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  • Writer's pictureStephen

Embracing Paradox

During several recent meetings, I found myself revisiting an important lesson that has helped me on many occasions - being willing and able to embrace paradox in my life.

The basic idea of a paradox is when two things seem to be in contradiction or in opposition to each other, but can actually still be true at the same time. In the classic area of philosophy, paradox is used as a tool of reasoning. In this regard, you might hear examples like "It was the beginning of the end" or "If I know one thing, it's that I know nothing." However, most of us don't live in the world of philosophical ideas, but a willingness to embrace paradox can still be valuable because it can help us move past simple, binary thinking.

Binary thinking is actually critical to our growth and development when we are young, but as we get more mature, it's important that we recognize growing levels of complexity and even paradox. For example, I can both love my partner and be really mad at them at the same time. If I am stuck in binary thinking, then I can't be frustrated and love them at the same time.

When we bring this into the workplace or leadership environment, it's easy to see how embracing paradox through both/and thinking vs either/or thinking can be helpful. For example, I can acknowledge that it's possible for someone to have achieved a certain level of expertise AND still be able to learn and grow, vs getting stuck in a space where they are either competent OR they aren't. Additionally, it's possible to be frustrated by some of the systems that are in place AND still believe in the mission of what we are working to accomplish, vs thinking we are either fully on board with the organization OR we aren't.

When we embrace the either/or binary way of thinking, we create fictional limits that aren't very helpful. But, when we embrace the both/and paradoxical way of thinking, we create more freedom and room to live into nuance, balance and complexity.

What areas of your life are the most difficult to embrace the paradox of both/and? In what ways would you need to adjust your thinking to shift from a binary approach to one that is more nuanced? How might that create more freedom for you and for others?

Here's to embracing paradox this week!

Be Well, Stephen

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