We don’t like paradox. The act of holding two opposing ideas as a current condition offends our need for simplicity, understanding, and conclusion. We love paradoxes. The concept that ideas or events can exist simultaneously at opposing ends of the spectrum is intriguing, illuminating, and expands the possibilities of outcomes.
Life is often a paradox. The life and impact of Teddy Roosevelt offer a good example of this. Teddy suffered from debilitating asthma and was a vigorous sportsman, a big game hunter, and a conservationist. He was elected Vice President largely because the powerful Robber Barons of the day feared his progressive trust-busting philosophy and decided that the VP’s office was the least effectual position for such a threatening politician. The bullets that killed McKinley raised Roosevelt from irrelevance to prominence in American politics. His administration’s attack on the monopolies of the day would signal the break-up of the most dominant industrial enterprises America had ever seen, and the break-up of the monopolies of Rockefeller, Morgan, and Carnegie also dramatically increased their wealth, as the stocks of the divided companies outperformed anything the parent behemoths could have achieved. With that enormous wealth, these monopolistic, strike-breaking Robber Barons also became the greatest philanthropists the country had ever had.
At Built to Lead practice we embrace paradox. Tough and tender, faith and doubt, Curious George and my way is the highway. We believe a paradox helps you be and do more. A paradox, you see, doesn’t allow itself to be constrained by the tyranny of “or.” It recognizes that two seemingly contradictory ideas can exist together. A paradox embraces the power of the “and,” for “and” creates a whole new level of understanding and possibilities.
In a practice with a rowing team last week, I asked some team leaders what it meant to be a member of their program. “Grateful and greedy,” one of them responded. “Grateful for all we have and the experience of being together, greedy for wanting to grow and always be better.” Good job, Eliza–there’s a paradox that will help you do more. How about you? What paradox do you want to embrace today?