The Peculiar Paradox of Life Lessons

So, today is St. Patrick’s Day and a goodly number of folks will be out carousing from pub to pub, green beer in hand. I guess that’s fun, if you like that sort of thing, but I’m not convinced that Ireland’s Patron Saint would feel revered by the millions of folks getting plowed in his honor. We’ve all seen cultural celebrations get hijacked by outside interests, morphing into something far removed from their original purpose—the commercialization of Christmas or the insane amounts of money and hoopla invested in weddings come immediately to mind. This got me thinking about the many paradoxes that exist in our lives.


The way I see it, the tension between two concurrent states of being is an interesting construct because the equation generally balances out in an unexpected manner. For instance, as you advance in your career, the more authority you wield, the more restrained you must be when exercising it (and the more important it is that you see yourself as a servant to those beneath you). The stronger you are, the more gentle you need to be. The more you earn, the more you should give away. The wiser you are, the more patient you need to be about others’ ignorance. Shifting paradox gears somewhat, there’s the universal truth that our most important communications are silent–a touch or a glance can be far more powerful than anything words can convey. What paradoxes can you think of?


Recognizing the truth about paradoxes doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it is only through careful observation that we become aware of such ironies. As you’d caution a child, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.


How have paradoxes manifested in your life? Have you ever been on the receiving end of another’s unfair power play? Did that experience evoke more sympathy for those who are at a disadvantage? Have you learned to use your power wisely?


Diplomatic restraint and maturity seem to be fading out of our modern day culture in favor of excessive emotionalism and a dwindling ability to filter one’s thoughts. Alas, this immoderate behavior has spilled over into the halls of power here in DC where Administration officials and elected legislators hurl epithets at one another on a regular basis. Some have even fooled themselves into believing that “talking tough” shows they mean “business.” Codswallop! Any fool can curse. It takes real skill and finesse to be civil and persuasive during heated negotiations. We’ve elected a bunch of knee jerk, hot heads to manage affairs that require cool, rational governance. Ah, the irony!


Ok, let’s switch gears and examine what paradoxes are involved when it comes to re-booting. First of all, I think it’s fair to say that in order to forge a new life, we must first experience the death of what went on before. What re-booters need to remember is that death is not all bad; it can mean the end of periods of great unhappiness or hardship in our lives. This point is driven home in one of my all time favorite books, Recovering from Death and Other Disasters by RR Leichtman, MD. In this book, the author provides guidance on how to reframe the way we think about major loss as part of an ongoing effort to reinvent our lives. I have returned to his pages many times as I’ve stumbled through my transition, drawing hope and perspective so as not to lose myself in a pit of failure and despair. We are resurrecting ourselves when we re-boot by building on our already existing strengths and talents. We know more than we realize. Who we are is far more than a tabulation of our losses and wounds. So, the paradox here involves trusting in our strengths at a time when we feel nearly worthless. Think about this for a minute; let it soak into your awareness. It doesn’t seem like the natural thing to do, does it?


It is times such as these when we must call upon our maturity to overlook the dramatic, to bypass our hurt and, instead, focus attention on what we can do, on those parts of ourselves and our lives that we know remain vibrant and strong–even when our immediate circumstances seem to be telling us we’ve blown it. A paradox, indeed. Making such a leap of faith requires courage. As I have said many times prior, re-booting is not for the faint of heart. We must find the guts to ignore all the negative messages (including from our own minds). “You’ll never make it. Better hold tight to what you’ve got. Don’t be a fool by taking that risk.” Sound familiar? I wrestle with this problem every damn day. Every single one. And this past week was a real low mark for me in terms of reminding me how much ground I have lost these past few years, so that was jim dandy…


Have you watched someone give up on themselves? How did it make you feel? What would you have said to them if they would’ve listened?


Now, aim that same message back at you. How might you encourage yourself during your time of struggle? If someone were trying to help you get back up, what do you wish they’d say that would give you the courage when you felt most afraid?


The paradoxical truth is that it is most important to tap into our inner strength when we feel defeated. The maturity required to hold it together is no small thing, but it is possible. It’s what we must do. No doubt St. Patrick would toast to our success.



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2 Responses to “The Peculiar Paradox of Life Lessons”

  1. Skye Says:

    Chrisanna, these are fantastic articles. So insightful and wise. We should have some book clubs based on them!

  2. dignitarysretreat Says:

    Thanks, Skye, for the shout out. I really appreciate hearing from people who enjoy my posts because posting these pieces can sometimes feel like dropping a pebble into a bottomless well. I never know if I’m hitting my mark…

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