The essence of paradox is that two seemingly contradictory things are actually both true.
When recalling the good and the not-so-good aspects of any given experience, our tendency is to minimize one side of the equation:
- The rain caused us to cancel our picnic, but we really needed the moisture.
- Our miscarriage was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever lived through, but at least we know we can get pregnant.
- It was an incredible experience, but I’d never want to repeat it.
The word “but” downplays the first part of each of these statements. It all but eliminates the left side and exaggerates the right side. Imagine how different the emotional response would be for the speaker if instead they said:
- The rain caused us to cancel our picnic, AND we really needed the moisture.
- Our miscarriage was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever lived through, AND we know that can get pregnant.
- It was an incredible experience, AND I’d never want to repeat it.
By replacing the word “but” with the word “and”, both sides are given equal status. Both are acknowledged as being equally true.
That is the promise of paradox. Good really can co-exist with bad. Life really can sprout from ashes.
If we can embrace the good and the bad – if we can own the positive and the negative emotions – we will retain a more accurate memory of that experience. Our ability to learn, to receive comfort, or to make sound decisions going forward will benefit immensely by accepting the paradoxes.
When you invite a missionary to tell you their story, listen for whether they mostly use “but” or “and”, and encourage them toward the latter.