The vexing and difficult art of holding opposing views
Why rigid dualities are bad business
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“Money makes people more of what they already are,” remarked my friend and fellow hedge fund investor Ted Seides. He continued, “If you are a greedy person, you’re going to want more money. If you’re a kind person, you’’re going to become even kinder.” This seemed uncontroversial.
Not so fast, injected Brent Beshore
Dang. It was much easier to reflect on my own kindness while dismissing greed. Pick a lane, one that feels good, and call it a day. But could both these statements be true?
The “greedy” descriptor made me feel icky. Am I greedy, I wondered? After all, I was a far cry from the hedge fund billionaires who take their employees’ frequent flier miles into their personal accounts. Yet, I didn’t join Wall Street to donate half my pay.
This brief inquiry uncovered (and triggered) many conflicting emotions ranging from financial security, freedom, and self-reliance.
These dualities exist everywhere. Take politics today, the proverbial “Best of times and worst of times.” It’s hard to recall a time where one wasn’t bombarded by the 24/7 news cycle of fear mongering, lies, scandal, violence, injustice, and environmental calamity. Yet can we concurrently hold that the trends of disease eradication, poverty reduction, life expectancy, and deaths due to violence, are resoundingly moving in the right direction? Could both these statements be true?
What the best thinkers have in common
Charlie Munger said, “The best thinkers can hold two opposing views at once.” It sounds so obvious, yet why is it so difficult? First, it takes a lot of mental energy. It’s much easier to swipe to another article that reinforces your belief and then call it a day. or dismiss an idea that doesn’t align with your world view. Second, we’re status-seeking beings and our desire for tribal acceptance is deeply coded into our DNA.
But embracing these dualities extends well beyond the realm of politics and into our personal lives. Here are a few of my own dualities:
- Delayed gratification vs. living in the moment
- Living a life of purpose vs. a life of financial security
- Reducing my ego vs. embracing my ambition
- Honoring my ambition vs. the anxiety that accompanies it
The beauty in reconciling dualities
It’s reassuring that these are timeless questions into the human condition. Doesn’t it feel good to know that none of these dualities are mutually exclusive? I’ll probably spend my entire life exploring the tension between both extremes. And in that inquiry, I’ll get to learn truths about myself, my capabilities, and my deepest yearnings. The icky question “What motivates my greed” morphs into a playful and instructive exercise.
Take the ego, for instance. I’m pulled towards the Buddhist concept of the dissolution of ego. But I don’t want to be zero ego Khe, nor do I want to sit under a bodhi tree for my entire life. Part of what makes me who I am is the fire, energy, and ambition I bring into things which are important to me (like this essay). But as Elizabeth Gilbert adds “If you let that thing drive the WHOLE story you’re setting yourself up for a life of terrible suffering.”
I’m probably getting some eye-rolls for using the “it’s complicated” cop out to explain away the human condition. There is no easy answer, but I encourage you to playfully inquire into these dualities in your own life. Maybe the cop-out answer is blindly embracing one truth. See where it takes you. And as the late John O’Donahue said:
“The mind separates, and when it draws barriers in the heart of these dualities, the barrier becomes a real one. There’s no longer porous space for breathing. Then you have dualism and things cut-off that should belong together.”
Let’s remember to keep that porous space for breathing.