With October 10th being World Mental Health Day, I wanted to explore a concept that is important in today’s world of choices and complexity. The concept of dialectics introduces us to an idea that can help us find balance in an internal and external world of opposing sides and forces. But what are dialectics and how do they benefit us? The Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines a dialectic as, “a method of philosophical argument that involves some sort of contradictory process between opposing sides.”
We likely do not think about the idea of dialectics in our day to day life, however we are regularly faced with decisions and choices. Do we stay healthy or love cake? Do I strongly dislike my mother-in-law or love her? At work, your supervisor comes to you and presents you with two options. A partner wants you to make a choice between chicken and beef for dinner. These day-to-day choices are at best challenging.
Internally, however, we can struggle with choices like deciding between making the change in our life or staying where we are. Interpersonally, we may be straddling between expectations and appreciation of others in our lives. Do we demand change from someone else or accept them as who they are in this very moment?
It can be difficult to make these kinds of choices, especially when sticking with either of the two options seems just easier. But dialectics is not about making a choice between a set of two options. Imagine, for a second, that instead of choosing between that chicken or beef, you choose a soup that incorporates the two? Or you decide to make some delicious chicken and beef fajitas. We choose both.
This principle translates into larger, more complex scenarios. Balancing acceptance and change is one of the major dialectics we all find ourselves working. Imagine that instead of either doing a completely new thing with your life or accepting yourself as you are, you do both. We are often critical of ourselves, and it’s usually a pretty easy thing to do. Could we acknowledge for ourselves that we, as human beings, are doing the best we can and that we all want to do better?
We strive for acceptance and change in our relationships and with ourselves, at work and at home. Perhaps we work to appreciate and accept exactly who someone is, all the while encouraging them to do something differently to benefit a common cause or relationship.
So how do we “work” a dialectical dilemma?
It starts with recognizing the complexity of our reality. A particularly important keyword is and. Dialectics encourages us to take the black and the white of our dilemma and merge the two. The key here, however, is not to take black and white and make grey. We are not throwing the choices out and getting new ones or transforming them into something different and easier. Instead, we make a checkerboard. A checkerboard of balance of the opposing things. We are saying yes to both.
Important note: we cannot work a dialectic and use the word but. It’s a completely different message if we say to ourselves, “I am doing the best I can, but I want to do better.” The but negates the idea that we are doing the best we can. It minimizes that at any given moment, given our exact circumstances, we are doing the best we can, and puts the focus on just doing better. We simply cannot do better without acknowledging exactly where we are and why we are there.
Perhaps take a moment and ask yourself where balance in your life is needed. Appreciate where your complexity is showing and identify where you could allow parts of yourself to meet. You can be both great and have areas for improvement. We all have a light and a shadow.
Sometimes therapy can help.
Working through dialectical dilemmas can be difficult and we may need some help. If you are wanting to sort some things out and explore ways to be more effective and present in your life, you may want to inquire about DBT. Examine and Quest offers this in Chicago. Check out the services offered and schedule a free 20-minute consultation today.