Sometimes I discover a rich nugget of wisdom that seems to keep finding its way to me — a common thread that weaves itself in books, movies, songs and even the news. The nugget of wisdom that keeps appearing recently is “paradox”.
The wisdom of paradox — the ability to hold two seemingly opposite positions at the same time –– first landed on me as I read Richard Rohr’s book, Falling Upward. It resonated with me so deeply because of the current combination of complex, competing issues facing our country. It seems as if we are facing multiple paradoxes and we could use a lot of help with the tension.
Richard Rohr encourages us to experience the paradox in our lives as a way of “holding creative tension.” He offers this observation: “We are better at rushing to judgment and demanding a complete resolution to things before we have learned what they have to teach us.”
Just sit with that for a moment. It is a real life recognition of knee jerk reactions and falling into habitual responses and behavioral patterns that simply aren’t working anymore. This is incredibly evident in the constant stream of instant responses to current events that land on social media even as the news is still breaking. Long before we even have all the facts. Long before we give ourselves time to examine it from all sides free from bias and automatic judgments.
I used to ask my kids as teenagers and young adults, “What have you learned from this experience? ” They were not big fans of this question, preferring a minor reprimand or loss of privilege to the harder task of actually thinking about the consequences of an action or decision. While that may be a reasonable preference as a young adult, it is what Richard Rohr calls to our attention as we mature. Our paradox as older and hopefully wiser adults is to be able to sit with the reality of a current situation and process it in a responsible, respectful, more reflective way.
Richard Rohr is also a big proponent of the Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery and greater self awareness. Although he does not reference the Enneagram directly in his book Falling Upward, he does stress the value of being self-aware. He stresses that as we mature and gain wisdom from our fallings and our failings, we may realize that behavioral patterns that served us well when we were younger are no longer effective. In fact, they may be roadblocks in our lives. It’s ironic that we expect our young children to move out of their emotional stages as they grow, but rarely as adults do we measure our own progress with emotional intelligence.
The paradox that seems to reveal itself is one of both “self-awareness” and “other awareness”. Both Richard Rohr and Brene Brown teach that this is where we find compassion and empathy — for ourselves and for others. The creative tension is recognizing that (a) there is a legitimate problem or an issue that needs to be addressed and (b) that we bring differing perspectives, opinions and emotions to the discussion and (c) that we will gain traction in problem resolution when we let go of blaming and denial, of playing the role of victim or demoting others and (d) we will move toward finding solutions when we listen to each other with respect and without judgment.
I found Richard’s assessment of those who have grown in wisdom, age and grace to be one of the most beautiful examples of paradox: “Mature people are not “either or thinkers”, but they bathe in the ocean of “both-and.”“
In late August, Brene Brown posted on her Facebook page about the paradox of “straddling the tension and trying not to tap out. Forever convincing ourselves that we can hold so many contradictory pieces and feelings.” Wow – that really struck a chord as I reflected on the many struggles that friends and family are juggling as this pandemic stretches into a new school year. There are so many changes that young families must deal with and each member of the family has a range of emotions and insecurities that ebb and flow throughout the day. The paradox of parenting in the current environment takes creative tension to a whole new level. More than ever we need to be kind and patient with each other.
Brene reminds us that “not only are tension and contradictory pieces OK and normal, they are the magic sauce.” It may not feel that way in a stress filled moment, but I think this accompanying quote from her describes the paradox of parenthood perfectly.
Now that I have been paying closer attention to the word paradox, I am discovering that paradoxes appear everywhere. In fact, in my book club we actively discuss them in the best possible way — with a keen interest in learning more by sharing different perspectives and keeping an open mind. My base of knowledge on complex subjects has expanded exponentially. We are sparking creative conversations and motivating each other to read more, research more and to ask compelling questions.
Life is full of many paradoxes and we would be doing the world a great service to become aware of them — and to hold those opposing ideas with grace, maturity, and integrity.
My Suggestions if you want to explore further:
Brene Brown’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/brenebrown)
Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence (Supersoul Conversation podcast) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLWzrlMSch8&feature=youtu.be)