Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Stand In the Tragic Gap

--by Parker Palmer (Nov 08, 2011)


The bad news is that violence is found at every level of our lives. The good news is that we can choose nonviolence at every level as well. But what does it mean, in specifics, to act nonviolently? The answer depends on the situation, of course, and a thousand situations might yield a thousand answers. Yet running through all of these answers we will find a single "habit of the heart": to be in the world nonviolently means learning to hold the tension of opposites, trusting that the tension itself will pull our hearts and minds open to a third way of thinking and acting. 

 
In particular, we must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge. In a business meeting, for example, I mean the tension between the fact that we are deadlocked about what to do and the possibility that we might find a solution superior to any of those on the table. In a post-September 11 world, I mean the tension between the fact that we are engaged in the endless cycle of war and the possibility that we might someday live in a world at peace. 
 
Of course, finding a third way beyond our current dilemma may be possible in theory, but it often seems unlikely in life. In a contentious business meeting, a better solution may well exist, but the pressures of ego, time, and the bottom line make it unlikely that we will find it. In a world at war, peace may be our dream, but the grim realities of greed, fear, hatred, and doomsday weaponry quickly turn that dream into a delusion. 
 
The insight at the heart of nonviolence is that we live in a tragic gap -- a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be. It is a gap that never has been and never will be closed. If we want to live nonviolent lives, we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility. 
 
--Parker Palmer


Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

14 Previous Reflections:

 
On Nov 14, 2011 PAULA wrote:

QUITE TOUCHING INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES



On Nov 13, 2011 Treetop wrote:

The problem of inner and outer conflict is central to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti. Our brain is conditionned to see things in a dualist perspective. It creates an opposite to what is in the hope of changing what is. When violence comes up our conditionned reaction is to overcome it, struggling to achieve non-violence. This movement away from violence is what causes that gap, which is also a time gap. When this is observed you see that violence and the movement of thought away from it are one and the same. Then there is no gap to bridge because both terms of the duality are being annihilated in a single act of perception. Perception, unlike thought, is not of time, it has no past, no continuity. But there can't be perception as long as thought is struggling. This is why most of us go on living in that tragic gap. We go on relying on thought to solve the problem and thought, being of time, can only give continuity to the problem. May these teachings be of help to you!  See full.

The problem of inner and outer conflict is central to the teachings of J. Krishnamurti. Our brain is conditionned to see things in a dualist perspective. It creates an opposite to what is in the hope of changing what is. When violence comes up our conditionned reaction is to overcome it, struggling to achieve non-violence. This movement away from violence is what causes that gap, which is also a time gap. When this is observed you see that violence and the movement of thought away from it are one and the same. Then there is no gap to bridge because both terms of the duality are being annihilated in a single act of perception. Perception, unlike thought, is not of time, it has no past, no continuity. But there can't be perception as long as thought is struggling. This is why most of us go on living in that tragic gap. We go on relying on thought to solve the problem and thought, being of time, can only give continuity to the problem. May these teachings be of help to you!

Hide full comment.

On Nov 12, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

We had the privilege of hosting Dr. Dan Siegel, who presented his remarkable work at the intersection of neuroscience and meditation. The audio clips from the talk ...



On Nov 9, 2011 Treetop wrote:

Yes, unless we act out, we balance from one foot to the other, caught in that in-between: violence vs non-violence. But to what extent is the gap, the duality, real? 



On Nov 9, 2011 pappu wrote:

Find the balance!!!



On Nov 8, 2011 Jocelyn wrote:

This same gap is where beauty is perceived and curiosity is entertained. It is were the mystery dwells and grace radiates. A profound place to stand.



On Nov 8, 2011 Treetop wrote:

I understand what you mean, Umesh, but the context has changed dramatically. Liberation wars, including by the skillful mean of Ahimsa, are over. Today's world is composed of independant nations and today's focus is on interpersonnal as well as international cooperation. The gap between the ideal of non-violence and actual violence is as great as ever. What can change that predicament?



On Nov 8, 2011 Umesh wrote:

 This only works if both sides have something to gain/not lose by moving forward. Here is a question. If the British KNEW they were going to lose India in the early to mid 1940's. Do you think they would have responded to Gandhi the way they did?



On Nov 8, 2011 Treetop wrote:

 I doubt there is such a thing as a 'third way' that would miraculously resolve our conflicts. We cannot at the same time hold on to our own opinions,  self image, personnal goals and hope for peace and cooperation. This is just another form of wishful thinking. The tragedy is that we go on clinging to our separate self sense while wishing  for union.  The sense of our self importance is bound to collide with somebody else's sense of self importance, our ego with their egos, creating havoc. So, in the end,  instead of a solution comes a decision, that of the more influencial ego... and most other egos, in that business meeting, feel terribly frustrated. That's, more or less, how the system we are all contributing to, works. You have got to see the nature of that gap very, very clearly, not look for a third way but clear the way !



On Nov 6, 2011 J Sorentino wrote:

Standing in the gap and accepting reality for what it is, one may find oneself at peace with the way things are, with no urge to change things to the way "they might be". This is, in a way, a prescription for finding inner peace as it encourages you to stop fighting what is and to instead accept it in peace. Yet I would also add that the struggle to change things to the way they could be (better) is a worthwhile and fulfilling endeavour which in itself will help us grow and bring more joy into life.



On Nov 6, 2011 Ummed Nahata wrote:

 i have been thinking ways to transform india for many years. nurturing step by step and now seen it happening. in transformed india i see a new beautiful world emerging. our light values are oneness evolutionary and joyful. way is joyful cooperation with oneness and evolving it continuously. thanks and with all love in universe.



On Nov 6, 2011 Edit Lak wrote:

This is great, by the time you finish reading this passage, it’s electrifying to the awakening, of the truth, of where we are today...   and that is the ‘Tragic Gap’ The paragraph of, “we must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge” This is the ‘common ground dream’ of all, no matter where on is in the world, or how we perceive the world to be, or how our lives, situations or theories are, in our own reality, we all “must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge”   Because that is what we’re doing right now, by reading this passage, pondering this passage, reacting to this passage, responding to this passage, and hopefully ‘oops’  I just stood in the ‘Gap’  and  HOPEFULLY making a difference to others by learnin  See full.

This is great, by the time you finish reading this passage, it’s electrifying to the awakening, of the truth, of where we are today...   and that is the ‘Tragic Gap’

The paragraph of, “we must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge”

 

This is the ‘common ground dream’ of all, no matter where on is in the world, or how we perceive the world to be, or how our lives, situations or theories are, in our own reality,

 

we all “must learn to hold the tension between the reality of the moment and the possibility that something better might emerge”  

 

Because that is what we’re doing right now, by reading this passage, pondering this passage, reacting to this passage, responding to this passage, and hopefully ‘oops’  I just stood in the ‘Gap’  and  HOPEFULLY making a difference to others by learning from this passage... 

 

So I read, see and believe that - Standing in the Tragic Gap’ is a choice to be in the ‘Quiet’..  Now, does being in the ‘quiet’ change that GAP ?,or does the Tragic Gap actually have a voice of  reason, peace and intelligence, without tension, to take away and change a perceived reality of tragedies from the gap, and fill that gap in with ‘Love’..  Yes...   That is a reality and possibility of change..

 

Thanks - this was great, I choose to see my glass as half full.. 

E

Hide full comment.

On Nov 6, 2011 Conrad wrote:

Thank you Somik for the opportunity to respond. Parker's use of the word faithfully regarding holding the tension between reality and possibility is difficult to understand. Every day I hold this tension by realizing that I don't know. Not knowing and being open to what happens has been helpful to me.Understanding that I don't understand has also been helpful to me. Simply being in the present, rather than anticipating tension between reality and possibility is helpful even though it is difficult to do and I don't do it very often. Warm and kind regards to everyone.

?



On Nov 6, 2011 Derek wrote:

Parker has a very interesting perspective on what I would describe as the duality of life - light versus darkness. It's not that one is necessarily better than the other. It just is. Everything is already perfect. We need both opposing forces. They each support us.

The key is exactly what he said. Find that balance. Find that fine line in between. Think of the possibilites....

Good article Somik.