It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.

I’m not sure why I’m so subject to seeing a world made up of two choices. I think it’s not just me. Things are either Black or White, it’s Male or Female, it’s the Lady or the Tiger. Right or wrong, up or down, in or out, win or lose. You get it. Politically the extremes are holding the whole conversation today and leaving out anyone with a shred of doubt or a non-dogmatic mix of beliefs.

This is a Tensegrity object:


You can see it’s composed of rigid rods and flexible cords or cables. This sort of structure is being used to build bridges and large buildings, but notice that the rigid bits aren’t connected, other than by the flexible bits. The rods are compressed (rods are good at compression) by the cables (cables are really great at holding tension) and the whole thing works. If the cables weren’t there, the rods, being unconnected to each other would collapse into a pile of Pick-Up Sticks. The cables, were the rods removed, would softly fold into a nest of string with no strength.

Each component, by itself, is inadequate. Both together form a very strong unit.

The human body is much like this. Your bones are compressed by your weight, they hold compression loads well, but they’re held together by ligaments and muscles under tension. Neither a pile of bones, nor a sack of  ligaments would function as a whole.

Again, you need both.

Now take a leap beyond the bounds of physical objects into the realm of beliefs. I have some very fundamental beliefs about the way I should operate, the way human society should be structured and what is right and wrong. Those beliefs would seem to be the firm girders of my moral structure. They bear the weight of my life and support many of my actions and values. They are the rods. Yet, if I were nothing but hard girders, there would be no flexibility, no way to adjust to a changing world or new information. It feels to me that there are cords too. They are the flexible members of my psyche which connect these firm beliefs of mine, and many of these come from outside myself. A belief in personal freedom may be a solid girder in your world, but it’s held in tension against the freedom you would have to grant others – if you were to be consistent. Money in the bank which, as an adult, you could spend on anything you want, is limited by the tension of knowing that bills will be coming in and you’re going to have to pay them, so your strength is muted by your responsibility. The result is a belief system with solid support of girders and the flexibility provided by the tension of restraining factors.

This can be very frustrating. It can feel like no matter where you turn, there’s a reason you can’t go further. At every turn, there’s a limit and a countervailing tug.

Welcome to real life. It’s supposed to be that way.

You’re supposed to be nervous on a first date. There will always be a dilemma about money. The To-Do List will always challenge the Hours-Available.

People find themselves in 12-Step programs because they’ve avoided the hard reality of this tension by wishing away one component of it. Maybe the world seems too hard, too rigid and too unyielding and so they wish away the hard facts and try to live in the squishy stress-free world of a ball of string. You could believe that people should just buckle down and do their jobs and be strong and quit all this mealy mouthed grey-toned living and face the hard Black and White Truth. If you do, you may end up with a structure and a life with no flexibility and no way to adapt.

Thomas Jefferson said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

It’s like that.


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