by David Shackleton (Contact David at david@integraldesign.org)

I became interested in the concept of balance about 25 years ago, when I discovered feminism and realized that it was unbalanced.  It was a profoundly unsettling thing for me to realize that my gender was represented only as the “bad guy,” the oppressor in the gender analysis accepted in society. 

It took some time, but eventually I realized that there was a whole other story missing from the feminist analysis, the story about how gender issues have advantaged women and disadvantaged men.  Once I realized that, I got to wondering why it was that half of the story could be left out, and few people seemed to notice, or even to care when it was pointed out to them. 

That question consumed me for about twelve years, during which time I edited and published a magazine on the missing half of gender issues, ran workshops and an annual conference, and even wrote a book.  And I realized that balance is actually a pretty tricky thing to achieve — we can have just one half of an issue and think that we have the whole thing. 

I have now generalized that realization beyond gender, to realize that it is part of the immature human condition to divide the world up into good and bad guys, and to feel complete about that.  A common example is the political left and right — each feels that they have the whole story, that the folk in their “camp” have the right of the matter and the guys on the other side have it all wrong.  

In fact, they are both mistaken, the left and the right each have only half of the story, they need each other to complete and balance their politics, but to them that feels like the last thing they should do.

Which brings us to the heart of the issue — onesidedness can (and usually does) feel right and good — it feels complete and righteous.  It comes with a set of bad guys that we can feel superior to, and a set of very reassuring rationalizations that can be used to defend readily against any suggestion that we might be wrong.  It can be a stuck place, and my sense is that much of the world lives in such stuck places for much of the time.

Consider, as an example, the process of growing up.  We start out, both boys and girls, in a mode that we might label as “feminine” — comfortable with intimacy and emotional expression, dependent on others, etc.  But by adolescence we leave that behind and move into a more “masculine” modality — withdrawn or confrontational, fiercely independent, etc.

The goal of these two modalities, according to Carl Jung, is for us to integrate them into an adulthood characterized by interdependence, where interdependence means that we can be dependent when that is appropriate, and independent when that is called for.  We can be emotional when the situation requires it, and we can suppress our emotions when that skill is needed.

In other words, maturity is about balance, and balance is about versatility.  To the extent that we can unstick ourselves from the one-sided issues of our culture and see the value on both sides (left and right, men and women, feminine and masculine, mainstream and alternative, etc.), we free ourselves to act with authority and wisdom in the world.

We become able to see questions clearly and fully rather than through an ideological filter, and we become competent to act with compassion, authority and leadership.  (Lest anyone think that I am coming from that place, let me hasten to correct them — my talent in this work is largely as a theorist.  I am no better at applying it to my life than the next person — but a clear theoretical description has a value of its own, and that is what I offer here.)

As always, I would love to converse and correspond with you about these questions — email me, or leave a comment below.

~ David

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