Successful people know when and how to act counter-intuitively. That takes courage. Sometimes it means doing the exact opposite of what seems to be indicated. Yet in chaotic, complex, and contradictory times, such counter-intuitive action is often the key to success in business and in life. Read on for details.
Successful people understand the power of paradox. They know when and how to act counter-intuitively, which, appropriately enough, surfaces more often than not in today’s world.
• Want to get more done? Eliminate projects from your to-do list.
• Want to make more money? Stop making decisions based upon money.
• Want to provoke positive change? Provide significant stability.
• Want to build an enterprise? Focus on the individual.
• Want to empower your people? Exercise powerful leadership.
• Want to stop wasting time? Appreciate the present moment.
• Want to accomplish an impossible task? Tell people it can’t be done.
Many books have been written about these and other paradoxical principles including Work Less, Make More by Jennifer White (Click) and The Paradox Principles by The Price Waterhouse Change Integration Team (Click). They all point to the same truth: sometimes we have to move in the opposite direction in order to get where we want to go. Or, to quote Oscar Wilde, “the way of paradoxes is the way of truth.”
An early mentor of mine, Tex Evans, demonstrated this wisdom repeatedly in his handling of dirty jobs and arrogant adversaries. “This job is so bad,” he would tell a group of volunteers, “that we’re not even going to try it.” Soon the volunteers would be fighting over who was better equipped to handle the job. Had they been asked to do the job directly, they would have grumbled about it from start to finish. “Your health, education, and race,” he would tell a local executive, “are great accomplishments.” Soon the executive would be reconsidering his own life story. Had his self-help, bootstrap philosophy been challenged directly, he would have resisted to the end.
Does the power of paradox apply to current world events? One reader of Provisions wrote this past week to ask for help with two seemingly contradictory intuitions. “I resonate with the cry for peace, love, understanding, healing from within, and recognizing and attending to the rift in our collective soul.” But I also resonate with “the call for justice, reproof, punishment for crimes committed, and holding people accountable for their actions.”
Many readers of Provisions may feel this same contradiction. How can we embrace the demands of both love and justice? One way, observed the reader, is to “not punish innocent Arabs and/or Muslims for the actions of fanatical zealots who may share the same heritage.” That’s certainly the least we can do • although we hear increasingly common news reports of individuals who fail even that simple standard, both in the U.S. and around the world.
Another way, observed the reader, is to “intelligently combat the awful hatred, death, and destruction that find their home with terrorists.” How? “I wish it could be restrained with love and compassion,” the reader concluded, “but this is not within my experience to grasp the possibility.”
Such is the way of paradox. It seldom appears obvious or within our experience. It takes courage to move in the opposite direction of common sense. Common sense tells us that we should destroy the lives of those who destroyed life, to keep them from destroying life again. What could be more obvious? There is a solid foundation for that approach in just war theory. It’s based on the notion of restraining evil through military force within the bounds of certain rules of engagement.
But common sense may not produce the results we expect when the rules of the game have changed. Some say this game has no rules and extremely high stakes. If so, it’s not unlike the chaotic, complex, and contradictory world of modern business. Uncommon sense may be called for, more now than ever before, if we hope to make any real progress at all.
One form of uncommon sense draws upon an equally solid foundation in the theory of nonviolence, which confronts the aggressor with solidarity, negotiation, self-sacrifice, and love. It has not been tried very often, especially by nation states, but there are examples throughout history of those:
• Who stand united to undermine aggression.
• Who endure suffering to wear down their attackers.
• Who open channels of communication with their enemies.
• Who offer forgiveness as part of a just peace solution.
• Who die in order to live.
I’m not sure we’re ready for such paradoxes. They certainly take far more courage than retaliating in kind. And we have not been trained in their ways. No wonder they’re outside our experience and hard to imagine! But different times call for different strategies. Paradoxical moves are worth considering if we hope to cut the Gordian knot posed by our reader. How can we embrace the demands of both justice and love? Very carefully! Let’s pray for our leaders and all those who make decisions of life and death.
Read on to see what other LifeTrek readers have to say on the subject.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Reader’s Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. These selections do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. They do reflect the diversity of those who read Provisions each week for support and strength on the trek of life. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
“I do not think fear is a bad thing. All elements of courage contain a small element of fear. My fear is not paralyzing. I am not so afraid I cannot meet this enemy forever, if that’s what it takes. I think that this situation will do more to bring together Blacks & Whites forever in the United States than any other event in history.”
“This Provision was one of your best. I am dismayed that the world has not yet connected the dots that violence begets violence…and that 2000 years of fighting has not yet demonstrated that it doesn’t work. From where I sit in Australia, Bush appears to be a very dangerous man…I am hoping that he doesn’t back his words with actions, because if he does, we have WW3. It is shocking to me that people have not explored the consequences of this.”
“That was a very thoughtful and important Provision this week. I agree with you about being aware of our fear and not reacting prematurely based on that overwhelming emotion. My biggest concern in the wake of the attack is the reaction of the general public in America based on fear. I think we’ve seen a great deal of unity and pride and heroism in the past couple weeks. But as time wears on and thoughts turn from the immediate tragedy and healing, I hope that our fears do not paralyze our country, nor too quickly mobilize it for retaliation. I think the economy is key in dispelling fears and diverting our attention from striking back too swiftly and severely. I believe fear is primarily based on feeling out of control • not being able to control what happens • to us, our loved ones, and controlling the outcomes we desire. Well, we DO have certain control based on freedoms we may not all be exercising.”
“I find all kinds of emotions swelling within me as I read about efforts to humanize terrorists. I am having trouble believing that we can impose our values onto them the way I feel some articles do.”
“The implication that governments are not themselves just groups of people with their own individual goals may be part of ‘the problem.’ As long as we can corral any batch of people into any group identity, we can forget/ignore the basic life principle: power/strength is in the individual person. The power of destruction has always rested with individuals; the most destructive power is depersonalizing the perpetrator, or letting the S.O.B. operate with impunity under the guise of being anointed/appointed/elected to some titled position. It’s still just a person!
As for fear, I’ve never understood • even as a small child • being afraid of the unknown, being afraid of the dark. What’s fearsome is what’s already known to be hurtful, whether it’s a mean mommy or an angry dog; what’s unknown is potentially wonderful! Of course, another basic human tenet applies: if we can ignore reality, we can abdicate responsibility.”
“For once in a long time I am proud of our Government, Democrats and Republicans, and I pray for them every day. Patriotism was nearly non existent and now it is back. Prayer has even been allowed back into public schools. I see on signs everywhere (fast food, convenience stores, etc.) saying things like “One nation indivisible, under God” and “God bless America”. I do pray for peace but we will never achieve it by not standing up for ours and other peace loving nations.”
“The pastor of our church gave a very powerful sermon on Sunday. The most memorable line: “When people start talking about patriotism, and you’re my color [black], you’d better watch out!”
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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