By Rabbi Mark Borovitz
I have been thinking about how we live in the tension of the both/and rather than the either/or. Both/And is the state of recognizing the total reality, a way to see the whole picture of living. Either/or is the state of right/wrong, and, in my opinion, a narrow view of living. It is the path to "looking for perfection."
The tension, for me, is that there are situations where right/wrong is appropriate and necessary and I make these discernments based on a narrow view. Most situations in living well are not as black and white as either/or thinking makes things. As I understand one of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's teachings, the richer and deeper our problems are, the deeper and richer are our lives. No one can have all the answers and live in one way of thinking, as I interpret Rabbi Heschel.
I live in this tension each day, as a human being, as a leader of an organization, as a Rabbi and as a member of a family. It is hard! I am constantly battling letter of law and spirit of law. I am constantly at war inside and outside with the forces that want to be too independent and too co-dependent. I am always torn between strict justice and compassionate mercy. This is in relation to myself and others.
I believe that the spirit of the law has to trump the letter of law. What I mean is that the letter of any and every law is hard and rigid, leaving no room for the nuances of any particular case/situation. An example: I have to allow others to exert their "power" to make decisions that I may think are incorrect. Yet, as someone who believes in teaching others how to live well, being at an age where I’m transitioning my leadership to others, I have to allow other people to "fail forward." I also have to acknowledge that they may be seeing a part of the picture that I am not! So, even though I have been in this type of situation before, I have to allow the people who are "in the trenches" to make decisions that I disagree with and support them.
When I am in either/or, it is my way or the highway. While I may (or may not be) smart, I don't know everything. Also, either/or stifles creativity, innovation and motivation. We are not robots; we are humans. We all need to take initiative and risks in order to learn. When we are in either/or, letter of law, there is not very much room to grow and learn.
We have become a society that is risk adverse because of lawsuits, etc. As an employer, it is hard to treat each person as an individual, it is hard to find the proper measure of encouragement and structure. Both/And, I believe, allows for all people to have a voice, the leader to make a decision that is most informed and an organization to grow organically and with harmony and cooperation. This is true only when all stakeholders are invested in the Spirit and Principles of the organization, community, etc.
Unfortunately, needing to be right is stronger than knowing what is right. When I need to be right, either/or thinking and acting takes over. When I know what is right, both/and thinking is in control, allowing for welcoming everything that arises and putting the best minds/spirits together.
Which system do you live in? Which system do you want to live in? I welcome and need your comments to help me learn how to live in the tension.