Success Is Upside Down
Getting Comfortable with Paradox and Contradiction
“What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don’t want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don’t want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.”
― Jeanette Winterson
We struggle to be consistent. We want others to be consistent. We want the world to be consistent. But, as we know deep down — the world, us, everyone else — are systems of contradiction and paradox. We feel the tension between what we want, taking action, and then asking, “Do we really want this?”
The constant paradoxes and contradictions we face each and every day in ourselves, in others and in the world makes many of us tune out. We use entertainment, drugs, alcohol and fantasy — all in hopes to steer our minds away from the uneasy fact — that the ideal of perfection is not only fleeting, it is, to a large degree unattainable.
You see, I think we have success all wrong. Success is not the absence of contradiction or paradox, but rather the embracing of them. It is only when we recognise the tension of contradiction, saying one thing and doing another, as two ends of a scale that can lead us to find our point of balance — or the paradox of self-contradictory statements or propositions that ultimately, when investigated, lead to the truth.
“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.” ― Plato, The Republic
For example as a martial artist I have felt on more than one occasion fear. This fear has often come in the form of fear of engaging with a potential overwhelming opponent. This in itself is a contradiction. I am well versed in my craft, and shouldn’t feel such intense fear. Left unchecked though, I could quit easily tip the scale to unbalance, and allow the fear to rule my actions.
“I have never agreed with my other self wholly. The truth of the matter seems to lie between us.”― Kahlil Gibran
But there’s another way.
Fear is the doorway to courage. As the saying goes, courage isn’t the absence of fear, but rather it is acting in spite of it. Fear may seem opposed to courage, but one could argue without fear, no one would ever be courages. It is fear itself that musters one’s resolve to do what must be done, if one allows it. Because of this I have learned to change my relationship with fear. Rather than seeing it as contradictory and residing myself to its fate, I now see it for what it truly is, a precursor to succeeding in spite of overwhelming odds to the contrary.
“One is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
In the same light, the paradox for me as a martial artist, is that as my living is dependent on my fists, one would think that this then means I am inherently violent. I am sure that most people who know nothing of him, on hearing what I do for a living think so too. But the paradox of my martial art journey is that, by going into the violence — both against other people on the mat, but equally my own inner violence towards myself — has allowed me to transcend the violence itself. By knowing how to fight, I no longer want to fight, with myself, or anyone else for that matter.
As Oscar Wilde noted,
“Well, the way of paradoxes is the way of truth. To test reality we must see it on the tight rope. When the verities become acrobats, we can judge them.”