The Paradox of Life: Give and Take

Although on a logical level I’ve always understood what paradox means, I’ve only begun living in the fullness of its meaning in recent years. The dictionary (Merriam Webster) defines paradox as “a statement that seems to say opposite things and yet is perhaps true.”

By any good measure, a good life is not one that is immune to pain, stress, or adversity. A full life is one that is lived through joys and tribulations. If you meet anyone who says they have never been scarred by life, you can conclude two things: one, they haven’t lived long enough, in which case, they still have miles to go and will certainly encounter life in its fullest expression. Or two: they have lived in fear of risk, even the fear of expressing their own gifts (because they are afraid of other people’s judging them), in which case, they might not have lived at all.

More than ever before in our collective history, have I understood the paradox of life than in recent events around the world. Whether it was when the British expressed their disagreement of the European Union through Brexit in Great Britain, or the 2016 presidential election in the United States, people seemed to express this paradoxical side. Hatred confronting love and vice versa, challenging the law or being challenged by it, and sometimes, exuding paradoxical behaviors all in one event, on the same day, and in some cases, by the same people expressing sometimes raw, and other times, reserved emotions.

The paradox of life doesn’t only manifest in big manifestations, it also shows up in our personal moments, when we exude moments of joy, fear, and sadness, simultaneously. These are high times that express the comedy of life, where we cry and laugh at the complexities of life, and most importantly, the best thing about the comedy of life is that it gives us permission to laugh at ourselves.

In a more practical way, the paradox of life also gives us permission to act and confront the bullies, use our voice for the voiceless to confront the inequities of the world, and at the same time, kick back and relax with our loved ones, and enjoy the view.

We cannot skip this important aspect of life! We need to enjoy God’s creations and the wonders of the world. Since you can’t get out of life alive anyway, you might as well enjoy the living! And since you can’t give what you don’t have, ensuring that you take time to enjoy small and big pleasures life gives you, will enable you to fill your own love tank; so, you have more love to give to others.

As someone who carries the trauma of historic events that have affected me both personally and collectively, I’m constantly reminded of the paradox of life, where joys and pains, good and evil cohabit side by side. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet different people from different backgrounds, and my observations have always been the same: We are more alike than we are different. We might not express it in the same way, but our moments of joy can be confronted by guilt for living a blessed life, when some of our fellow humans around the world are suffering, have so little or live in war zones and refugee camps It can be tempting for the most compassionate to feel guilty.

As I write this, my family and I are getting ready to go share Thanksgiving dinner with our friends (I didn’t cook, praise the Lord!), and this paradox of life is sharper in me than I expected. Yes, there is going to be lots of food, and a big turkey (poor bird), and then lots of leftovers. Leftovers we cannot share with the world’s hungriest.

I’m reminded of the movie, The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock. When one of her friends in the movie says, “Is this some sort of white guilt thing?” She was talking about the movie character of Sandra Bullock when she takes in a black boy, loves him, and shares her blessings with him as if he were her own son. The movie truly depicts the definition of privilege. Whenever the word privilege is used, especially in the context of White versus Black in America, emotions run high, people on all sides sit straight, and listen intently to how one is going to navigate the “white privilege” talk.

I was once presenting, and this question on “White privilege” came up. One white lady asked me what I thought about the white privilege. So here is the answer I gave her. My definition of privilege is not linked to being White, or any race for that matter. Privilege in my opinion, is having the option to do anything you want, it is being able to choose how to live your life without any hindrances to your well-being. I would also add that having privilege is only good, if you choose to use it to benefit humanity.

What makes people tense is the fact that, they think being privileged excludes people from being caring about issues. But, you can be both privileged and caring─ they are not mutually exclusive. Choosing to use your privilege to care about issues that don’t necessarily affect you, is the best definition of compassion.

At some level or another, we all have this type of guilt; especially when you know that not everyone is as blessed as you are. The difference is that this guilt is not “the white guilt,” and it shouldn’t have any race or background label. It is human empathy that only gets labeled as “white guilt” by those who are still holding onto beliefs that no longer fit; and therefore, instead of acting compassionately, they act to discourage those who act kindly towards the most vulnerable.

By our very human nature, we are all compassionate beings. Many of you are brave enough (or crazy enough) to dream of a better world where divisions based on differences are no longer welcome; and where helping those who are going through adversity is the only gathering that truly matters.

So, don’t you ever feel guilty because you are blessed. Feeling guilty is not going to change the world. Life is about give and take. Instead, you should channel your inner guilt into something greater than yourself, and be kind towards a stranger, or someone you wouldn’t normally care about. And in all you do, always fill your love tank first, and then give out of the fullness of your heart, not from an empty or half-full, but from a full love tank! You can’t give what you don’t have, but when you feel the fullness of love and gratitude, go ahead and bless someone else. It will come back to you in the same or greater measure you used to give. Most importantly, give without wanting to control the outcome, for you never know whose life you can impact, and who can impact yours.

We are all wanderers of life, and no one has it figured out. We came here, on this planet to encounter one another, and to go to the school of life together─ to learn from each other.


Happy Thanksgiving!