Bridging the tragic gap

Growing up as the only child of two very different parents, I came to see my function as bridging the gap between them.  Which of course colored my choices as an adult: in a lot of ways, a career in marketing -- whatever the organization or target customer -- is about bridging the gap; helping the organization understand what its customers need, helping the customers understand what the organization has to offer.

But there's selling inherent in marketing, which always made me uncomfortable, and so I went back to school a year or two ago to explore the possibility of bridging a different sort of gap, the gap in organizations between employees and employers.  Unfortunately I found that bridging that particular gap necessitates frequent dealings with conflict, and that made me so unreasonably uncomfortable that I ended up seeing a therapist for a while to get at the roots of that discomfort.

... which brought some interesting revelations and a lot of clarity, but no real resolution.  Clearly, for a variety of reasons, conflict is even more highly charged for me than for many.  But how do I reconcile that with this life tendency around bridging gaps?

Fortunately my reading this morning in Parker Palmer's A Hidden Wholeness is offering a new understanding of the situation.

"To be in the world nonviolently," Palmer writes, "means learning to hold the tension of opposites, trusting that the tension itself will pull our hearts and minds open to a third way of thinking and acting.  In particular, we must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge.

"...The insight at the heart of nonviolence is that we live in a tragic gap -- a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be.  It is a gap that never has been and never will be closed.  If we want to live nonviolent lives, we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility in hopes of being opened to a third way."

This statement seemed to me to capture the core, the essence of my particular brand of faith.  But then he went on to explain: "Deep within me there is an instinct even more primitive than "fight or flight," and I do not think it is mine alone.  As a species, we are profoundly impatient with tensions of any sort, and we want to resolve every one of them as quickly as we can."

And here's the kicker: "Ultimately, what drives us to resolve tension as quickly as we possibly can is the fear that if we hold it too long it will break our hearts."  But the breaking of the heart doesn't have to mean shattering into shards, he says; it could mean the heart is "broken open into a new capacity -- a process that is not without pain but one that many of us would welcome." 

"As I stand," he concludes, "in the tragic gap between reality and possibility, this small, tight fist of a thing called my heart can break open into greater capacity to hold more of my own and the world's suffering and joy, despair and hope."

In the end, he says, "the people who achieve the greatest good are those who have the greatest capacity to stand in the tragic gap."

Wow.  So much to think about, and so many responses.  A lifetime's worth of work here, it seems.  But I do find myself feeling both greatly inspired and greatly reassured: there is so much in this that resonates with that core self that is beginning to emerge... and to put this all in the context of non-violence offers another dimension of understanding, particularly so because I don't actually think about non-violence all that much, and yet that topic has arisen several times in conversations over the last few days.

Hmm.  Times like this I find myself staring at the Mary statues in my office and thinking, "she kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."


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