Paradox of Life

The world is a contradiction; the universe a paradox – Kedar Joshi

Paradox: involving contradictory yet interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time. Another way to say it would be that a paradox is comprised of two sides that appear to be opposing, but in fact are mutually supportive.

“Less in more.”

“I must be cruel to be kind.”

“I know one thing, that I know nothing.”

“Two shall become one.” (marriage)

“To bring peace we must wage war.”

I am reading a book called “Family Business as Paradox” and one of the co-authors, Amy Schuman, is helping us create the opportunity for future generations of the Kimmell family to continue our founder’s legacy. In the opening pages of their book, Amy and her colleagues define two types of problem-solving skills, algorithmic and heuristic. Algorithmic problem-solving rationally defines a problem, identifies the alternatives and selects the best one. Heuristic problem-solving acknowledges that a paradox does not have a binary solution and looks more to experimentation and unique insight.

I am an engineer. I was educated to be an engineer. I was raised to be an engineer. I was born to be an engineer. I like binary solutions. My natural inclination is to see the world algorithmically—as a series of challenges that simply need to be solved. Fixed.

This is not the way the world works. It is most certainly not the way people work.

Our lives are more complex and interconnected than that. The concept of win-win is rarely possible. What is more common is mutual compromise. A continual give and take that allows the tension between conflicting needs and desires to exist without tearing the relationships apart. If we can learn how to manage these paradoxes we can harness the energy inherent in those tensions and use it to fuel creativity and performance.

Managing paradoxes is really hard for me.

First, it requires empathy. I have to be able to see a situation from multiple points of view before I can acknowledge the tension and the need for more than a binary solution. I struggle with empathy. It is hard to get out of my own head and allow myself to get into someone else’s. It is also risky and can be painful. Often, when I seriously see the world through another’s eyes I see how my attitudes and behaviors are hurtful and damaging. I don’t have to intend harm to cause it.

Second, paradoxes do not respond well to simplistic solutions. As an engineer I was trained to reduce everything to its simplest form. I was also pretty sure I was right. Paradoxes are not about right and wrong, they are about living as a community, a family, and the willingness to do the hard work of managing complexity.

Life is a paradox. Maybe that is why I was so bad at it. I was trying to control and fix everything. That didn’t work out very well. Christ offered me a better way, but it is itself a paradox. Give up everything to gain everything. Become the least to be the greatest. Die in order to live.

I chose the paradox. I hope you have too.

Now this recovering engineer tries to see the interconnectedness and tension that is the fabric of our lives. I want to be able to view the world from your eyes and see how we can manage the contradictions in ways that create energy for all of us. If an aging engineer can do that, then anyone can. If we can all do that, we can’t help but make a difference everywhere we go.

That’s the Kimray Way.