The Next Normal

Book Excerpt: Tension of Opposites

Stephen Tang

Here’s an excerpt from my new book (working title, due 2023), A Test for Our Time: Crisis Leadership in the Next Normal. It echoes this week’s theme about finding purpose and moving beyond the pandemic:

In his book Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom discusses the importance of learning to deal with opposing concepts and scenarios. He describes it as a tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band, and argues that most of us live somewhere in the middle. This tension is important because it requires a level of comfort with ambiguity.

In the next normal—a future filled with big and small crises, we will be faced with many decisions that must take into account seemingly opposite forces. For example, we must weigh the personal freedom to forego masks or get vaccinated against the need to protect public health. Neither I nor public policymakers can be static in our analysis of this void because ultimately, we all need to make sound, timely decisions that affect people’s lives and livelihoods. What’s personal is also universal. We must learn to deal with the tension of opposites to make the best decisions for ourselves and others.

There are many examples of political, economic, and technological opposites that we, as a global community, need to resolve. I believe that effective problem-solving on these big issues (and smaller ones) will only happen when we bridge opposites with “and,” instead of debating them as the false choices of “or.”

  • Capitalism and wealth inequality
  • Criminal justice reform and public safety
  • Consumption and sustainability
  • Mobility and greenhouse gas reduction
  • Artificial Intelligence and job creation
  • National interests and global community

We all need to get comfortable with ambiguity and embrace the tension of opposites. For my part, I’ll be working to hold the discomfort of these paradoxes AND to also translate possible solutions in ways that bring people together instead of further polarizing them. I believe that’s the best way to provide more effective leadership and opportunity for everyone.

It can be helpful to think about opposite qualities in terms of tension. Tensions of opposites can reveal something meaningful about our nature. The tension between being capable and lost, smiling and struggling, kind and set boundaries, vulnerable and powerful, successful and traumatized, extrovert and alone, valued and flawed, introvert and engaging, loving and questioning.

Each of these qualities can be represented by a circle. The overlap between the circles reveals something about our human nature. As I began to reset my identity after OraSure, I noticed that there was near complete overlap between each word pair for me. That showed me that at any given moment, both descriptions could be true about me. Recalling the meaning of each word through life experiences without shame or judgment permits me to feel more fully alive.

[Image credit: Mind Journal]

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