Cutting The Gordian Knot

Recently I read a book that sought to address concerns with communication and did so by asking four questions.  Without seeking to go into too much detail about the book, as the review will post in about a week and a half to two weeks due to the large backlog of book reviews in my pipeline, the author looked at truth and clarity on the one side and kindness and necessity on the other without recognizing the way that the qualities stood in tension with each other.  To say qualities are in tension against each other but that both are important means that one cannot simply resolve the tension by ignoring one of the qualities to practice or determine the other, but that both must be connected together in some fashion.  Sometimes this understanding of tensions does not leave much room to operate [1].

A book I will likely read within the next couple of weeks shows the wrong way to deal with such tensions.  The book wrestles with a classic dilemma about the nature of God involving justice and love.  Once upon a time, it was especially common to point to the just nature of God as a way of terrifying people into behaving in a godly fashion, as most people who are sensitive and self-aware are all too cognizant of their own weaknesses and failings.  Nowadays, though, the bias is most often clearly on the side of love, where God’s merciful behavior of the father of the prodigal son(s) is focused on, with very little if any attention paid to the justice of God.  We would fall into despair if we focused on the justice of God apart from a recognition of His love, but we would have little motivation to wrestle with and overcome our fallen human nature if we focused on his love and not his justice.  The dilemma we face with regards to God is one we face with regards to any sort of authority in our lives–we want to be loved, but those who truly love us will want to be the best that we can be, and at times that requires justice, however little any of us may appreciate that in our lives.

The Gordian knot was famous for being impossible to untie, and proverbially Alexander dealt with it by cutting it to pieces, which was contrary to the point.  Often many of those who feel caught in intractable dilemmas feel the similar temptation to cut the knot, often out of impatience or a desire for premature resolution.  Yet while the Gordian knot was impossible to untie, most of the similar knots in our lives are possible under certain circumstances but not necessarily in the circumstances we are now in.  A particular goal may be impossible or immensely difficult at present, but may be far more feasible if certain conditions are improved.  Instead of beating one’s head against that impossibility, one can set the stage by working on the context and conditions that could be bettered, and one would then find that with changed circumstances much more becomes possible.  If, though, we are too impatient or short-sighted to work on those conditions, our cutting may make our goals ultimately impossible.

Here too we are faced with questions.  How much do we value both sides of a given dilemma?  Under what conditions would it be possible to enjoy both qualities?  How many resources or how much time or effort would be required to bring those conditions into existence if they are not already present?  To what extent do these conditions depend on other people and not only ourselves?  There are occasions where these further dilemmas are easy to resolve.  If, for example, one of the qualities is vastly more important than the other, than the other quality is likely to be ignored or at least minimized in terms of one’s calculations.  If the conditions where two or more qualities can be simultaneously pursued are common or easy to obtain, then the minimal effort required will be done as a matter of course.  If conditions depend only on ourselves than our efforts at encouragement and self-improvement can be profitably directed towards ourselves to make us more capable of achieving what we wish.  It is where multiple of these are issues that resolution remains difficult, and generally in our lives we find that multiple qualities are important, that the conditions to simultaneously achieve all of those is difficult and requires strenuous effort as well as the support and encouragement of many people.  If such problems were trivial to solve they would not be so serious or last for so long for so many people.  Untying the Gordian knot is no easy matter, after all.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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