The news that keeps us Onward On!

The Carroll News

The news that keeps us Onward On!
Since 1925
The news that keeps us Onward On!

The Carroll News

The news that keeps us Onward On!

The Carroll News

Tate’s Takeaways: Balance is nonsense, seek contrast

Embrace life’s complexities with the contrast approach, thriving amidst chaos rather than seeking elusive balance.
 A lone yellow flower in a mint field exemplifies the power of contrast  (Jusdevoyage / Unsplash)
A lone yellow flower in a mint field exemplifies the power of contrast (Jusdevoyage / Unsplash)

Some people direct us to find, or create, balance in our lives. They enthusiastically tell us that we will be happy and at peace if we can just find balance. Is it that simple? Just find the “balance” in life? However good the intentions of these people may be, pursuing balance is a fool’s errand. 

In 21 years of living, I have already learned that balance is not the foundation of a good life because I will never achieve such a perfectly harmonious existence. Balance sets us up for disappointment. My college experience is taught me the importance of prioritizing and choosing where to focus my energy. Moreover, my life will be extremely unbalanced and difficult sometimes. But…that’s okay! For example, midterms or finals only last for a couple of days, and during that time, my life will not be balanced. Yet, I need periods of hardship to better appreciate the good times. 

Life can never be in balance as it’s inherently chaotic! There is so much disorder and our attempts to apply a proportionally-focused mindset to it will result in disastrous dissatisfaction. Life is full of choices; we make approximately 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day, one of those choices should be choosing contrast instead of balance. 

In this context, balance means one is trying to equalize the parts of life or allocate their time proportionally; a frivolous search for perfection and harmony. A reductively simple example: work eight hours, sleep eight hours and spend eight hours with family, friends, hobbies, etc. 

Whereas, contrast means one is actively pursuing things that have striking differences from one another. Think of contrast in life like the balance between climbing a steep mountain and lounging on a tranquil beach. While the time you spend climbing may be physically demanding and require intense effort, it doesn’t need to equate proportionally to the time spent relaxing on the beach. The satisfaction derived from the sharp contrast between the two experiences can be profound. Just as the challenge of the climb enhances the bliss of relaxation by the sea, the contrast between difficult work and deep relaxation enriches our overall experience and satisfaction in life. That’s confusing and just a bit too philosophical to be useful. 

Thankfully, Bob Ross summarizes this concept so beautifully. He said, “Put light against light – you have nothing. Put dark against dark—you have nothing. It’s the contrast of light and dark that each gives the other one meaning.” Thus, meaning is derived from contradiction

In my example, working is meaningless without relaxation, and vice versa. If this still needs to be clarified, I understand. This distinction still twists my brain sometimes as it can often seem to be a debate of semantics, but I assure you that is not. 

Take what Mark Twain, the great American author said, “Happiness ain’t a thing in itself – it’s only a contrast with something that ain’t pleasant.” If our goal is to be happy in life, simply devoting ourselves to that pursuit is not enough. It is fair to presume that the amount of time we will spend happy or unhappy will not be equal. However, that imbalance is what allows us to appreciate both emotional states. 

Seneca, a prominent ancient Roman philosopher, statesman, orator and tragedian, writes in “ On The Shortness of Life” that “The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.” He’s cautioning us that if we seek to balance our lives into equilibrium, we are in actuality wishing for life, nature and the universe to conform to our expectations. Doing this is a fantastic recipe for a fat glass of disappointment on the rocks.  

In the same passage, Seneca writes, “You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours;” he is advising us that attempts to control the future are a waste of time. The Stoics advocate accepting what we can control and being present in each moment.

Building on this philosophical perspective, Epictetus, an ancient Greek philosopher who was born into slavery, writes “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” In essence, he argues that we should accept the truth that we have little control over our lives. A pursuit of balance seeks to undermine this radical acceptance which he contends for. However, striving for contrast allows us to live with the disorder of the world because we accept this is how the world is

Contrast should dictate who we allow to be in our lives. We should surround ourselves with people who are different from us, and that will challenge us to grow. This is precisely what Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, saw in contrast when he said, “The greater the contrast, the greater the potential. Great energy only comes from a correspondingly great tension of opposites.” 

I love Jung’s simplification of this concept as the “tension of opposites,” for what is life but the constant push and pull of competing interests. Work drags you here, family there, etc, yet this tension forces us to adapt, to strive to be better. It pushes us to accept that everything is not in our control, as Epictetus reminds us. 

Furthermore, our experiences are not always direct, proportional trade-offs, but rather a complex interplay of emotions and energy distribution. Consider the analogy popularized by Mark Manson in his bestseller “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a @#$%!”: imagine you start your day with a limited number of @#$%s to give, let’s say 20. As you navigate through your day, various events consume different amounts of your emotional energy. Perhaps work drains 10 of your precious @#$%s , then traffic takes another one and a fender bender wipes out eight more. 

At this point, it might seem like misery has taken over. Despite setbacks, you invest your last remaining @#$% into something positive, like going on a hike with your family. Surprisingly, that single @#$%s invested in an activity that starkly contrasts with the day’s challenges replenishes all your @#$%s.  

It’s a reminder that even amidst adversity, consciously choosing to allocate your emotional resources towards something uplifting can yield exponential (not proportional) returns, outweighing the weight of the hardships endured. 

Cultivate contrast in your life–be radically acceptant of the crazy, chaotic universe we exist in. Find meaning in the “tension of opposites.” Balance doesn’t give meaning to life, contrast does. Balance won’t push us to be better, contrast will. Find the beauty in contradiction and allow yourself to thrive in the rich tapestry of human experience. After all, only contrast truly makes life worth living.

Leave a Comment

Comments (0)

The Carroll News allows comments on articles to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards.
All The Carroll News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *