Holding the Paradox

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Holding the Paradoxby Maren Stark Schmidt

Have you ever taken two magnets and tried to put like poles together?

If you put the north and the south pole of a magnet together, there is attraction and attachment.

Try to put two north or two south poles together, and you feel a repulsion. Push as you might, you can’t get the two similar poles to connect. The two like poles repel each other because of an electromagnetic force between the two poles.

Holding a paradox in our mind creates a force that is akin to magnetism–unseen, yet powerful.

A paradox is a type of contradiction involving two opposite ideas that, when considered separately, are true. When you can believe both ideas simultaneously, a certain form of a propelling force presents itself. It’s much like squeezing a watermelon seed between two fingers. A philosopher said that being able to hold a paradox in your mind was like giving a bird a second wing. With one wing there is no flying, but with two the bird takes flight. With one idea our minds are like a one-winged bird. Believing two opposing ideas lifts our thinking to new heights.

What are some of these opposite ideas that create energy to propel us on our way and let our ideas take flight?

One of my favorites is this paradox:

Live today as if it were your last day. Live as though you will live forever.

I hear a friend of mine laughing. ”That,” he says, ”is a fine pair-of-ducks.”

Other paradoxes to ponder:

  • The more you grab hold of something, the more it slips away.
  • I’m saving this for good. This is as good as it gets.
  • To be a success, you must seek failure.
  • Everything is important. Ultimately nothing matters.
  • It takes courage to admit you are afraid.
  • The more personal you are, the more universal your appeal.
  • To be unique, imitate others.
  • To do something well, you may have to do it poorly.

What does holding a paradox in your mind have to do with our relationships with our children? Try this pair of ducks on for size:

My child is the most special person in the world, just like the other 6 billion people on this planet.

There is this delicate balance of opposing, yet true, ideas that helps create a clarity to our thinking and meaningful purpose to our actions. The balance of the opposing thoughts becomes our compass pointing true north.

I’ll leave you with a Zen koan: Blow, and you can extinguish a fire. Blow, and you can make a fire.

**Maren Stark Schmidt writes Kids Talk™, a column dealing with early childhood development issues. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.

She has over 25 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Visit www.shininglightreading.com




  1. Maren,
    A fitting analogy. A paradox causes you to think – a rare art form these days – instead of plowing through your daily activities by using force.
    The grabbing/slipping statement is a favorite. The act of grabbing makes it slip, because force negates.

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