Living in a Paradox

Personal leadership Purpose Respect


Key Point: Living under the umbrella of a paradox helps me make sense out of the peaks and valleys in my life. For example, it seems wise to be able to both accept AND resist. Another paradox is being confident and yet humble, or knowing how to be both adverse to risk yet cautious. I’m beginning to fully appreciate the power of the conjunction “AND.” I don’t mean applying “AND” as an endorsement for wasteful consumption, or being unable to make a choice when foolishly wanting it all. Rather,the  “AND” applies that works best for me, connects the two sides of a paradox. It allows me to embrace my imperfection by balancing on the paradox continuum. Furthermore, I am struck by how the wisdom of a paradox seems to glide across cultures. A wonderful article in Psychology Today by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu reinforced this for me:

“’From out of the blue, a huge tsunami came and washed away my home and all the material possessions I had worked for my whole life. But when I finally came to myself, I looked around and realized that I still had my family, and that this year, once again, the world was filled with the sweet, fresh breeze of early summer.’” These are the words by Isao Sato, a survivor of the horrific tsunami that struck the coast of Japan, Mar. 11, 2011. He also wrote the following touching haiku as part of his healing process:

“Bereft of belongings

Yet blessed by the touch of the

Early summer breeze.”

“Shikata ga nah” is a Japanese phrase that captures the positive aspect of acceptance and gratitude in the face of hardship. The interpretation however does not mean to imply helplessness or giving up. It is culturally coupled with the concept of ‘Ganburu,’ translated as perseverance against adversity. The saying ‘Nana-Korobi, Ya-Oki,’ ‘Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight,’ is a Japanese proverb that reflects this notion of resilience.”

Hence the Japanese cultural paradox of both accepting “what is” AND resisting helplessness by embracing resilience. Inclusiveness contributes to fully understanding a paradox by bringing additional clarity as we learn from each other. Someone said that “diversity” means everyone is invited to the party, AND “inclusiveness” is then being asked to dance. When we “dance” together, the embrace helps us understand each other in unique and rich ways. Now if some one asks me to define resilience in the future I could say, “fall seven times, get up eight.” When I feel the pain of loss, I will try to remember Sato’s haiku as an sample of graceful acceptance and gratitude. I appreciate the paradox of acceptance and resistance more completely, by looking both east and west. 

Character Moves:

  1. Outline the key paradoxes that provides you with a framework for living and recognize how they show up in your workplace. How do these paradoxes live in other cultures? (If at all)? What can you learn from the phrases and interpretation when translated from another language? 
  1. A paradox, while having two sides and being connected, is ironically anything but dualistic. That is, an immature mind typically settles for “black or white,” “win or lose,” or some other simplistic explanation. An inner journey (usually involving contemplation), removes that illusion. Embrace the contradiction and tension of paradox. It is a conundrum, and it’s freeing.

Paradox in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: Compared to many Millennials, I’m definitely more of a traditionalist. However, I was recently reminded that as stubborn as I may be, I’m always open to hear out different viewpoints or have a conversation, which I guess is my way of finding that paradox. I look forward to searching for more ways to explore the paradoxes in my own work and life.

– Garrett Rubis

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis