In the past, we have often written about the limitations of so called “binary thinking.” Such thought asks us to judge almost anything in one of two ways.  Right vs. wrong; truth vs lies; good vs. bad, etc.  We’ve previously stated that such a simple way of viewing our complex world invariably leads us astray.

To make this point, I recently asked one of my supervisees this rhetorical question:  Are you working with your clients to help them or to earn a paycheck?  The young clinician was initially taken aback by the question, but eventually stammered, “Both, I guess?”  Her answer, of course, was appropriate and accurate.  She possesses both a desire to help and to pay her bills.  And none of my readers would dispute the validity of the young worker’s response.  It was, essentially, an unfair “either/or” question to make a point.

And yet, at times, we all fall victim of such an  “either/ or” train of thought as we question our own actions.   “Do I need to be tougher with my employees or friendlier?  Do my kids need more love or more structure from me?  And on a personal level, should I be self-critical or self-accepting? In all of the above examples, the answer is always the same:  YES! 

Good leaders provide emotional support for their team members, but the absence of goals and guidelines will leave them adrift.  In the world of management theory, old style “Theory X” managers ruled with fear and threats.  Nice guy/gal “Theory Y” managers foolishly believed that being liked would generate positive outcomes.  They ended up, instead, with indolent employees and subtle contempt.  More enlightened management strategy, labeled “Theory Z,” invites a balanced approach of structure and relationship-building.

Similarly, traditional parents operated under the biblical directive of “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  In contrast, 20th century parents, worshipping at the altar of  “self-esteem at all costs,” heap praise upon the non-existent achievements of their young.  Wise parents recognize the need to strike a balance between these two approaches.

Cars need both brakes and gas pedals to function efficiently.  Bosses need to both direct and mentor.  And children need both love and limits to grow straight and strong.   As individuals, it is always necessary to own up to our shortcomings with the goal of improvement, just as we allow ourselves to feel good about our best deeds.

But here comes the point of this week’s newsletter and the homework that accompanies it:  where do you stand on the continuum between being a ‘soft touch” vs. a tyrant or bully?   As a parent, are you resisting the temptation to discipline your little one, or are you withholding love because of irritation over childlike misbehavior?

In the book I wrote several years ago about female mate selection, I expressed the following observation:

            Life is all about going against our tendencies

Be they good or bad, seeking the “golden mean” of wisdom between them should be our daily task.  Look fearlessly into your own metaphorical mirror.  See clearly.  Then act accordingly.

Never get so busy making a living, that you forget to make a life. Dolly Parton