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We are not one of the other - we are both

We are born ‘sorters’. We constantly make decisions about what is good or bad, dangerous or safe. Maybe it is part of our evolutionary process, stemming from our time back on the savannah when making choices was critical to our survival.

 We are born ‘sorters’. We constantly make decisions about what is good or bad, dangerous or safe. Maybe it is part of our evolutionary process, stemming from our time back on the savannah when making choices was critical to our survival.

We also like our decision making process to be quick and easy. American life coach, columnist and author, Martha Beck, wrote in Oprah’s O magazine that, rather than figure out which snakes are poisonous and which ones are not, it is more convenient for us to simply fear all snakes. Beck believes that we have carried this simplified approach view of the world over into our very complex, nuanced, modern life.

Duality of the Workplace

A colleague and I recently presented at a university leadership conference on bringing duality into wholeness. Our premise was that it is time to quit sorting the leaders from the followers. We can’t consider them as separate or dual because in reality, they are both part of the same. Leaders and followers work together as one and neither can exist without the other.

At a break-out session, we were divided in to groups from oldest (I prefer to say most experienced) to youngest. Each group was asked to define their attitudes to work.

Our group, which was comprised of those aged 55 and over, said we “live to work.” The youngest group, who were 25 years and younger, said that they “work to live.”

Within a few short hours of presenting on the topic, I witnessed the duality in the workforce. Is it possible that both the older group and the younger group are right? I think so. We need dedication to our organizations to drive them forward but we also need to take the time to nurture ourselves as individuals as well.

The Duality Lurking Within

I saw more evidence of our duality of thinking in the shocking news about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the 62-year-old chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who was arrested after being accused of sexually assaulting a 32-year-old maid in his hotel room in New York.

Since then, a number of reports allege that Strauss-Kahn has a history of taking liberties with women. My Facebook comments on the Strauss-Kahn story attracted a comment from a friend whose uncle was a senior economist at the IMF and had introduced her to Strauss-Kahn three years ago. She found him charming, intelligent and eloquent.

So, did the wine turn to vinegar? Or are we talking about two separate bottles in the same crate?

I’ll be Back or Maybe Not

Maybe the same is true of serial philanderer, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He’s one part lion king and one part reptile. Perhaps Maria Shriver’s married life was both wonderful and terrible at the same time.

The Dueling Boss

I experienced duality personally when I worked for a boss who was great about creating a team atmosphere but he wanted the company to pay for his fun. One day he was a sparkling wellspring of inspiration and the next, he was an eye-rolling source of shame.

Two Goes into One How Many Times?

What we find is that the ‘Leaders of the Pack’ are, in fact, a combination of opposing traits but, because our brains are trained for duality, this is hard to understand.

It is certainly a mind-bender to consider that a man who allegedly attacks a powerless hotel maid could also care about helping people in the developing world. Most of us will still try to label him. For some he’s a prince, to others, he’s a predator – allegedly.

My Big, Old, White Horse

I admit to pursing the duality of thinking. Even as a little girl, I was guilty of “getting on my big, old, white horse” and virtuously exclaiming the perfection my position while lamenting the evil of opposing thoughts.

When we limit ourselves to making “either/or” choices based on labels, we limit our possibilities and reduce our accuracy. Breaking out of this prehistoric mind-set comes from re-thinking dualities and connecting your head and your heart.

Start by recognizing the places in your own life where you act out the two opposing parts of yourself. You may be generally considerate, but vulnerable to lapses of personal selfishness. You may act one way to protect yourself and find that same behavior destroys you.

Half Right Answers

“Either/or” thinking removes us from reality. We spend a lot of time weaving a story to buttress our position and looking for others to fortify it. Evidence that doesn’t support our chosen position, we bury in a big hole somewhere.

Those conclusions, decisions, actions based on either/or thinking says life coach, Martha Beck, “will never feel truthful or satisfying because they lead to answer that is only half right.”

Ask some Questions

To help with reconciling your thoughts, I recommend Byron Katie to you, a woman who teaches people to end their suffering and has been described as “a spiritual innovator for the new millennium.”

Katie suggests we investigate stressful thoughts by asking if the thought is absolutely true. It likely isn’t. Next, allow yourself to feel the emotions the thought produces. Examining the feelings and images will get you out of your head and into your heart.

Finally, take the opposite position. For example, instead of saying, “he is irresponsible,” say “he is responsible.” Look for examples to demonstrate the latter. When you sink into your opposite thinking, you’ll find that, in many cases, it feels more true than the original thought you clung to so tightly.

What a great relief to see yourself and the world free of these dualities and to see that both are right, both are trueFree Web Content, and so am I.

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After a highly successful career in business, including 26 years with PotashCorp where she was Senior Vice-President, Betty-Ann retired in 2007, the same year that she was named to Canada‘s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Hall of Fame™. She now works as a speaker, author and mentor and is committed to using her personal and professional experiences to inspire and empower other women.  A firm believer in the value women bring to organizations, Betty-Ann explores changing perceptions of male and female roles including candid observations about what she calls "Good Gender Physics” on her blog at She helps both men and women understand the primary energy of their gender but also accept and appreciate the strengths of their opposite.

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