Last week I was blessed to spend time with good friend and colleague Dr. Catherine Meeks. Her wisdom, wit and conviction consistently inspire me. In our recent time together I specifically appreciated her musings on paradox.
“Paradox is not about making up alternate narratives that suit one’s politics, nor is it about holding two ideas that have equal value and are inescapable. Whether one embraces paradox or not does not change, the fact remains that its opposing ideas are both true even though it is difficult to acknowledge that truth. When we read statements from Jesus such as follows, ‘The last shall be first, and the first shall be last’ or ‘If you seek your life, you will lose it, if you lose your life you will find it,’ they make no sense unless there is more to them than the surface reveals. One notices quite quickly that there is an invitation in these words to come onto the dance floor with paradox and engage in learning the rhythms that will help to navigate the dissonance that will appear as paradox is embraced.”
Catherine’s encouragement to the paradox dance floor is a challenging invitation to embrace. In a world that seems ever increasing in polarities, the concept of finding value in more than one perspective feels like a daunting task. Deviating into areas outside our experience or world view can be very disconcerting, if not threatening. There is a high level of comfort in predictability. There is a great sense of satisfaction in a harmonious rhythm.
Yet one of the most significant lessons I learned as a young leader was that it was my responsibility to not just listen, but truly be open to a wide variety of ideas, interests, and imaginations. These perspectives were as varied as the individuals who held them. I quickly had to learn how to move onto the paradox dance floor where there was little to no harmony.
However there was, as I learned from my musical son, a ‘mashup’ with its own rhythm. The music on the paradox dance floor is filled with creativity and imagination. Once you stop listening for one specific harmony, and instead open yourself to multiply melodies, you begin to appreciate the innovation and collaboration that manifest a unique and bold rhythm.
Unquestionably leaning into the rhythm of paradox, like dancing, feels more natural with more practice. Yet also like dancing, embracing paradox can be incredibly freeing.
“I want to learn how to hold the paradoxical poles of my identity together, to embrace the profoundly opposite truths that my sense of self is deeply dependent on others dancing with me and that I still have a sense of self when no one wants to dance.” Parker Palmer