The Castle Paradox

I’ve had this poster hanging in my office for perhaps the past 30 years or so.  I don’t even recall where it came from, but I was immediately taken with its message of holism and strength and living an integrated life, so I kept it as a reminder of how I thought I should try to build my own life.  Or, at the very least, to remind myself of how out of balance I can become and how easily the imbalances can happen.

The components of the castle construction are insightful and beg reflection, but it’s the heading of the graphic that poses The Castle Paradox: “A Dream Is A Goal Taken Seriously.”  It states in very economical terms an entire philosophy of personal and organizational development.  (Naturally, I am drawn to perceived truths that seem to make sense in my own life.)  And the idea here is essentially that any dream of mine- as nebulous and sometimes impractical as it may seem- might be nonetheless achievable if I will be resolved to wrestle with the enormity of my vision and conquer its small component parts, if I can harness the power of my very own spirit, if I will treat it as an objective or reality as opposed to a fiction.   After all, objectives are things that simply need to be done, while dreams too often occupy the realm of fantasy, well beyond my reach.  I like the idea of grappling with something tangible.

But the paradox is both  encouragingly simple and maddeningly problematic.  Our loftiest aspirations might well be within our reach but only if we can teach ourselves how to re-imagine their achievement.    Sometimes the path to succeeding is, indeed, by the “road less taken,” and that can be a path that is difficult to discern.

The Castle Paradox and the puzzlement that it brings to most of us in real life remind me of the lessons from one of my favorite books, The Paradoxes of Leadership, by Charles R. Edmunson.  Ostensibly written for leaders in employee-owned companies in the U.S., the book is a compendium of lessons that apply equally well to individuals simply trying to get along in life, and with others, as well as they can.  What makes them unique is the way they challenge the traditionally-held beliefs about our interactions, attaining success and the nature of organizational relationships; what they reflect is quite contrary to the views of the status quo:

* We have more influence when we listen than when we tell;
* Profound change comes from a feeling of safety, not from fear;
* We are stronger when we are vulnerable;
* Even when we are effective, we doubt ourselves;
* Our strength is our weakness;
* Less is more;
* Our strength comes through serving, not through dominating;
* We correct better through grace than through confrontation;
* We gain respect not by demanding it, but by giving it;
* We learn by talking, not just by listening;
* With people, the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line;
* The hard stuff is the soft stuff;
* Sometimes we have to get it wrong to get it right;
* A full life is achieved not by grasping but by giving.

What Edmunson learned from his own leadership experiences was that a willingness to see things from a very different perspective often generated some very different answers to life’s issues.  The value in his observations lies not in whether one agrees with each of the statements as he wrote them, but that one would invest the time in considering them and discovering perhaps new meanings imbedded within them.   (Life itself is paradoxical in nature: in fact, Edmunson’s own greatest paradox was revealed through the writing of his book, at a time in his life when a neurological disease had robbed him of his ability to speak or even move.)  It seems as though our circumstances can sometimes create dramatically new solutions to the “castle walls” we seek to climb.

Much of what we think we know to be true is actually something less than that; there are few immutable truths to which we can cling for comfort.  Elements of tradition, history, culture, politics, religion and family heritage tend to shape what we believe as much as actual truth does.  Perhaps that’s the reason for so many paradoxical situations in which we find ourselves.  We cling to ideas that we have gathered along the way, worldviews that we have grown up to embrace, perspectives that we hold because “they have always been that way.” These eventually feed and complicate the paradoxes we face.    But recognizing the paradoxical presence in our lives should give us some degree of confidence in resolving these seemingly impossible quandries.  They may be little more than everyday realities which beg for a fresh look, an engaged mind, and an open heart in order to achieve a new resolution.

Solving The Castle Paradox: encouragingly simple and maddeningly problematic….





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