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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line

My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
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Paradox

A talk given by Victor MacGill to the Dunedin Spiritualist Centre  January 18 2004


My dictionary says a paradox is a seemingly absurd or contradictory statement even if it is well founded. In life there are many things that appear absurd and contradictory that are in fact real and true. These paradoxes mean we live in a world of mystery where there is always something new to learn and experience. Every question answered opens up a new question to be solved.

Tonight I will talk about some of those paradoxes and how they might help us understand the world we live in.

The first paradox is that we have two competing needs in life beyond our needs for mere survival. On the one hand we need to be individual people with a unique identity and the free will to choose to do what we want. We need to have our own way of doing things through which we express our creativity.

The second need we have is to be accepted by other people. We need to belong and feel a part of a group, a community or a society. We need to feel connected to others. But, in order to be accepted and belong we must give up some of our some of our ability to make our own choices, some of our free will, some of our individuality. So, life is a constant dance between our need to be different from other people and our need to be the same as other people.

So, one dancing partner is our need to belong; to feel accepted and connected. In order to do so, we must co-operate with the people around us. Co-operation is vital. It allows us to learn and gain support from other people to help meet our individual needs.. Many people give freely of their time, effort, and money in order that this Centre can exist and be available for you and I to come to. It could not exist without enormous amounts of co-operation. From this we learn that

There is no unity without sacrifice.

The other dancing partner is our need to be a unique individual. This inevitably means competing with others. We often see competition as bad, but it allows us to excel and achieve rather than just accept being one of the crowd, another brick in the wall. Whenever there is not enough to go around, we compete. It helps us move forward and grow and develop.  Co-operation and competition are both necessary and form another set of dancing partners in our lives.

Just as dancers need to be balanced with one another. We need to find a balance between our separate  individuality and  our connectedness to others. Every time we assert our individuality and our difference from other people, we move further away from our feeling of belonging and connectedness to others and every time we accommodate others so we can feel like we belong, we take ourselves further away from our individuality.

The extremes of only co-operating or only competing do not work. If dancing partners become too unbalanced, they will fall over. If our balance is too far towards our individuality and we only concentrate on our own personal needs, we become selfish, overly competitive, and isolated. If our balance is too far towards co-operation, we start to all think just the same and do everything just like everyone else. We lose our sense of identity and become mere robots or soldiers simply following orders.

We form our sense of identity by noticing how we are different and how we are similar to those people around us. With no difference, we can have no identity. As well as that, with an imbalance of too much co-operation, there could be nothing new because there is no room for people to be different. No new ideas could emerge from which we could improve and we become stale and boring.

When we are out of balance we cause harm to ourselves and the people around us.
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The balance point between individuality and connectedness to others is not a fixed point, so we cannot just set it and leave it. We must continuously work on finding the balance in the same way as a tightrope walker can only maintain their balance on the tightrope if they are constantly readjusting their balance.

There is yet another pair of dancing partners in our lives. Chaos and order. If everything is totally ordered, there is no variation and no room for anything new. Everything must follow the rules perfectly. Nothing can change. If, on the other hand, everything is totally chaotic nothing is stable long enough for anything to be achieved. As soon as we start to build up a sense of who we are, it is broken down again. Chaos Theory tell us there is a balance point between chaos and order called the Edge of Chaos when we get the balance just right. At that point there is just enough chaos to allow novelty and creativity, giving room for individuals to excel, but also there is just enough order and predictability so things don’t change too soon before the creativity and individuality can emerge and be used.

So, finding our peace means finding a dynamic balance point – a balance point that is not stationary but constantly moving around. We must compete and co-operate, be individuals and group members, be chaotic and ordered all at once.

If we look more closely at our need for individuality and our sense of identity, we reveal some interesting paradoxes.

If people are different, then we must accept and work with the fact that other people around us will always have different ideas, values, culture, viewpoints and different ways of doing things.

We cannot avoid coming into conflict with other people, because we all seek different thinks in life.

The question is not whether we can avoid conflict or not. Conflict is always present because we are all different. The question is, how do we deal with the conflict that is inevitably present? Do we deal with conflict in ways that increase aggression and tension and cause harm to each other or in ways that lead to healing, harmony and forgiveness?

We do not come to our peace by all being the same and therefore avoiding conflict, we come to our peace by resolving conflict.

We can therefore say, There is no Peace without Conflict. It sounds crazy, but think about it.

If we are all uniquely different we have diversity. Diversity is a very important quality in our world. By having a world full of diverse, unique individuals, people will inevitably find new and creative ways of doing things, of solving problems and working together. Being different allows new things to develop. But, the more people express their unique identity and creativity, the more differences between people must increase and people become correspondingly more inequal. For example some people must be more clever than others, more skilled than others, while others will be less able or less motivated, Increased diversity inevitably leads to increased inequality. This diversity does not mean we are not equal in value as people, but we are inequal in skills, abilities and motivation etc., which will a huge affect how we live.

There is no diversity without inequality. 

In fact, the greater the diversity, the greater the difference and the greater the inequality. Communism tried to make all people equal. It’s a good idea, but it just doesn’t work like that. They made everyone the same, so nobody had a reason to excel.

Inequality is necessary for diversity, but of course too much inequality causes problems. That’s the problem with capitalism. We must balance the inequality with the equality that comes from co-operation when we share information and resources and support each other.

In order to be a true individuals we also need free will. We need to be free to make our own decisions and act on those decisions. The greater the range of real choices, the more free will we have. Only when we have a wide range of real choices do we have free will. Without it we are again just robots.

But, if we can only choose the right thing or the correct thing to do, we do not really have free will. Only when we are really able to choose bad or wrong options, or make choices that lead to disaster do we have free will. And unless those disasters and catastrophe really can and do happen, we do not have free will. So, strangely

There is no Free Will without real catastrophes and disasters in our lives

Every time we make a choice, we close off other possibilities. By deciding to come here tonight, I have made it impossible to stay at home watching the tv, go to a movie, visit a friend, or a hundred other things I could have done. We only have the freedom to act as we wish if we have the discipline to avoid those things we have chosen for ourselves.

Zen Buddhism teaches us. There is no freedom without discipline.

Without discipline we cannot have an identity. We use our discipline when we make choices so we can stick to the choices we have made. This creates a boundary between us and the outside world that defines who we are. If we do not guard that boundary, if we do not have the strength and discipline to say ‘no’ when we need to, we are used by other people and they take us over. However, if we guard the boundary too closely, we become isolated and alone. The boundary like everything else must be kept in balance.

If our boundaries are too loose and very single part of ourselves were open to view and influence by other people, we also lose our ability to be free acting individuals. There must be a parts of us that others do not have access to in order that we can make up our own minds, form our own opinions, and have a separate identity. We need privacy and we need to be able to keep secrets. We need privacy in every parts of our lives. We have private parts to our body, private places in our houses, private places to go, private clubs, state secrets, family secrets, and closed meetings. Again, while we need privacy and secrecy, too much becomes damaging.

An inevitable consequence being able to have secrets, however, is that it creates the opportunity for people to tell lies and to deceive others.

We can not have real freedom unless we can deceive others and be deceived by them.

All of this paints a very strange picture of the world we live in. It seems like we can only achieve the things we want by accepting the exact opposite as well. And the secret of life seems to be not so much about living a peaceful, calm, loving life as it is about accepting sacrifice, coping with conflict, loss, and deception that is inevitable in our lives and doing it in positive, healing ways.

To sum up, I would warn us all to be more careful when we pray for peace, diversity, creativity, and freedom, because we must also be praying for conflict, sacrifice, inequality, catastrophe, loss, disaster, and deception. The pathway to peace and harmony can only be found in facing our difficulties with a healing and forgiving heart.



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