"The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less; we buy more but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less sense; more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life, we've added years to life not life to years.
We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less.
We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; big men and small character; steep profits and shallow relationships.
It is a time when there is much in the show window and
nothing in the stockroom."
The Paradox of Our Time was written nearly 20 years ago and has been attributed to the likes of the Dalai Lama, a Columbine High School student, and George Carlin (he actually referred to it as "a load of sappy shit."). It was taken from a book published in 1995 by a Seattle pastor.
A paradox is a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true. A paradox is a seeming contradiction. While it may seem that the ideas are opposite and cannot be true at the same time they actually are.
In principle and in practice, life is full of contradiction—paradox. It's a balancing act between competing tensions that vie for our time, our energy, and our attention, trying desperately to convince us that we must choose one over the other. We cannot ignore or chase away the tension of opposites, because that is how the universe operates. The Sufi mystic Rumi said we are taught by means of opposites so that we will have two wings to fly, not one.
Much of the mystery and meaning, the comedy and tragedy of life, are based on paradox. Living in a world of paradox; caught inside a paradox, has been described in ways that challenge us to move beyond our narrow thinking. Paradox is woven like a golden thread through the world’s spiritual traditions. The Chinese sage and founder of Taoism, taught, “To be empty is to be full. . . . To have little is to possess,” Saint Francis pointed to paradox when he said, “It is in giving that we receive,” The Buddha told his students that taking refuge in the sangha (the community) was vital to their spiritual growth, but he also advised, “Look not for refuge to anyone besides yourselves.” and Jesus warned, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
The purpose of a paradox is to capture attention and provoke new thought. The interesting thing about paradoxes is that in capturing our attention they can help us identify the values that are the most significant and sustaining to us. This is where you and I can find meaning and make sense of our lives in the midst of the world’s contradictions. We identify the values that are the most significant and sustaining to us.
One of the most important values in any group, family, or organization is trust. To make meaning of life, to live a life of purpose in this crazy world, there must be trust. Trust is built not by hiding fears and hopes and thoughts, but by sharing; by being honest. This isn’t to say that we need not be tactful. Certainly there are right and wrong times to say things and I would posit that there are some things that shouldn’t be said at all! But one of the values most needed to sustain a life of principle and purpose, trust, requires honesty.
Being honest will make you vulnerable and that can be good as vulnerability dissolves the armored walls we build to protect ourselves from the world of conflict. Vulnerability is needed to grow relationships and connections that nurture our sense of purpose and affirm our values.We stay the course in the crazy world of contradiction and paradox because to do so is meaning-making; We stay the course and through the value of trust and the strength of relationships we learn to lean and roll and sway with the waves of paradox. As an enlightened pundit once said, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.” It’s about learning how to live our most cherished values; our wholeness and our authenticity. We make meaning of our lives in the crazy world by loving, by giving, by helping and serving.
Long before The Paradox of Our Time was written a Harvard student penned what are called The Paradoxical Commandments, the first of which is "People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway." The 10 commandments (yes, there are 10 paradoxical commandments!) can be found in a book that was given to me by a member of a congregation I served. The book “Anyway”was given to me by a middle-aged man who craved community and yet had difficulty being part of a community and being understood due in large part to a traumatic brain injury he had suffered as a young teen. He longed deeply for the very thing that to date he has not able to maintain. A paradox in itself.
He knew about this crazy world. That while we have made progress in the work for nuclear disarmament there are enough nuclear warheads on the planet to kill each woman, man, and child several times over. That with all of the medical advances and massive amounts of money spent on medical research I live everyday with the pain of an invisible and incurable condition that baffles my doctors. That the earth's resources are rapidly disappearing while we continue to argue over why it's happening rather than acting quickly to replenish and build a sustainable future. That we live in the wealthiest nation in the world and yet many families struggle to have a safe place to live and children go hungry every single day. A crazy world of contradiction.
But I think he knew, despite the paradox of his own life situation, that the only way to live a life of meaning and purpose is ultimately to love, trust, help, and serve anyway.
The Paradox of Our Time doesn’t end with "much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom". These words of encouragement are offered:
"Remember, spend some time with your loved ones,
because they are not going to be around forever.
Say a kind word to someone who looks up
to you in awe, because that little person soon
will grow up and leave your side.
Give a warm hug to the one next to you,
because that is the only treasure you can give with
your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.
Remember, to say "I Love you" to your partner and
your loved ones, but most of all mean it.
Give time to Love, give time to speak, give time to
share the precious thoughts in your mind."
Yeah, yeah, I know. Carlin might have been right when he said it was a load of sappy shit. But do it anyway!
(This post is adapted from a message I delivered at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in 2013)
I had hoped to post once a week, and did for a short time. Unfortunately, my doctorate research and other obligations have taken priority over the blog. BUT, I will return soon! Some postings may be articles I've written for publication, messages I've delivered in congregational settings, or excerpts from papers written in my doctoral classes.