The Paradox

ducksTrue Story:  We were living in Tucson.  Our son, Cameron, was in kindergarten and came home with a note from his teacher.  Good Lord, how much trouble can you get into in kindergarten.  Essentially, the note said, “Cameron keeps telling the other children that life is a pair of ducks and I just want to know what the story is.”  I wrote a note back,  “Paradox.  I was a philo. major.  Sorry….”

If you’ve read more than one of my articles, you know I’m going…somewhere with this and it’s a place that I think is important.  I know it is to me.  As we travel through life, we each pick up tiny bits of wisdom that we glean from some of the weirdest sources. For some reason, one will just stick with us, though when you try to explain it to someone else they say, “Uhmmmm….  Okay, now moving right along….”

Here are a couple that stuck with me, goofy as they may sound.  “You have to be a sucker for somebody.”  Steinbeck in one of his little books.  The corollary to that is:  If you’re never a sucker for anyone…anything, you aren’t letting people through enough.  It works for me and I am at ease, knowing I may be suckered, or a sucker once in a while.

Another one, this time a tag line in a song by The Association:  It’s not the bridges burned that bother me, but the ones that I’ve never crossed.  In a way that’s been Pamela’s and my philosophy…forever.  You have one life…do whatever you’re going to do. More importantly, don’t get to the end and say to yourself, “Aw shit, I never tried to (fill-in-the-blank).”

For those poor bastards who’ve known me a long time, you know that I use the concept of The Paradox of Life or….The Zen Paradox a whole lot.  It gives me perspective.  Sometimes it warns me that something that’s GREAT…just might not be what it seems, and happily, when something absolutely horrible comes along…there just might be a way to view it better or even turn it into a plus.  The examples are everywhere…everywhere if you care to look for them, and subject-wise, they are all over the dartboard.  Pop aspirin now and read on:

oystersA few weeks ago, I got a seriously bad case of food poisoning.  Watch out for oysters and mussels.  They can sometimes take you out.  Got sick.  Threw up 45+ times, got dehydrated as well, fell down in the shower and at the time that was a very, very low point in my life.  Lying there, my brain whispered, “Let’s see ya find something good about this!”  Well, it didn’t happen right away, but I had picked up some winter weight from being inactive and just couldn’t get it together this year to lose it.  Well, those mussels were my horribly annoying inspiration to drop the weight.  (It’s gone by the way, though I really don’t recommend this as a diet alternative.)  But…I got something really good out of something horrible.

napolean syndromeThe Napoleon Syndrome:  Zen Paradox at its Best.   We’ve all witnessed it:  Little guy, scrappy guy, big mouth and a huge chip on his shoulder.  He gets a BIG dog, BIG scary car, and is always trip-wired to go off if you blink at him the wrong way.  Why?  It’s a no-brainer.  Overcompensation.  Down deep in his cerebrum, there’s a person who’s scared and feels he has to show the world…before they kick him in the ass.  Usually, and I underscore that word, a really big or really capable guy (think of the profile of a Navy Seal) is quiet, understated, very slow to anger.  Why?  Another slam-dunk:  Because he can’t afford to lose his temper.  It’s true……..

religionReligion:  Like the old Dragnet series, “the names have been changed to protect the innocent”,  we met a couple down in Asheville, NC a while back.  Both “Charlie and Gwen” were deeply religious…really deeply.  They go to church, literally every day of the week and you hear about their religion a lot.  Mutual friends warned us that it might be a hot-button topic, but we’re big boys and girls.  Things went well, very well for about a year or so, but then the comments began slipping out, subtly at first.  “We really like you two.  It’s just a shame that you’re both tragic.”  “Huh?????”  “Yes, we’re praying for you, but if you don’t change to (again, fill-in-blank religion) you’re going to hell,” do not pass go, do not collect…well…anything.  We tried with partial success to slough it off, but it stung.

Eventually, with my philo. background I put forth the concept that, “Perhaps it’s not so much who or what you believe in that makes you a good person but how you behave, how you actually treat your fellow man.”  I thought it was at least a debatable topic.  Apparently it wasn’t.  It seems like a paradox to me that, sometimes, like the Napoleon Syndrome, the ones who point their fingers the most, and proselytize the most aren’t always the kindest or most loving or most forgiving….which is what I thought it was all about.  I have invoked “The Golden Rule” more than once in these articles.  It works for me.

weather forecastOn a much lighter note:  With our now hyper-sophisticated technology, with GPS and WIFI everywhere and a traffic jam of geo-synchronous satellites hovering above us,  it seems in a very Zen kind of way that the weather reporting is getting not only worse, but amazingly worse!   I have several apps on my iPad and try to average them out.  I’ll get a prediction that at 5 am tomorrow morning we will get .07, that’s seven hundredths of an inch of rain…in fourteen hours.  Fourteen hours later, we get three and a half inches and 60 mph winds.  Geez…  I can do better than that with a Ouija Board.

dessertA Little Zen Annoyance:  Why is it that every single damned thing on this planet that I really love to eat…is bad for me or is high in calories?  Couldn’t there be just one exception?  Some kind of new carrot or rutabaga that tastes as good as warm chocolate chip cookies?  It’s that old Zen thing:  Tastes too good?  It’s bad for you.  “C’mon, gimme something.”


video gameMore Zen:  Our technology is getting sooooooo good, that it’s scary…and sometimes bad.  The video games have been so cleverly designed that many young guys just can’t resist.  Bang-bang, shoot em up.  It’s exhilarating.  It’s ADDICTIVE.  And when it’s over, you’ve lost X number of hours of a very precious life.  Lose too many hours at the wrong period of your life and you won’t be able to fulfill your dreams.  And, yeah, cellphones are wondrous and ubiquitous.  Press em up to the side of your face long enough and look at the stats; they don’t want to tell you about cancer.  Or…more bluntly, missing out on what’s going on in your windshield as you streak along at 55 mph.  They are so great….and they are not so great.  Most of us, if we admit it, are addicted.  We know we’ve gone too far, and we can’t stop.  Or can we?

einstein-geniusGenius vs Common Sense:  It would seem that when you belly-up-to-the-bar for your plate full of the two, you can have a lot of one, or a lot of the other, just not both at the same time.  It’s sorta like those foods that taste good vs. being good for you.  I’ve known many near geniuses and a couple of dyed-in-the-wool geniuses.  A guy who lived a mile from our gallery was in the Guinness Book as the smartest man in the world.  He’d come in, we’d talk (mostly he’d talk) and we had some weird sort of rapport.  But…strange…  When he died, they had to back up a line of dumpsters.  I could barely walk in his house, so much junk, books, cobwebs, newspapers..

Penny-wise and Pound-foolish:   Or, as Irene Dunne said to Cary Grant in that WONDERFUL movie, The Awful Truth,  “She had a million dollars…and no sense.”  Pamela’s folks were extreme examples of this.  Her dad, Emery, was a superb doctor.  But as with many physicians, they assume that their acumen in one field translates to every field.  Uhmmm…not necessarily.  Investing?  Horrible.  Wasting money?  Terrible.  Yet when he’d drive through the toll booth, every time we’d hear the ranting and raving over a quarter…fifty cents.  Then he’d buy a BMW for 75K, realize he didn’t like it and sell it…at a tremendous loss.  There are others in our collective family who are equally guilty, but they’re just too wise and intelligent to notice.  Pam and I are penny-wise and pound-wise and nickel-wise.  In the early years we could never afford not to be.  I washed my own car.  I mowed my own grass.  Instead of paying $200 a month  to a fitness center, I continue to do stuff…like washing my car, mowing my grass.

veganVegans and Vegetarians:   Conceptually, I think it’s fine.  It’s GREAT…maybe to give up eating a whole big slice of what you could be eating.  But here’s that Zen thing again:  We have a whole bunch of veggie-veganny friends (mostly women) and they’ll eschew the salmon, the shrimp, the beef, chicken, etc. etc.  But then…when dessert time comes, they get a great big double helping of chocolate cake and marinate it in ice cream and more chocolate.  The only thing I notice is that these gals never look terribly healthy, strong, or happy.  They always seem a bit pale, frail, as if they were birds in the middle of molting season.

 I think Plato got it right a couple thousand years ago.  Moderation….Nothing in Excess.  Have a little salmon, have some veggies, have a slice of bread, albeit a little slice.  Eat everything you want to eat…just not a whole lot of it.  And…if you’re allergic to something, that’s a different matter.

And so…in closing, you might try the concept for a week or two.  Look at a person or a situation or an event that seems to be purely good, or purely bad and find that paradoxical opposite lurking there.  It’s fun…and it gives one a bit of perspective.

H with pussywillowHenry




11 Responses to "The Paradox"

  1. Sarah Baines says:

    Surprised you missed a biggie, Henry.
    What’s the biggest Zen Paradox? Sex. It is the ultimate expression of love between a man and a woman. And, it can be the ultimate expression of hate, although it mechanically the same. I’m speaking of rape. Go figure.
    Sarah B.

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Dear Sarah,

      Well, no argument. Your point is well-taken. Rape isn’t a topic that exists in my world, unless I read it in the paper or see it on TV. It is, indeed, strange that the same physical action can connote both love and hate. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interesting article. At first, I wasn’t exactly sure where you were going, but you made some interesting points.
    Another example you might consider: The paradox of ETHICS…or lack thereof. If you interact with a single person, one-on-one, there’s a good chance that you will get a fair shake, be treated reasonably, ethically. When you multiply that exposure, however, you interact with a thousand people (as one) the way you do when you interact with a corporation, instead of multiplying or at least averaging-out the ethical code of that thousand, the ethical code of any corporation quickly drops to………ZERO.

    I’m certain that there are some otherwise “good” people working for the cigarette manufacturers, though as a corporation, they are peddling death and illness. Same with a car company. Many many good folks working there. But the corporate ethic? It’s cheaper to pay-off the few thousand who die because the brakes didn’t work, gas pedal got stuck, or…their gas tank exploded. Amazon, Walmart, Any S&L, large bank is a good example. Many good individuals work there, yet they choose to crush competition and abuse their customers and often their own employees.

    Corporations should be legally forced to create an independent ethical division within their companies…an artificial ethic. Otherwise they are giant invisible monsters. Bill T.

  3. Nan Miller says:

    Ironically, today I was trying to read Robert Browning’s “Rabbi ben Ezra” – I confess that the first two beautiful lines are really all that I can understand (after all, I was an anthro, not, philo major).
    So, I found this explanation while I was lurking around: “like all of Browning’s historical poems, it is a free interpretation of the idea that ibn Ezra’s life and work suggests to Browning, theistic paradox, that good might lie in the inevitability of its absence”:
    For thence,—a paradox
    Which comforts while it mocks,—
    Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
    What I aspired to be,
    And was not, comforts me:
    brute I might have been, but would not sink i’ the scale.

    Kinda fits in with what you wrote about today. I’m ruminating on it, Henry.
    Nan M.

    • Henry Harvey says:

      Hi Nan,
      If you want to find a goldmine of paradoxical conundrums, you need look nor farther than any religious text. Sometimes that’s charming…sometimes inspirational, but you have to keep in mind that virtually all of these writings were written at a time when mankind was absolutely positive that the sun revolved around the earth…because…well…it looks that way.

  4. Here’s my unprofound contribution to your paradox article: When I go skiiing, I steer clear of the guys in beat-up jeans and gnarly boots and skis. They’re usually the hot dogs. Same with fencing, same with ballet dancers at practice, same with most sports and many of the arts. Willie Nelson’s guitar has a big gaping hole in it…and yet he plays on.
    Garrison J.

  5. Henry: I was really down this morning and reading something as enlightening and humorous as your piece is, it made me feel better and closer to the ones I miss.
    Living in this new location is very difficult and I do not fit in! I’m too honest, too liberal, too verbal and not nearly religious enough, so some days are harder than others. Never stop writing Henry!!
    Patti K.

  6. Barbara Kovacs says:

    Serve me a huge plate of Plato anytime. Moderation works on every level in life. Fixations, uber religiosity, chauvinism, obsessive behavior and fanaticism are detrimental to getting along with people. We need to strive to have a balance in our daily lives.

    Keep your mind open to new experiences, enjoy food, vocabulary, try new skills, and love openly your mate, family, and your pets who are here for such a short time. Life is for enrichment not for slamming doors to new concepts. Try it, you’ll like it.

    Barbara K.

  7. Henry Harvey says:

    Huge plate of Plato, eh….? For some reason I’m seeing a Far Side cartoon. Gnarly, slovenly unshaven cooks in the kitchen, the nouveau riche sitting at their ritzy tables waiting. Somebody yells, “Gimmie a #7! One big plate of Plato, hold the artichokes and the Aristotle.”
    I see things accelerating lately. People realizing that time and loved ones are the most precious commodities after all…not stuff, not money. It’s not too late………

Leave a Reply