A man does not show his greatness by being at one extremity, but rather by touching both at once." ~ Blaise Pascal
I have several quotes I use to remind myself of philosophic truths to help me navigate difficult situations. This is one of them. It’s a reminder to me to see balance. Whenever I find myself drifting into a rigid ideology, or I find myself arguing with someone thinking I am right and they are wrong, I think of this quote. It’s a reminder to myself that we both can be right. The opposite of a great truth is often another great truth.
Holding one truth to the exclusion of other truths doesn’t help us solve our problems or win friends and influence others. Seeking a balance between extremes – both of which are true, is a good way to try and navigate life. That way you are taking advantage of all that is good and hopefully avoiding the pitfalls that come with being at an extreme.
Here are some opposites that are both good but that need to be balanced to achieve success.
Skepticism is good. It keeps you honest and keeps you from making mistakes. But taken to an extreme and all things become equal and relative and it is impossible to make decisions because skepticism devolves into nihilism. Which isn’t good.
Optimism is also a good quality – in moderation. Taken to an extreme and you get unrealistic wishful thinking that not only doesn’t help you solve your problems, the lack of realistic thinking makes it nearly impossible to solve problems.
Balancing skepticism with optimism helps you be both skeptical and optimistic at the same time. Helping you to avoid nihilism and flights of fantasy to tread a more realistic path to your goals.
Responsibility to self and to others
Responsibility is a good thing. It gives our lives meaning and purpose. Too much responsibility and we become overwhelmed and break down. If we only think of ourselves, we are selfish. If we only think of others, we are self-less, but not in a good way.
In order to thrive we need to balance self-care with care for others. If we don’t care for ourselves, we cannot care for others. Balance is needed.
I am like aspects of both capitalism and socialism. Capitalism is a pretty decent system for allowing individuals to work on what they think is important. Laissez faire capitalism is exploitative and cruel.
Socialism in moderation is also good. It helps us think of our impact on others and to collaborate for the public good. Socialism taken to an extreme, where only the community good matters, as with capitalism, also becomes exploitative and cruel.
The problem in both cases (extreme capitalism and extreme socialism) is that care and concern for individuals gets lost in the ideology when taken to extreme. This is unfortunate because in their moderate versions, they are both systems designed to promote the welfare of the individual!
Balance helps us remember in our pursuit of happiness (capitalism) that other people matter too (socialism). Finding the middle ground helps us get the benefits of both systems without devolving into exploitation of the individual to advance a “greater good”
This last one also requires balance. We are all autonomous individuals, but no one is or should be an island. Humans in isolation go crazy. We are tribal animals and need our tribe to feel secure. Which is why we need community.
But just as care of others (social responsibility) is a good thing, too much means the loss of the individual or the subsuming of the individual to the greater good of the community.
When we seek balance between our need for autonomy and the need to be socially responsible we realize that by helping the community thrive, we help ourselves thrive – as individuals. It’s not either or, we only really thrive when we do both – in balance.
When you find yourself struggling along some dimension in your life, or in your work, the problem is probably caused by you valuing one ideal over it’s opposite ideal and if you remind yourself to balance those competing ideals, you will probably get a better result.
Try it and let me know how it goes.
Try it and let me know how it goes.