We don't live in a black and white world, but we are taught from a young age to see it that way. We are taught that there is a right and a wrong, a good and an evil, an up and a down, a left and a right (you get the picture) - without accounting for all that is in between.
We’re taught to see the world through an either/or lens rather than a both/and perspective.
The reality is, the world is not black and white, or even grey. It’s full of colors: bright, subdued, warm, cool, opaque, and translucent. And sometimes things can be more than one thing at the same time. It can be hard to view or accept the world in its beautiful rainbow of colors when we haven’t been taught to see anything other than black or white.
Merriam-Webster defines paradox as “one (such as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phrases.”
Looking to the natural world, for instance, we can observe a clownfish that preys on smaller fish and algae. This sameclown fish also happens to be preyed upon by bigger fish and sharks. They even have a mutualistic or symbiotic relationship with sea anemones in which they clean the water surrounding the anemone while receiving protection in the anemone’s tentacles.
A clownfish could be viewed as bad or a threat to its prey, while at the same time support the survival of its predators. They could thereby fill the roles of good, bad, and neutral all at the same time, depending on who you ask. The clownfish is a paradox in its own existence.
Forest fires are another natural example of a paradox: while on one hand they can be devastating, scary, and uncontrollable, they can also have positive effects on the soil and surrounding habitats to support new and healthier, stronger growth.
The important thing to note here is that these contradictions do not cancel each other out. A forest fire clearing out and providing an environment for new growth does not make it less devastating, it just creates space for more truth.
Anything can be a paradox: a person, a situation, even our inner realities.
We can sometimes struggle to embrace the paradoxes within ourselves. This could be related to complex and contradictory feelings, values, or difficult choices.
You can be scared of something and practice courage to do it anyway. You can feel happy and sad at the same time; or grieve and feel relief simultaneously.
You might be going through a really hard time, and though you can’t see it yet, it could be clearing space for something new, something more beautiful, stronger, and more aligned with who you are.
It can be a struggle to embrace contradictions of the world when things are especially hard, awful, and scary. It's so much easier to to see hate or meanness when it is thrown in your face. It's okay if it's difficult to see anything else during those times. Give yourself grace. When you can, open yourself up to seeing the beauty, the love, and the wonder that exists in the world. When your vision is clouded again, you can come back to the memory and knowledge that those beautiful things exist, even though you can't always see it.
All of these paradoxes are part of the complexity of being human while navigating a messy, scary, beautiful, wild world.
Being able to recognize, name, and accept these contradictions are what can help us find peace; on the other hand, trying to force something into boxes to be only one thing or another ignores the realities and nuances of truth. It dulls the rainbow of our existence. It turns the beauty and messiness into something simple, basic, and untrue.
If you’re ready to embrace the paradoxes in your own life, try to find one thing today, this week, or for the remainder of this year that you can open yourself up to. Is there a new idea, thought, or even emotion that you’ve been resisting? Where can you replace an “either/or” with “both/and”? You don’t have to let go of all of your old ways of thinking and feeling to do that, you can just be open to more than one thing being true.