Friday, July 2, 2010

Re-Learning to Hold Paradox

So I am actually reading multiple books at the same time and they are coming together in some interesting synchronicities.  I am reading James Hollis' Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, I am continuing to read Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach, I am also reading The Multi-Generational Congregation: Meeting the Leadership Challenge by Gil Rendle and for fun I am reading Blessed is the Busybody by Emilie Richards.

Palmer and Hollis, in particular, are really speaking to this place in my life.  Palmer talks about how we come into this world holding paradox; that children naturally hold paradox.  Our society and, in particular, our education systems require us to take things apart.  It is not that discrimination is not important and he gives the example of knowing the difference between hot and cold.  Yet we have become so schooled in the art of discrimination that we have forgotten how to hold paradox.  I think this is most clearly seen in our political life where nuance and paradox have no place and no voice.

Parker uses the image of a battery to talk about paradox.  He writes "We split paradoxes so reflexively that we do not understand the price we pay for our habit.  The poles of a paradox are like the poles of a battery: hold them together, and they generate the energy of life; pull them apart, and the current stops flowing." (67)

Here is where Parker meets Hollis: "The result is a world more complex and confusing than the one made simple by either-or-thought--but that simplicity is merely the dullness of death.  When we think things together, we reclaim the life force in the world, in our students, in ourselves." (69)

So in my own life how do I re-learn to hold paradox?  How do I learn to embrace of all my life, with all its contradictions to not make a judgement that it was all good or all bad, success or failure, but it is all those things? 

I was drawn into Unitarian Universalism because there is a paradox there..an embrace of the paradox of universality and particularity..yet do we teach people how to put these paradoxes together?  Do we teach our adults, our children and our youth to re-learn how to hold paradox?  Do we teach ourselves and our members HOW to truly be a place of different beliefs and one faith?  For if Palmer is right that our whole society is driven toward pulling paradox apart, about teaching discrimination than it is not enough for us to say we are a place of different beliefs and one faith..we must learn to be a place of different beliefs and one faith.  I think we may have a ways to go as long as we continue to divide humanists and theists, Christians from Pagans, children from adults, young adults from adults, lifelong UU's from newer members, head from hearts and bodies. 

Palmer writes, "Paradoxical thinking requires that we embrace a view of the world in which opposites are joined, so that we can see the world clearly and see it whole." (69)

May it be so.