All Or Nothing


Contrast in stories is irreplaceable. Without hopelessness we cannot understand hope; without loneliness we cannot understand love; without vengeance we cannot understand forgiveness. Contrast is what gives our stories definition and clarity, what allows us to see the light from the dark.

In this way, writing becomes an excellent exercise in valuing what we would otherwise abolish or condemn. Nobody wants war in their life, but we might very well want it in our stories so the peace our characters find feels like a relief. Nobody wants to be poor, but we might want our hero to find himself living on the street so his prosperity is all the more meaningful.

In my own life, I often find I am much annoyed by the contrast all around me. It is one thing to learn about a pig virus sweeping the Midwest and think, “I don’t want that! I don’t like that! I wish that didn’t exist!” It is another, however, to stand in line at the USCAN, as I did the other day, and see a bus driver wearing a pair of “shorts” cut somewhere between the calf and ankle, and think, “I hate those shorts. They don’t deserve to be called shorts. In fact, I wish they did not exist. They are a mistake no one is willing to admit has been made.”

I did not feel so good leaving the grocery store in my pants that went all the way down to my shoe tops. I didn’t feel guilty about disliking the bus driver’s shorts; I disliked them every bit as much as the moment I saw them. It was the believing they shouldn’t exist that was troubling me. Why couldn’t I apply the rules for diseases to ugly pants? I wondered. If one thing shouldn’t exist, why not another?

But as I got into my car and thought about pig viruses, which I still didn’t want, I found there was no pleasure in wishing they didn’t exist either. “So that’s how it is, isn’t it?” I thought. All or nothing. Given the choice, I would have to take all. Otherwise, that which you don’t want and that which you do want will amount to exactly the same – nothing.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.