself will most likely lead to professional recognition, more money, etc. And because of the money etc. his son will have privileges and opportunities in life that the older Kramer didn’t have when he was a boy.
He’ll be a great role model for his son…hard work pays off, stay focused!
But does his son really need that kind of role model when he’s four years old?
Doesn’t he just want his mom and dad there when he bangs his head on the coffee table?
So the other good choice would be to put the brakes on his career, take a lesser paying job, and make it to every school play. He’ll teach his son how to draw just like his old man does for a living. He’ll get angry at his son for bullying the next door neighbor and then he’ll stand behind his boy when he knocks on the door to apologize…
That would be a good choice too, right?
His son would learn that money and titles aren’t really that important if it means that a man can’t eat dinner with his family. Having someone to cry with about losing his mommy (or wife) trumps a key to the executive washroom.
Of this stuff are “irreconcilable goods” conflicts made. I saw this movie before I became a man, as I’m sure a lot of men my generation did too. Go to any playground today. Guess what you’ll see. A bunch of dads with their kids. Stories change people.
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