In truth, we are all George Bailey. In truth, we are all Mr. Potter.
I am speaking of the two opposing characters in the Frank Capra movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
After writing about that film in my December 20 post…
…a passage in the Robert A. Johnson book Owning Your Own Shadow brought me to this realization:
…the world is not divided into Baileys and Potters; rather, each one of us is divided into a Bailey and a Potter.
“The quickest way I know to break a person is to give him or her two sets of contradicting values—which is exactly what we do, in modern culture, with our Sunday and Monday moralities.
“We are taught by Christianity to follow a set of values that are almost entirely disregarded in everyday business life.”
Johnson then provides a list of those contradicting values. Here’s an abbreviated version, with the practical value listed first and the opposing religious value, in italics, underneath:
Practical Values —
Selling all & giving to the poor
Obedience to authority
Belief that more is better
Belief that less is better
According to Johnson, these contradictions are built into our culture; thus we must deal with them, regardless of what our personal belief system may be.
So what is the result of living with such conflicts? If we approach the situation wrongly, Johnson says…
“…we are bound in a neurotic paralysis in which we can do nothing. Then we find that we are so anxious that we cannot even do that! We cannot act or be still! This is where many people stand and their suffering is intense…
“If we do something we enjoy, we spoil it with guilt about what we ought to be doing. If we do what we ought, what we wish for and fantasize about spoils our discipline.”
So what’s the answer? How do we heal the split? How do we find peace?
Since Johnson started us down this path, I’ll let him take us the rest of the way:
“…I have pointed out the secular versus the religious attitude. This is a flaming, vagrant error and is the seat of most neurotic suffering in humankind.
“To think that one way of action is profane and another sacred is to make terrible misuse of the language.
“There is no such thing as a religious act or list of characteristics. There can only be religious insight that bridges or heals. This is what restores and reconciles the opposites that have been torturing each of us.
“The religious faculty is the art of taking the opposites and binding them back together again, surmounting the split that has been causing so much suffering.”
So he tells us how without exactly telling us how.
But I believe that if we can begin to see every act, every moment as spiritual, we are on our way to healing the split, moving beyond opposition, and into, as Johnson writes, “the realm of paradox, where we are able to entertain simultaneously two contradictory notions and give them equal dignity.”
In other words, we resolve the contradiction by realizing there is no contradiction.
Here, I’m reminded of what Mark Twain said about smoking. He claimed that quitting smoking was easy—he’d done it many times.
Many times, I’ve realized that there is no contradiction. However, the problem keeps returning, because I keep forgetting.
But though I keep losing sight, though I keep finding myself back at square one…
…I believe that each time I come just a little closer to resolving the contradiction.
Yet I don’t expect the process to ever be complete.
So, I’m working to resolve a contradiction that will never be resolved.
That in itself would seem to be a contradiction. Fortunately, through my hard work, I now see it as a paradox.
© 2010, Michael R. Patton