April 20, 2015

Oxymornon? Yes, the dictionary defines an oxymoron as “a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms are combined to produce an epigrammatic effect, i.e., ‘cruel only to be kind.’” Of course, when you take these two experiences or states and put them together, you have a meta-state structure. Hence, you could create either the meta-state of being cruelly kind or kindly cruel. Here the syntax makes a lot of difference. In previous posts I have illustrated this with the states of being serious and playful. Combining these so that one state is above and about the other state gives us seriously play or playfully serious.

In these constructs the first word describes the higher level state and as such, it sets the frame for the first level state. In practice you would first access the primary state, and then texture it with the higher state. You access the state of being serious, that is in earnest, committed, and concerned, and then you texture that with the higher state of playfulness. Then if we ask, “What is the quality of your seriousness?” the answer would be, “It is playful.” The state or attitude of playfulness—fun, delightful, joy, etc. qualifies the first state. This, by the way, is an excellent state for so many experiences—learning, working, leading, etc.

As a result, the gestalt experience of being playfully serious entails beliefs, values, identity, understandings, decisions, permissions, intentions, and all of the other higher level “logical levels.” In Meta-States we understand this as a hologram. We think about it in terms of a holarchy rather than a hierarchy. That is, simultaneously the gestalt state is a belief, a value, an identity, an understanding, etc. In Meta-States training (which is called APG, Accessing Personal Genius) we recognize this systems distinction about the so-called “logical levels” as what makes our self-reflexive consciousness as so rich, complex, and dynamic. Consequently, this makes all the difference in the world in terms of modeling human experiences, especially experiences and skills of experts. In fact, if you only use the NLP distinctions for modeling—you will miss this!

Recently when I used the example of being seriously playful, several people asked me to give them some additional examples. When I did, someone recognized that the two additional examples were oxymorons. So they asked for me to see if all of these would be oxymorons. So I Used the dichotomous states of perfection and fallibility, hence perfectly fallible and fallibly perfect. “Give another one!” they said, still not satisified. Okay, consider the human response of kindness and its opposite, rudeness. Now we have bluntly kind or kindly blunt.

Finally they stopped, but I could have gone on and on.

∙ sweet sorrow, sorrowful sweetness

∙ civil war, battled civility

∙ skillful incompetence

∙ reasonably irrational

∙ a perfect mistake

∙ unthinking reflection

∙ exquisite suffering

∙ deafening silence

∙ forgetting to remember; remembering to forget

∙ fun boredom

∙ healthy selfishness; hedonistic altruism

∙ maturely childlike; childishly mature

∙ passionately excited; excited passivity

∙ chaotic order; orderly chaos

∙ notoriously unknown

∙ ambiguously clear; clearly ambiguous

∙ stringent standards

∙ conflicting perceptions

∙ constant variables

∙ open secrets

∙ abstract images

∙ plastic glass

∙ Relaxed concentration

What’s the point? Some oxymorons (but not all) reveal the shortsightedness of our tendency to dichotomize. We so often revert to the more childish cognitive frame of either-or thinking and positing things as polar opposites, when that often is a very limited perspective. In other words, what we dichotomize may actually create all kinds of unnecessary problems. This reminds me of Abraham Maslow’s quotation about this:

“Dichotomizing pathologizes and pathology dichotomizes.”

Consider the dichotomizing question that one participant asked during a conversation recently when I was presenting Unleashing Leadership. He said he asked because it didn’t know which he was. “Am I a leader or a follower?” The question frames the answer in terms of polar opposites: This or That? Yet every leader is also a follower. There is no person who is a leader in everything, in every area. And many of the very best leaders are following-leaders—they hear the voice of their people and lead them accordingly. And what about leader-followers? These are people who are either being groomed for leadership or who are the support team of the leader.

The oxymoron isn’t a dead-end, it is actually an invitation to think further ahead. Or perhaps better, to think upward! That’s become oxymorons playfully invite you to rise up in your mind to consider how one side of a polarity could possibly texture and qualify the other side. To do this you have to step out of the dichotomized box of oppositional thinking to creatively consider possibilities that were never even available to you before. Interested in creativity? Here then is a doorway if you are bold enough and flexible enough to enter.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.