I am not fond of  contradictions.

I do not live easily with the tension between opinions or ideas that, while clearly opposed to each other, appear to have equal force and validity for different people. I find it hard to navigate the light and dark I see in my own life and the complexities I encounter in the lives of other people.

I would prefer a tidy world in which the right is clearly right and the wrong is self-evidently wrong and we all agree. I am drawn to a vision of life in which the good guys are all good and everyone recognizes the bad guys who are always evil, mean and dastardly.

Sadly, this is not the real world. In the real world it is impossible to collapse or resolve the tension of opposites. There is no easy route to a place where one side finally wins and the opposition retires meekly to its corner. It seldom happens that the differences that characterize so much of human existence can be easily resolved into a tidy synthesis that makes everyone happy. No one lives fully in the light and there are few examples of people whose lives are completely given over to the dark side.

There is an enormous drain of energy in trying to ignore or deny the reality of contradictions. The futile struggle to force a resolution is exhausting.

John Pentland, in his  rambling, at times boring, and sometimes brilliant book, Exchanges Within, suggests a different approach to the collision of opposites..

Pentland acknowledges that,

Life is contradiction. Contradiction is the appearance of life, is all life. Life is a result of the struggle of forces that oppose.

But then he goes on to suggest that, rather than seeking to resolve the contradictions, we must come to the place where we acknowledge that,

The whole problem is how to feel more contradictions.

Feeling “more contradictions” is the only authentic way to live in reality. And, in order to “feel more contradictions” we must be willing to let down the “buffers” that we erect in an attempt to shelter ourselves from the pain of contradiction.

There are buffers between contradictions. We say one thing now, next time another, and we don’t see. We read and hear, but next week we hear the opposite…

The only way beyond “contradictions” is to hold the tension, to stand in the midst of the chaos and confusion that inevitably exist in the complex and bewildering world we inhabit. Pentland asks,

What could join the contradictions?

He answers his own question suggesting that

Only my ability to be there between them. The whole question of life, my life, doesn’t remove the contradictions. But can the buffers be removed so I am there between the contradictions? …

I have to… be present in a complete way… I have to be present.  (Lord John Pentland, Exchanges from Within: Questions from Everyday Life)

Can I stand in the in-between place? Can I resist the temptation to take sides? Can I avoid demonizing the group of people I find threatening and strange, while sanctifying those with whom I agree? Am I willing to embrace the pain of holding the messy tensions that are an essential reality of the human condition?

The awkward middle is a tough and painful place to occupy. But it is the only honest place to be.

 

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