Life is all about managing paradoxes
Dr. Madan Tripathy
Life is full of paradoxes…… I am already seeing some frowned faces and raised eye-brows, even before completing my sentence. Before you start concurring or differing with my views, let us quickly see what exactly is meant by paradox.
Ok, so what is a paradox?
The term Paradox is derived from the Greek word “paradoxon”, which means contrary to expectations, different from perceived opinion or existing belief.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Paradox as
- Atenet contrary to received opinion
- (a) A statement that is seeminglycontradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true
(b) A self-contradictory statement that at first seems true:
(c) An argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises
- One (as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases.
The meaning of Paradox as defined in Free Dictionary is:
- A statement that seems to contradict itself but may nonetheless be true: the
paradox that standing is more tiring than walking.
- A person, thing, or situation that exhibits inexplicable or contradictory aspects: “The silence of midnight, to speak truly, though apparently a paradox, rung in my ears”(Mary Shelley).
- A statement that is self contradictory or logically untenable, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises.
If we try to summarize different aspects of paradox into one sentence for the purpose of this discussion, we can understand a paradox as something that at least appears on the first sight to be something unbelievable, not making any sense, contradictory; but, nevertheless, is likely to be true. A paradox involves two elements or perspectives that seem contradictory, but are (or are likely to be) true. Paradox is the result of two opposing truths existing side by side, and both can be true.
For example, Ajay makes a statement, “I always tell a lie.” It is a paradoxical statement. Why? Let me ask you: Does Ajay always tell a lie? If your answer is YES, it contradicts itself, since it means at least he has not told a lie in his above mentioned statement. If your answer is NO, it also negates itself since it means that his above statement is a lie.
Life is very rarely, if at all, an either / or equation.
In reality, as we see in our everyday life, life is full of contradictions – paradoxes. We are constantly bombarded with plethora of dilemmas every day. Things like whether we should spend more time with our family or in building a career for us?; whether to invest in share market with high potential of growth or in risk-free low return government bonds?; whether to give more freedom to our children or control them more?; whether to take risk in running a business or run it risk-free as usual?; whether to be task-oriented or people-oriented?; whether to advise our children to come back home in view of what is presently happening in USA or leave it as it is?; whether to move away from hometown or stay close to near & dear ones?; whether to compete or to collaborate?; whether to shout back and fight when insulted or to keep quite?; whether to go it all alone in your dream project or ensure support?……. The list is endless. A large part of our thought process, our attention, our time, our energy are spent (or let me say wasted) in arguments and counter arguments to desperately convince us to choose one of them over the other.
A line in favour of paradox in life as quoted by Niels Bohr – “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
Let us see some of the important paradoxes in life more closely.
- THE HAPPINESS PARADOX
A disclaimer – I am using the word Happiness here as understood in common parlance, not attributing any ethical consideration to it. One of the very interesting and all pervasive paradox is that “The more we pursue or chase happiness (or pleasure), it makes us more and more unhappy.” This is sometimes called the Hedonism Paradox. All of us love happiness. It is at least one thing we would go to great lengths to achieve. But, happiness is, in reality, elusive. The more you run after it, the more it runs away from you, going farther & farther. Happiness can never be pursued. Pursuing Happiness (or pleasure) makes us more anxious & disappointed. For example, you pick up a hobby of your choice (say playing tennis) because you believe that it will maximize your pleasure & happiness. But, what happens is that you become so much focused on maximizing your happiness that in effect you fail to enjoy your hobby and do not get any happiness out of it. Another person believes that falling in love will make him or her happy. So, he (or she) pursues his happiness through falling in love. What happens eventually is that he (or she) is so much focused on his (or her) goal to become happy that he seldom cares for anything or anyone else and in the process making “falling in love” impossible for him (or her) . That makes him (or her) frustrated. The fact is that we rarely notice happiness (or pleasure) when we experience it, because we pursue still more & still more. We only notice the absence of it, when it is already gone. Paradoxically, as such, pursuing happiness is likely to make us more & more unhappy, just when happiness is in fact within reach.
So, what is the solution? The solution lies in understanding the fact that happiness makes its benign presence only when you are relaxed and not chasing it. It comes as a by-product or side-effect of other ongoing activities worth pursuing for their own sakes (not as means of achieving happiness), which individually or collectively bring more meaning & pleasure in our lives. These other objectives may include things you really enjoy doing as a flow like loving relationships with family and friends, meaningful professional relationships & professional accomplishments, utmost utilization of one’s skills, knowledge and capabilities, participation in a movement for genuine cause, public service or contribution for culture & the society etc.
Happiness is a mystical pursuit where demand always exceeds supply. When we were in colleges, we believe we will have a lot of happiness, when we take up a good well-paying job. Then we convince ourselves that life will be better when we get married, then when we have a baby, then another. Do we become happy? We again convince ourselves that we will be happy when the children will grow up, get settled in life, so on & so on. A never-ending journey. Similarly, we convince ourselves that we will be happy when we get a good raise, a well-deserved promotion, then a nice flat to leave in, then a nicer car, a vacation in France, so on & on. Every time, the destination gets shifted. The truth is that there is no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, then when?.
It will suffice to quote – “Don’t brood over the past, because past is history. Don’t worry about the future, because the future is mystery. Enjoy this moment, which is givenby God to us as a gift, and that is why it is called present.”
As Nathanian Hawthorne has rightly said – “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
- THE PROBLEMS PARADOX –
An interesting paradox is the Paradox of Problems: “Running away from your problems is a race you will never win.” The faster you run from your problems, the quicker they catch up.
Life is not a bed of roses. It is never free from problems. All of us have some problems in life at one point of time or the other. There is no dearth of things in which we struggle. It could be our financial situation, a soulless and mindless job, not occupying a respectable position, failing to set up a business, a broken relationship, deteriorating relationship at home or office, not being able to cope up with the ever-increasing work-load, health issues concerning self or close relation(s), or simply the realization that life has not quite turned out the way you have expected, or the shame you continue to fill for something you have done in the past or something that you have experienced and so on. Sometimes such hindrances / problems grow so much in magnitude or continue unabated for so long a time that it becomes unbearable for us, we start hating our life & decide to leave everything and escape from it.
Love life, where escapism is on a continuously increasing trend, deserves a special mention. People commence the relationship with some hope, some expectation. Most of the times, they jump into such relationship too soon (as told rightly, love at first sight). When they realize later that what they got is nowhere near their expectation, rather contrary; they get disappointed, frustrated, depressed and run to escape. Rising divorce rates, casual relationships, live-in relationships, online dating and the rise of the single women, all these are pointers to this.
Yes, sometimes intentional detachment and distraction from the problem situation for a short while could be not only good, but may be essential. If you take a momentary reprieve from your disturbing situations by diverting your attention by listening to music, reading books, playing games, watching television or movies, eating food or even day-dreaming, it is absolutely normal. It gives you the necessary breathing space, the determination, the arms & ammunitions to jump into the fray in a stronger position. When you are going through a rough patch, such diversions allow you to step away from your emotions and come back after a short while with your recharged batteries. It is absolutely fine. It is not escaping from the problem; rather it is preparing yourself both physically & psychologically to challenge the problem upfront. Though this also is within the broad definition of escapism, it is in fact refueling & recharging. The issue for discussion is when you try to escape from your problems as a defeatist; being scared of facing the reality, giving up your options to act. Your initiatives are butchered.
Escapism is kind of a defense mechanism & occurs because of our attempt to seriously avoid something or trying to protect us from something. Escapism takes different forms. I have seen many in corporate world using over-work, working late in office irrespective of requirement as a form of escapism. They bury themselves in work glued to their laptop & work projects to escape from having to deal with quality relationship at home and other priorities in their life. Some change their jobs very often to escape from the relationship problem with their bosses or sub-ordinates. Overeating is resorted to by people to escape from sadness & frustration. Any type of addiction, whether it’s smoking, alcohol, drugs, gambling or love addiction is a form of escapism. Some even migrate to a new location to start afresh.
So, what happens? Do you think that their problems get solved? No; hiding, avoiding or trying to escape does not solve anything. If you have some issues, they do not subside or vanish just because you are avoiding them. They are still there and will continue to be there. You can’t win by running away from them. You can probably escape from them for a day or two or even a week or few weeks, but eventually they will show up and catch up with you and may be with a greater force. You will continue to find yourself engulfed in similar situations & contexts, develop similar feelings & emotions, continue to think and act in similar manner, until one fine morning you gather courage & confidence and say to yourself “enough is enough” and decide consciously to confront them & eliminate them.
As rightly said by W.H. Forham – “You can’t run away from your problems. They will just chase you and get bigger and bigger. If you stand and face them, they will shrivel and disappear.”
Problems are meant to be solved. It makes sense to take them head on – to catch the bull by the horn & overcome them from the beginning, before they become stronger. It may not be always easy. In the process of facing your issues head on, it is absolutely unlikely that you will always win; sometimes you may be able to manage some headway and then stumble, sometimes you may be flattened almost immediately; but that is all part of the game. What is of essence is you never stop trying. As is aptly said – “ Life is like a boxing game. Defeat is not declared when you fall down; it is declared when you refuse to get up.” As long as you keep confronting with proper plan and preparation, you become stronger & stronger and problems will vanish making you victorious.
Let me talk about problems in another context. It is an acceptable fact that most of the problems what we encounter in our life emanates from us. As rightly emphasized by Stephen Covey – “10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react.” This means that you really have no control only over 10% of what happens to you. It just happens. But, the major portion, the rest 90% is different. You determine the rest 90% by how you react to those 10%. Same is the story about the problems we encounter in our life. Only 10% of them owe their origin to some variables in the environment, which are external to us and we have little or no control over them. It is understandable. But these problems gain their strength and become bigger and bigger by how you react to the environment, to yourself, to others and the whole world outside you. As such, it follows that most of our problems do not emanate from any outside source; they owe their origin within us, the way we view them (the colour of the glass through which we see them), how we respond, our own behavior, our actions or inactions. If you try to run away from your problems, is there any chance that you will succeed? Can you run away from yourself? You unfortunately find yourself constantly running faster & faster to avoid the baggage which is right within you and goes with you wherever you go, get more & more tired, more & more frustrated & disappointed. No wonder, you will never win. Moreover, our own imagination gives a lot of fillip, the needed fertilizer for the problems to grow. Sometimes, an issue crops up, which is absolutely natural. But by our shear imagination, by the way we think, our Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS) turn the small issue into a big issue in our imagination; we get scared and then try to run away from it.
(If you so like, may go through some interesting discussions on Automatic Negative Thoughts, how they affect us and how do we free ourselves from their clutches by visiting
Running away from your problems is never a solution. As Brendan Francis has aptly said – “The best way to escapee from problem is to solve it.” “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed on an equal or greater benefit.” says Napoleon Hill.
We will discuss some more interesting paradoxes of Life in second part of the article. So long GOOD BYE till then. Promise to meet you soon.