A paradox is something that appears to be contradictory, unbelievable, or absurd but may, in fact, be true. Do less – accomplish more.
These statements present a paradox. Acknowledging, owning, and embracing the paradoxical nature of our lives, the lives of others, and the world can lessen our resistance to change and increase our effectiveness. At its most basic it makes us less tense and more open to happiness.
When I look at my own life and self, I see that I embody a number of paradoxes. Here are a few:
- I am shy and solitary, and I love speaking in front of people.
- At work, I am completely myself, and I play a role.
- I am firm and decisive, and I am cautious and conservative.
- I am a businessman, and I am a Zen teacher.
- I can concentrate for long periods of time, and I’m easily distracted.
- I am confident and extremely vulnerable.
Each of us contains similar paradoxes. The more we look for them, the more we see paradoxes everywhere – in the world of the heart, in the world of work, and in society.
Acknowledging and understanding this basic truth can be freeing.
What a relief to not have to make ourselves, others and life fit neatly into some limited idea or framework!
Intuitively we know that all humans are complex and contradictory. Embracing our paradoxes not only provides real insights into ourselves and allows for more self-acceptance, but it also increases our appreciation of everyone else’s surprising quirks and contradictions.
Sometimes we get caught up trying to resolve internal contradictions, thinking that if we can, we will solve our busyness and live with more meaning and simplicity. Instead, this effort can itself becomes the cause of our busyness and our scrambled bewilderment. Our complex minds, emotions, and personality traits are simply a rather wonderful fact of human existence. Accepting that can lighten and expand our self-image, making it more fluid. In a strange way, it is a more accurate view of life. Embrace paradox and you increase self-acceptance, tolerance of others, and your own possibilities.
ASK YOURSELF: WHAT ARE YOUR PARADOXES
At a leadership workshop for a group of engineering managers, I gave everyone the assignment to describe himself or herself as a paradox. Here is what one had to say:
- I strive hard to be lazy.
- I’m selfishly compassionate.
- I desire to not want.
- Sometimes, I’m not myself.
- Often, I’m not here, where I am.
- I actively engage in non-activity.
- I feel spiritual about my earthly desires.
- I sometimes fail at failing.
- I make careless mistakes carefully.
- Sometimes, my mind is full of nothing.
- My own arrogance humbles me.
Now it is your turn, try to list the paradoxes that describe yourself. In what ways do you embody contradiction and inconsistency?
Next, explore each of these paradoxes in writing. Choose one of your paradoxes and describe it more fully. How does it express itself in your actions and emotions?
If you have trouble coming up with paradoxes, here is a list to get you started. To one degree or another, we all embody these paradoxes. Take one at a time and explore how they apply to you:
- I make precise observations, and I act with abandon and with care.
- I like to have clear plans, and I like to forget my plans.
- I am predictable, and I am unpredictable.
- I love structure and clarity, and I love flexibility.
- I like to study myself, and I like to go beyond myself.
- I am strong, and I am flexible.
- I don’t take anything personally, and I take everything personally.
- I see my work as sacred and mundane.
- I am organized and disciplined, and I am creative and innovative.
- I am strong and decisive, and I am vulnerable.
- I am young, and I am old.
If we can embrace and digest the truth of paradox, it can increase tolerance, respect, and understanding, aid conflict resolution, and act as a bridge for solving all sorts of personal, interpersonal, and global differences and problems.