Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Being a Paradox

Ever since college I have been entranced by one of the Gnostic gospels called "The Thunder, Perfect Mind." It is spoken as if by Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, and contains a veritable catalogue of paradoxes. For example:

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.

This text was part of the inspiration for The One That Is Both. The speaker/writer of this gospel indeed knows that she is “one that is both.” I have known intellectually that this is the gold standard for being one that is both, but knowing it intellectually and living it are very different. I realized today that I am living it, too. And it ain’t easy.

The line above, “I am the honored one and the scorned one,” hit home as I realized that I am both loved and despised, both “an amazing woman” and “a liability.” It’s so much easier to be one or the other, but to be both leaves you feeling like you just don’t know which end is up—until you realize that you are both. I’d love to just be “an amazing woman” and leave it at that. Life would be so much easier. Nature doesn't just abhor vacuums, it abhors a immobile polarity. Eventually I would fall off my Amazing pedestal (which I did).

Of course my shadow side would keep my amazing side humble by reminding me that I’m not good enough, but I know how to handle my shadow. This isn't my shadow talking, it's how I'm being judged.

What gets me the most is the emotional rollercoaster from feeling elated when I’m told I'm “amazing” to feeling despondent when I’m told I'm “a liability.” How do you keep the emotions out of it? You don't. You feel all of them.

The writer of Thunder seems to have come to a place of equanimity, a place where it doesn’t matter if she’s called holy or whore, because she knows she’s both. It’s easy to know intellectually but it’s not so easy to own it. I really wanted to stay away from the feelings that hurt when I admit to myself that I am indeed the scorned one, the whore, the barren one—whatever your disowned side is.

I came to see that once I got through the emotional hang-up (and you must get through it and experience that see-saw) the words don’t mean much. Yeah, I’m amazing and I’m a liability. So what? Let’s move on.

I feel for the poor guy who is struggling with this same dilemma (is she amazing or a liability?). How do you proceed with a relationship if you’re struggling to reconcile the both/and, trying to determine which judgment to favor. No need to favor either. When I/you can accept both, it’s like the whole dilemma goes away, and I’m neither…

Saturday, December 13, 2008

More on Polarity Management

Since I am new to Polarity Management, I asked someone who is a pro to say more about it. Her name is Margaret Seidler, and she just published a book called Power Surge: A Conduit for Enlightened Leadership. Check it out at Here is what she has to say:

Polarities are those dilemmas we face in many areas of lives, which if unrecognized and unmanaged as such, produce conflict. It could be conflict at home between parents and their teenagers as well as conflicts between nations.

My interest in polarities has really focused on intra-personal awareness. My theory is that the better we understand ourselves, and how our own motivational values drive us to think and act, the more effectively we can relate to others in our work and home lives. It's because Barry Johnson's Polarity Map(TM) makes the whole picture more accesible and visible.

Before I knew the polarity principles and map, I often came to situations with an "either/or" mindset, strong in my convictions and beliefs. It wasn't until 8 years ago that I learned about "both/and" thinking being a strong match for certain complex situations in life.

For decades, I was a "can do" manager, I valued getting the work done (Task focus), so whenever I came into a new job, productivity would shoot up and my boss would be thrilled...Only to find within several months that employees were now getting burned out and feeling under-appreciated for the hard work. Since hard work (Task) was my sole focus, I continued to emphasize for all to work harder and smarter! Next, employees started complaining that I didn't care about them, there was much talk around the water-cooler. Now productivity dropped due to those chats, long lunches and rising absenteeism.

What I learned was that I had to continue my strong focus on Task AND supplement that motivational value with something very different, yet complementary, Relationship focus. What a blind spot I had for so long! Once I incorporated both into my management approach, productivity was up and so was employee satisfaction.

Polarity Mapping can be done for yourself intra-personally, for teams, for organizations and nation-states.

President-elect Obama has framed all of his plans for hope under the rubric of this polarity.

Indvidual Responsibility AND Mutual Responsiblity

He recognizes that we need to focus on both simultaneously. Without either, we as country, are doomed to try and solve problems only to create new problems. We need a country that can see these very different views as a polarity vs. allowing them to polarize people.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Video: The Language Revolution


Check out this video about language, identity, and paradox.

Polarity Management

The universe (a dear friend, actually) pointed me in the direction of Polarity Management (, which was developed by Barry Johnson, and is described in a book of the same name. Polarity Management is a way of looking at issues that we all face in life, at work, and at home in terms of balancing the polarities involved. For example, we all face the challenge of balancing work and pleasure, care for self and care for others, the need for privacy and the need for social time. Life works better when they can be balanced and managed than when you swing from one extreme to another. Simple concept, right? Now try applying it to your unruly teenager who wants total freedom from parental constraint. How do you help him/her find that balance between having freedom to do what s/he wants while maintaining responsibility to school, the family, and his/her extracurricular commitments? It doesn't have to boil down to "because I said so." You can actually determine what happens when you swing too far one way and then overcompensate by swinging too far the other way. And by actually discussing it with your teen, both your concerns and his/her concerns can be put on the table in a reasonable manner.

How does it work? Each pole of a polarity has an upside and a downside. You identify both for each pole and notice how you react when you get too much of a downside of a particular pole--you swing to the upside of the opposite pole. When you get too much of that upside, it flips to its downside starting the cycle to the upside of the opposite pole again. Notice how this happens in the political arena: when one party has been in power for a long time and has pushed its agenda too far, the tide turns and we elect them out of office and put the other party in. It just happened :) Fortunately, we just elected someone who indeed sees the necessity to balance the polarities.

This is about all I know so far, and it just scratches the surface. I hope to have a guest blogger share some more about this amazing methodology. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Now on Hubpages Too

Although not specifically about paradox, I have started writing about language on as well. To see my first hub, Creating Language for Peace, click here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Paradox and the Transformation of Language

I will be presenting a paper this spring at the Conference for Global Transformation, and although it is only tangentially about paradox, a tangent can be a useful place to visit. Here is a little tease, to whet your appetite. A link to the whole paper is at the end.


Lisa Maroski

To the extent that language shapes our world and our thought, a new type of reality cannot rely on a language grounded in the old type of reality, the one that we are transforming. What would a new type of language be like? What types of underlying presuppositions would it have?

Would a transformed world look much like the one we have now? Would we refer to things the same way, use the same words, reason using the same principles developed thousands of years ago by Aristotle? Or would a transformed world look, sound, and feel different? Would we interact with it differently? To the extent that the world our senses perceive will always be “just what’s so,” but the world in which we be is shaped by our language, then perhaps to transform the world concomitantly requires us to transform the language we use to describe and create it. Otherwise, are we simply pouring transformed wine into old conceptual bottles?

To read the whole paper, click here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rock Your Worldview

I recently had the opportunity to read a rock-your-world type of book in which paradox is a major theme. It is written by my friend, Steve Rosen, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, College of Staten Island/City University of New York, who has spent much of his life writing about paradox. His other books are listed below, with links. The newest one, however, invites (and might I say “convinces”) the reader to alter her worldview in a necessary and radical way. Generations before ours, for example, had to alter their worldview from an earth-centered one to a heliocentric one. The task for our generation, I believe, is to shift from a separatist worldview in which there are objects in space before perceiving subjects to one in which there is dynamic interpenetration of subject, object, and space. We need to see that we are not separate beings struggling against one another for scarce resources; instead we are profoundly interconnected both with other beings and with those very resources. This book helps us make that shift by providing a philosophical and physical grounding for this new perspective. So I asked Steve to give us a glimpse of what his latest book is about, and here’s what he said.

I’m writing to tell lovers of paradox about a new book of mine called The Self-Evolving Cosmos (to be put out in the spring by World Scientific Publishing Company). In this work, I offer a fruitfully paradoxical way of thinking about two significant problems confronting modern theoretical physics: the unification of the forces of nature and the evolution of the universe. In bringing out the inadequacies of the prevailing approach to these questions, I demonstrate the need for more than just a new theory. The meanings of space and time themselves need to be radically rethought, and this requires a whole new philosophical foundation. To that end, I turn to the phenomenological writings of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger. Their paradoxical insights into space and time bring the natural world to life in a manner well suited to the dynamic phenomena of contemporary physics.

In order to align continental thought with problems in physics and cosmology, I make use of topology. Conventionally speaking, this is the branch of mathematics that concerns itself with the properties of geometric figures that stay the same when the figures are stretched or deformed. But there are certain such figures that fly in the face of convention. One topological family in particular turns out to be especially helpful in addressing nature’s evolution and force unification: the Moebius strip, Klein bottle, and their relatives. I have discovered that if you give these enigmatic forms a phenomenological twist and apply them to physics, what comes to light is the interplay of several dialectically interwoven and co-evolving space-time dimensions—the very dimensions involved in unifying nature’s forces and fields in the evolving cosmos.

I am suggesting in general then, that the fusion of physics and philosophy through topological paradox provides novel solutions to some of physics’ deepest theoretical problems. Take as an example the important concept of symmetry. In formulating their cosmological theories, mathematical physicists put symmetry first, building it into their equations on a very deep level. They then try to account for the evolution of the universe by assuming that symmetry somehow is broken, though it is never made entirely clear how this happens. What I show in my book is that the privileging of symmetry is precisely what blocks full understanding of cosmic evolution. As an alternative, I propose the notion of “synsymmetry”: the paradoxical synthesis of symmetry and asymmetry. This idea can be illustrated by considering the relationship between the Moebius strip and the Klein bottle.

At a local cross-section of the Moebius, two distinct sides can be identified, the sides being asymmetric mirror-images of each other. But when the whole length of the surface is taken into account, opposing sides melt into one another to form a single-sided surface. Through this union of opposites, the initial asymmetry is superseded. And yet, while symmetry has been brought to the sides of the Moebius, we now discover that the Moebius strip itself, taken as a whole, is not symmetric. It comes in two mirror-opposed forms, one twisted clockwise, the other counterclockwise. The existence of asymmetric opposition at this new level provides the impetus for a new resolution: oppositely oriented Moebius strips merge to form the Klein bottle. Does the process now end with the establishment of Moebius symmetry? Not at all, since, like the Moebius, the Klein bottle is also asymmetric and possesses a mirror opposite. What we generally have here is an open-ended process that favors neither symmetry nor asymmetry, for every union of opposites that establishes symmetry at the very same time creates new asymmetry!

I propose that this is the way the cosmos evolves. Mainstream theoretical physics insists that the laws of nature must be understood mathematically as invariances or symmetries. The effect of this is to preclude intrinsic evolutionary process so that change must be assumed to come from some mysterious external source (e.g., “spontaneous” symmetry breaking). But in a self-evolving cosmos, the evolution of nature is grasped in terms of laws that are synsymmetric. Here change arises inherently from the paradoxical interplay of symmetry and asymmetry.

Perhaps the most challenging paradox of the self-evolving cosmos is that its description must include the self that describes—the theorist, the analyst, the one who writes these words. This is what the radically recursive phenomena of contemporary physics seem to call for. Physics and cosmogony involve primordial actions in which observer and observed or subject and object inseparably fuse. It therefore seems futile for the analyst of these processes to continue in the classical posture of a detached subject before whom objects are cast. Approaching the phenomena on their own terms, the analyst must enter into them with his or her subjectivity. No longer can s/he remain a disinterested bystander, for her active presence is required to complete the analysis in a concrete way. In ending my book, I explore the need for such a self-referential or reflexive physics. As the exploration proceeds, my writing itself becomes self-referential and, in a paradoxical fashion, I enter into my own text.

Other books by Steve Rosen:

Topologies of the Flesh: A Multidimensional Exploration of the Lifeworld

Dimensions of Apeiron: A Topological Phenomenology of Space, Time, and Individuation

Science, Paradox, and the Moebius Principle

The Moebius Seed

also see an article “Radical Recursion” on the internet