Solomonic justice . . . .

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Thursday in the week of Proper 16, Year 1 (Pentecost 13, 2015)

1 Kings 3:24-25 ~ So [Solomon] said, “Bring me a sword”, and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to one, and half to the other.”

There’s a term in law (and in common speech) which describes a compromise judgment: Solomonic justice. It describes exactly what Solomon doesn’t do here. The “Solomonic justice” solution to the quandary presented by the two women who each claim the baby as her own is to split the baby. This would not have worked justice and it is not what Solomon did, so term is entirely ironic.

And yet we often seek compromise as a solution to disputes. I recall a law school professor opining that compromises are the worst of solutions because everyone loses something in a compromise and no one is ever satisfied with them; the better way, he said, is to seek consensus. This rang true (and still does) as it recalled to me the observation by the pioneer of organizational theory Mary Follett, some of whose works I had read while pursuing an MBA.

Follett used the term “integration” rather than “consensus,” but her point was the same when she observed that every dispute has three possible outcomes: domination, in which one side gets what it wants; compromise, in which neither side gets what it wants; or integration, in which a was is found by which both sides may get what they wish. The justice displayed in the Bible’s story of Solomon and the two women is domination, neither the compromise of “Solomonic justice” nor a way in which both women could be satisfied.

It is often said of current American politics that we live in a world where compromise has become impossible. I wonder, however, if it might be that we live in a world where compromise has become to common, where people have been compromised to a point of fundamental frustration, where we have been required again and again to give up a little here, give up a little there, until we have nothing more to give up. Mahatma Ghandi once said there can be no compromise on fundamentals, to compromise on fundamentals is merely surrender. Having been asked to compromise, to give up bits and pieces until it feels there are no bits or pieces left to give, have we reached a place where all that remains are fundamentals which cannot be surrendered?

Perhaps so, and perhaps this is the place where consensus or, to use Follett’s word, integration can begin. If we can define fundamentals on which both sides agree, perhaps we can move on from there. The issue then becomes one of overcoming the frustration and anger existing on both sides. We cannot talk, negotiate, or explore consensus and integration until that anger is diffused.

That is the true “Solomonic justice” on display in today’s Bible story. The king used the shock of the threat of bloody infanticide to defuse (at least on one side) anger and frustration, and revealed the deceit on the other. This may be what we need now, a slap in the face to shock us into facing reality.

And, maybe, given the quality (or lack thereof), character (or lack thereof), and sheer ridiculousness of some current “politicians,” it’s what we’re getting.