Holding the Tension of Opposite Views

January 15, 2023 by Charlie Hedges − 2 Comments

To create peace in our lives—and in our world—we need to be able to sit with frustration and hold the tension of opposite views.” Parker Palmer

Good or bad? Right or wrong?

Dualistic Thinking

Such dualistic decisions are rarely so cut and dried. The most important decisions in life seldom boil down to one of two options. It’s just not that simple, is it? In fact, I am fond of jokingly saying, “Never believe what I say today because, with more information, I might change my mind tomorrow.” Haha. But it’s true!

Carl Jung talked about holding the tension of the opposites – when the choices feel diametrically opposed to one another in some way. At that point we are caught in the dualistic thinking of either/or, and neither one feels quite right.

Although emotionally gratifying, dualistic decisions of either/or are rarely the best choice. Ultimately, the answer to an either/or decision almost always depends on who is keeping score. Nuances, personal experiences, upbringing, and culturally ingrained values always bias our conclusion.


Our most common process for determining truth is to browse data, ponder choices, and then… go with our gut. We seem to have an innate predisposition to find answers and garner the confidence of knowing something “for sure.” When that occurs, we feel settled in our hearts and minds, and ready to move on.

Problem solved! Or is it? The wisdom of the ages teaches us that such thinking is not only faulty; it is fraught with error.


I so agree with Parker Palmer (see above): We will never have inner peace—nor peace in the world—until we learn that either/or conclusions are almost always wrong. Instead, we need to adopt the thinking of the masters which leads us on a trail of “both/ands.”

The most common example of both/ands is the way we define the nature of “light:” The question has been, is light a wave or is it a particle (or “matter”). We all know the answer: it is both at the same time dependent on your methodology of measurement.

The Tensions of Paradox

Such is true with paradox: Two (or more) truths that are opposite in nature but nevertheless, given our presuppositions, have equal and valid truth. This is what Palmer refers to as “the tension of opposite views.” And until we become comfortable with ambiguity we will never discover the Peace of Not Knowing “for sure”.

Considering the tensions stemming from our political discourse and our disturbing interpersonal relationships, I don’t see how we cannot help but accept ambiguity, paradox, and holding the tension of opposite views.

You Determine Precisely What is True “For You”

I think the answer for each of us individually is to stand firmly (at least as firmly as possible) on the few things that matter to us and to hold rather loosely onto everything else. I also think that what I hold most dearly has to do with character and the ways I treat other people.

For, I believe firmly in kindness and compassion and the almost unintelligible grace of God.

That Which Really Matters is Probably True

The Which Doesn’t Really Matter Most Likely Isn’t True

(At least for me)

Photo courtesy of Boonyachoat at istockphoto

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