Would You Rather Be Free or Equal?

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I call it the “Dichotomy Game.” It acts as a great conversation starter. I use it for more than that. But that’s another story. I will, however, explain how you can play it at home with your friends and family.

First, everyone must remove any self-imposed restrictions on their imagination. You need to think with complete freedom, without the artificial constraints of peer pressure, political correctness, of fear of being made fun of. In other words, you must be completely honest with yourself and with the other folks playing the game.

Ok, have you limbered up those rusty synapses in your brain? Now it’s time to create a list of dichotomies. A dichotomy is a pair of words. In the game you look at each pair of words presented and choose one. Then the game begins.

A word about dichotomies: these aren’t randomly selected pairs of words. They are carefully chosen to cause those aforementioned synapses to fire intensely. (Don’t worry, this mental heat is what fuels the fun in the game).

Here’s a trick that will help you choose enticing dichotomies. To get the gist of this trick, take a stroll down memory lane. Remember how you learned to conduct scientific experiments in high school? You had to test two subjects. In order to test them, you had to identify all the variables that might be different between those two things. To get the best results, you wanted to isolate one variable. You would allow this variable to change while keeping all the other variables the same (you might recall the science teacher calling these latter variables “control variables”). This meant the two subjects would (ideally) be alike in every way except for one.

These two words in the dichotomy are like the two subjects in that science experiment. You want the words to be very close to saying the same thing, but not quite.

To understand why, let’s look at a terribly bad example of a dichotomy: Good and Evil. The game requires you to choose one. For most people (I hope), this is an easy choice. Everyone prefers good to evil. There’s no “game” in the Dichotomy Game if the choice is between “good” and “evil.” Why? Because they are so vastly different there’s no room for disagreement between the players (let alone discussion).

What if, on the other hand both choices are equally good (or equally bad)? They would be so much alike that the distinction would be meaningless (as in, “helpful” vs. “helping”). The words can be synonyms, but have a slight connotative difference, (for example, “helpful” vs. “cooperative”).

The intent to be helpful does not always match the intent to be cooperative. In addition, sometimes offering help isn’t cooperative and sometimes being cooperative isn’t helpful.

Don’t quite agree with that last paragraph? Well, then, let the Dichotomy Games begin!

The beauty (and the only rule) of the Dichotomy Game is that there are no right answers and the points don’t matter (OK, that’s 2 rules). Players can look at the same pair of words, each choose a different word for different reasons, and each make compelling – and convincing – arguments in support of their reasoning. In other words, they can both be right. One player may convince another player of their reasoning, but that doesn’t matter.

All that matters is the discussion and how far each play can go until they’ve exhausted their thoughts on the subject. But that’s not the best part of the game.

Sometimes players will pick opposing words – but do so for the same exact reason! Likewise, sometimes they’ll pick the same word, but for contrary reasons. That’s when the game gets interesting. That when the Dichotomy Game reveals its true lesson: language is fungible.

I’ve developed a series of dichotomies over the years that I’ve used in a professional setting (although the word pairs are completely transferable to a parlor game). I’ll give you a couple of examples. Here are some fun ones: Briefs vs. Boxers; Train vs. Plane, and Rain vs. Snow. Here are some pop culture ones: The Flintstones vs. The Jetsons; The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones; and, Star Trek vs. Star Wars. Here are some business ones: Time vs. Money; Fame vs. Fortune; and Wealth vs. Affluence. Here are some serious ones: Life vs. Liberty; Duties vs. Obligations, and Tyranny vs. Death.

Depending on the nature of your party, you may tilt the selection from one category to the next. It is, however, the latter category that I find most interesting. In light of the person we honor this week, I’ll challenge you to play the Solitaire version of the Dichotomy Game using the following word pair:

Freedom vs. Equality.

Pick one. You have thirty seconds. (Oh, yeah, I guess there’s a third rule – a time limit. Don’t give players forever to pick a word. The faster the better. Remember, there are no right answers, so often going with the quick “gut decision” offers the most fodder for fun.)

To be fair, I’ll reveal how my game of Solitaire turned out.

I picked “Freedom.” Why did I choose that over “Equality”? In some respects, equality is a worthy objective. We all like to be treated equally. But equality can take on oppressive extremes. In order to “insure” equality among all, centralized state governments have stripped freedoms from individual citizens. So, the downside of equality is dictatorship.

It is for this reason that I choose freedom over equality.

Does freedom have a similar downside? Yes. Anarchy. In a purely free society, an individual may decide to take an action the infringes on the freedom of another individual. Multiplying this behavior over the entire population results in anarchy.

For the record, I think dictatorships and anarchies are bad things. That I choose freedom over equality tells you, if I had to make a choice, I’d rather live in an anarchy than a dictatorship.


Because in an anarchy at least the individual has a fighting chance.

How did your game of “Dichotomy Solitaire” turn out? Did you pick “Freedom” or “Equality”? What was your reasoning? Did it agree or disagree with my reasoning? Not that it matters. After all, it’s just a game.


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