The Paradox of Life

The Paradox of Life

Someone once told me wherever there is good, evil is never far behind and vice versa. I must admit I did not pay too much attention to that statement and drifted off into my daily routines. It was not until some months later that the truth in that statement hit me like some inspiration from above. The more I thought about the statement the more profoundly its verity stood out. If you take a look at life in general, you’ll notice that every activity, event or phenomenon harbours within itself the seed of its very own opposite – the two always go hand-in-hand. Do something, and you instantly create the potential for its exact opposite. The two opposites are part of one and the same reality and one cannot exist without the other. This phenomenon is clearly stated in the following quotations:

“For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” Newton’s Third Law of Motion

“Every excess causes a defect, every defect an excess, and all seem governed by the deep remedial force that underlies all facts.” Emerson’s Law of Compensation

"After pleasant scratching comes unpleasant smarting."  Danish proverb

“...International cooperation always goes together with rivalry...” Professor Philip Golub, Journalist and Professor of International Relations at the University of Paris-VIII, commenting on the rising tensions between the US and Russia after the invasion of Georgia by the Russian Army in August 2008.

It is at the bottom of what Michael Raynor terms “the similarity of opposites” in his book, “The Strategy Paradox.” Even the Law of Attraction (LOA) operates in complete union with it’s less-known opposite, The Law of Repulsion. To attract the things we want, we must be ready to let go of those we don’t want. The two may be opposing processes but they are fully complementary, in perfect balance and part of one and the same reality. Whenever we try to live life by concentrating or clinging to the one, we upset the balance of things and cause discomfort. Carmine Coyote, Founder and Editor of Slow Leadership ( ) puts it this way in a blog post on August 24th 2007 on the Slow Leadership Forum:I am attracted to the Buddhist teaching that says life provides both pleasure and pain naturally, but we create our own suffering by trying to cling to the pleasure and avoid the pain.”

These are immutable laws of nature and they operate consistently at all times without the need for human intervention. It can be a bit unnerving at first when one comes to the realization of this truth but it doesn’t have to be that way once we understand that we simply need to embrace life in all its contradiction in order to live it to the full. We need to accept and work with, not against, the duality of our reality. In this article, I look at this phenomenon within the context of historical events and life in general and provide a simple suggestion for dealing with the issue.

When I was in primary school, a slightly older boy used to bully me and confiscate my stuff. He disrupted my conversations with my friends and pushed me around. He would call me names and shout obscenities at me and all that made me very miserable. I hated him and he quickly became a major problem and a nightmare for me; the devil incarnate as far as I was concerned! We lived in the same neighbourhood and I avoided him every chance I got; I even took the long road home from school just to make sure I didn’t run into him on my way home. One day on my way home from school, I got ambushed by a marauding gang of pupils from another neighbourhood looking for trouble. As the group steered itself towards me and its members lunged forward in a frenzied bid to attack me, I knew my time was up because this was what every pupil feared the most. I knew I could not run faster than them all nor face them; there were no good options. I nevertheless took off running but fully resigned to taking home a bloody nose, bruised knees and probably stubbed toes. Then, without warning, I saw the group disperse into the nearby bushes with gang members scampering frantically to get away like they had just seen a ghost. As I turned around to see what was going on, I saw my very own “devil incarnate” hunting the hunters and yelling warnings never to lay eyes on them again. He walked up to me and calmly asked me to join him for the walk home. I quickly agreed and sheepishly followed him overwhelmed by a complicated mix of fear, gratitude and guilt. I knew he had done it for the sake of the neighbourhood but I couldn’t help but see the other side of this individual – the big bully had, in some strange way, become the protector and the peacemaker.

There was once a young couple that just got married with the ecstatic groom dotting on his wife and the latter all swooning over her Romeo. Their love for one another seemed ordained from above and they just couldn’t stay apart for a minute. They would spend endless hours just staring into each others eyes and caressing one another while professing their undying love for each other. Their discussions were full of heart-warming plans for the future – kids, a new house, cars, a second house etc.. Everything seemed to be going on quite well when, suddenly, he became slightly distant, forgetful of her needs and increasingly taciturn. He started coming home late and limited his conversations to responding to her increasingly desperate questions with terse answers. She began to wonder what the matter was and insisted on being told the truth. That made him resent her constant nagging and his moods darkened further. She upped the ante as she felt lost in the no-man’s land created by the rapidly growing distance between them. He became angry, resentful and aggressive and it all fell apart in an orgy of jealousy, hate, name-calling and interminable fights culminating in a bruising divorce. Cupid’s arrow had actually hit its mark in a painful and bloody embrace with the heart. Both ex-lovers descended into the dark world of deep depression shadowed by the constant sense of betrayal, bitterness and hopelessness. They lived out this sad reality drifting along like rudderless ships feeling diminished and useless and then, in their individual moments of great sadness and gloom, they meet the key to their new lives. She joins this church whose Pastor sets her on a magnificent journey of self-discovery, self-purification, forgiveness, a new kind of love and intense faith. She comes out strong, confident and excited about life all over again but at a much higher level than before. She’s grown. He meets a great teacher who introduces him to the deep mysteries in life and sets him out on the same journey from a different angle. He too is elevated to a new spiritual reality and their paths converge again in a new kind of friendship based on a new kind of love. It was like they say, you can’t make omelets without breaking eggs.

A Tutsi family lived in what seemed like natural harmony with their Hutu neighbours for decades in Rwanda. The peace, harmony and brotherhood of the community were all they and their children had ever known and their only difference was the superficial labels (Tutsi or Hutu) they carried around in their official ID cards. The nation had experienced some upheavals in the past but it, by and large, lived in peace with itself and its differences, which were being worked out by the politicians. Some Tutsi rebels – the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) - had been fighting in the north against the Hutu-dominated government and peace negotiations had been underway for some time. The negotiations went well and agreement was reached in Nairobi (Kenya), documents were signed and peace had come at last. The Rwandan and Burundian Presidents boarded the same plane and headed home to present the fruits of the negotiations to their people. It was time to jubilate and consign the demons that haunted Rwanda firmly to the history books. Then in a loud bang, the Rwandan state was thrust into confusion as the Presidents’ plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile at Kigali airport and a hardline group took over power. The Tutsi family woke up to a state of siege as the country fractured along the lines of those very same labels that had clearly taken on a dangerously powerful new significance. Radio Mille Collines blared out orders for Hutus to track down and kill Tutsis, calling the latter cockroaches. They could not believe the looks of hate and anger they were getting from their neighbours – their Brothers and Sisters of yesterday – as they betrayed and handed them over to the militia for execution. The nation had sinned and lost its innocence and, in the process, drowned its collective conscience in blood. The brutal, well-organized and genocidal massacres of Tutsis (and Hutus suspected of harbouring Tutsis) by Interahamwe militia went on the rampage throughout the country as it entered a paroxysm of mass murder that left over 800,000 thousand people dead in just over three months. The international community, under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), dithered and basically observed this unfold. The RPF jumped into the fray, pushed out the Hutu army and government, drove the militia into the Democratic Republic of Congo and stabilized the country. The new Tutsi-dominated government leveraged the memory of the genocide to unify the country and put it resolutely on a path of development, growth and prosperity. The Rwandan massacres reminded the world that doing nothing in the face of crimes against humanity constitutes one of the greatest sins of our times. It made many world leaders determined never again to stand by and watch maniacs ethnically cleanse entire countries and carry out genocide with impunity.

The Nazis ravaged Europe and North Africa, committing some of the most heinous crimes in the history of mankind. They blazed a trail of terror, murder, ethnic cleansing and social engineering on a mammoth scale in a ferocious bid to wipe out entire peoples and nations and subject the world to a hideous form of fascism partly based on race. Then the Allies teamed up with Russia and counter-attacked taking the war, in all its bloodiness, right back to Berlin. Hitler committed suicide as the Allies and the Red Army closed in and his henchmen were arrested and put on trial. The biggest war in the history of mankind was finally over and the world was looking forward to better days. The victorious armies reveled in their achievement, the terrified populations of Europe finally came out of their hiding relieved to be alive and looking forward to a bright future resolved to never again relive the nightmare. Then the dark clouds of war started to gather all over again as the Iron Curtain took shape across Central Europe splitting Germany in two, fencing off entire countries and peoples to be brutally subjugated, dominated and “reformed” under the communist system. The Red Army and the Warsaw Pact emerged to face off with a tortured Western Europe under US leadership in NATO. The East and West engaged in a titanic struggle for supremacy under the shadow of frightfully powerful nuclear weapons in a major arms race. The bittersweet shouts of victorious soldiers as they liberated concentration camps at the end of the war, the elation of freed prisoners, the overall euphoria of the times were all frozen out by the rapid chill in relations between East and West. The world entered the Cold War, a gigantic ideological struggle so fiercely contested that it permitted and even sustained the brutal and inhumane apartheid system in South Africa. Mankind had moved resolutely and permanently into the era of man-made existential threats with only the certainty of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) keeping the world from one final fiery conflagration. Then, almost without warning, the Soviet Union crumbled under its own weight, fragmenting into several republics including Russia. The Berlin Wall came down, Germany was unified again, the Warsaw Pact imploded and its former members rushed to join NATO. The Cold War had come to an end. The US declared itself the world’s sole superpower in the final decade of the twentieth century as its economy experienced the longest and most sustained expansion in its history. For a time, it seemed the world had truly entered a period of peace and quiet but then an explosion at the World Trade Center and explosions at the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya signaled what was to come. Expert voices were raised to warn against an insidious new threat determined to rearrange the world order according to the precepts of a particular religion. Those voices were either drowned out or simply ignored until one fateful September morning, in the US, when aircraft became instruments of mass murder in brazen acts that shocked the world and seared its collective psyche. The world had entered the period of low-intensity warfare on a global scale with an enemy that is as elusive as it is brutal. The resulting paranoia saw the emergence of Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, The Military Commissions Act which tampered with Habeas Corpus and threatened “The American Way of Life.” The world looked on and protested in utter surprise and disgust as America struggled with its conscience in the face of a new and amorphous threat. The resulting philosophical and legal battles reminded Americans who they are and where they were coming from. The country is now set to return to its roots as laid out by its Founding Fathers and this process of restoration is set in motion by the commitment of both the Republican and Democratic Presidential Candidates to shut down Guantanamo Bay and close one of the most painful chapters in American history. Richard Exley puts it nicely in his book, Perils of Power: “Guard your heart, your motives, lest you become a monster in order to destroy one.” The enemy has not been defeated but the US and the rest of the world are gradually learning to deal properly with the threat without becoming the threat in this new and highly uncertain world.

For us Christians, the Bible is our compass that guides us northwards in our ascension through life to meet with our Creator in the heavens never to part again. It is the Word of God that provides the wisdom we need to keep us fully balanced and connected to our Creator. It carries a powerful message of unconditional Love for our God and Father, Love for one another, Faith in God and Hope for eternal salvation. It is the unifying factor in our common belief, as Christians, in Christ Jesus and in God. It has been translated into virtually every language imaginable and spread to the ends of the earth to make Christendom the biggest faith community in the world. The Bible has brought peace, love and harmony to many people and entire communities. It is about faith and it generates power for the bearer; power that is used to heal and unify; power that purifies and liberates. But the same Bible has been used by man to divide Christendom into innumerable denominations and the same Bible has been used to intoxicate, enslave and eventually destroy individuals, entire families and communities. Richard Exley again addresses this issue very well in his book, Perils of Power: “Power itself is not inherently evil, but it is dangerous. And the most dangerous power of all is that which cloaks itself in the guise of religion.” The abuse of the power of the Bible has spawned deadly cults often leading to devastating consequences as seen in the mass suicides in Jonestown in Northwester Guyana in 1978 and the bloody siege at Waco, Texas in 1993. In the first case, Jim Jones led his Peoples Temple cult to collective suicide while, in the second case, David Koresh manipulated his followers into a fiery face-off with the authorities. In both cases, the leaders presented themselves as Messiahs and their followers trusted them unquestioningly and died for them. Jesus preached a message of love and He came to overcome sin and death in order to give us life. The Word of God is replete with exhortations towards this simple truth. How then could people, claiming to be working from that same Word, find themselves in the tragedies mentioned above? This paradox can be partly explained by the fact that the Devil is very well schooled in the Word and can distort it for his own purposes.

The list of events and phenomena portraying the duality of our existence is inexhaustible. Oscar Wilde says, “In this world, there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” The famous Native American Chief, Seattle, once said this:

“Each challenge is there to guide you toward the desire of your heart

Each problem, seen from the positive side, always turns into a blessing

Each sorrow leads you to your joy

Each doubt--to your knowing

Each lack--to your abundance

Each debt--to your freedom

Each feeling of hopelessness--to your power

Each cry of pain--to your comfort

Each act of war--to your peace

Each act of anger--to your love

And each journey through darkness--into the light." Chief Seattle (c. 1786 – June 1866), Leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes in what is today the US state of Washington (Biography on ).

We have seen from the above just how historical events have moved from good to bad and back again in a never ending flow that shakes up, rearranges and reorients life on earth every so often. It is like our existence has a built-in mechanism to ensure this constant movement that always takes us to the next level. This activity occurs at all levels of life on earth – the individual, community, country and the world at large – but the constant interplay between light and dark, good and bad, war and peace , pain and pleasure etc remains the same. The one will always shadow the other for as long as we exist.

No political ideology, no amount of riches, intelligence and human capability can consistently keep us safe and righteous in the Gap between Good and Evil, rich and poor, light and dark etc. It is only when we live in the Grace of God that we’re guaranteed to effortlessly bathe in the natural scheme of things. It provides the necessary balance we need to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of life. Grace does not offer to give only the good permanently while cutting out the bad. But rather it enables us to throw off our subjective good/bad judgment of all situations. It enables us to get through situations while fully appreciating the magnificence of the balance of the opposites and the fact that they are like reflections of each other – through the one, you will always get the other. Robert Rosen articulates it very well in his presentation titled “It’s Time to Evolve: Leading with Just Enough Anxiety in the 21st Century” when he says, “I've observed that the best leaders are those who have mastered three key paradoxes: realistic optimism, constructive impatience and confident humility.” What a challenge? One DailyOM article about Grace described it in the following terms:

Grace is always with us. It flows like a river through our lives, artfully reminding us that there is magic and power beyond what our eyes can see. At times we catch its subtle beauty, like during chance meetings, near misses, and insights that seem to come from nowhere. Other times we experience grace in all its powerful surety such as when a job or relationship comes to an end. Though we may forget that this is grace at work too, it is indeed influencing our lives, helping us to move forward and take the next step. Grace exists in all situations, in every moment, yet all too often we may overlook its presence.” DailyOM ( )

Barry Newton puts it in the following terms in his article “The Proper Force Behind Unity”:

“When God's purposes direct His people, Christians are guided away from the rocky shoals of divisiveness as well as the temptation to distort His message. Instead, they navigate into the deep fulfilling channel of genuine unity in the bond of peace.” Barry Newton © 2001

The good thing about this is that God gives it to us free at birth and it remains with us throughout life. The bad thing is we consistently fail to realize it is there and to acknowledge, appreciate and benefit from the soothing effects it could have on our lives. It is this spiritual blindness that generates fear, suspicion, hate, violence etc and is at the root of much of the evil we experience today on earth. A life lived in Grace would clarify and guide us through life enabling us to consistently stay on the side of Good despite the inevitable encounters with evil. To live in God’s Grace requires daily prayer and meditation on the Word so that the Holy Spirit can guide our hearts and minds at all times. Meditation takes us back to our Source and puts us in touch with the essence of our lives. It is the surrendering of our in-built desire to take control of events despite our spiritual blindness. It is the desire to live life in faith with the deep conviction that everything happens for the best eventually. Dr Robert Anthony says, “if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives creates the proper balance and connectedness with the truth that enable us to correctly apprehend and live out the Paradox of Life.


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