Tension span

We all experience tension when an inner conflict is batting itself back and forth in our minds and bodies. Many times the physical tension is so small that we are unaware of it being there at all.

“I just can’t decide whether to order the lamb chops or the pasta special.” Sometimes we want someone else to relieve us of the wavering. “Well, we have only one order of lamb chops left tonight,” says the waiter and, bingo, scarcity provokes the decision and melts away the tension.

At the other extreme are life-altering decisions – or life-ending decisions – when the tension is palpable and we yearn for some input, some logic, some truth to land heavily on one side of the struggle or the other and break the tension.
Recently, I was reading the second issue of the quarterly journal “National Affairs,” a scholarly collection of essays about American life. The first essay is called “Keeping America’s Edge” and is written by Jim Manzi, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He considers the struggle of “balancing economic dynamism and growth against the unity and stability of our society.” To encourage rapid technological and commercial innovation (which we must do to grow our economy and avoid losing our place in the global economic order), we may well increase divisions in our society and undermine the development of a pool of talented, responsible people needed in order for free markets to thrive.
The seeming conflict between innovation and social cohesion is creating tension that we can sense daily.
It weaves itself into political conversations on the news or in the local coffee shop, dressed up in words meant to sell one position or the other, not many that address resolving the dilemma. Manzi’s essay addresses the deeper question: “How do we continue to increase the market orientation of the American economy, while helping more Americans participate in it more fully?”
A conflict that may be more personal for many of us is the struggle felt between achieving, winning the prize, getting or maintaining our place in the organizational economic order – vs. doing the “right thing,” the behavior that we know deep in our gut springs from choosing the ethical course.
It is so human to experience this tension. Sometimes the conflicts are small and fleeting, sometimes consuming, with dramatic consequences attached. The conflict can be between taking responsibility for a failure, a screw-up – and the secret fear that if you do so you’ll never have another chance at that nearly sealed-up promotion. It might be the conflicting intentions of honoring some information given to you in confidence vs. using it to gain competitive advantage. It might be a conflict between your intention to speak the truth (as a person or an organization) vs. hedging, covering-up or just plain denying that truth.
If you pay attention, you’ll probably identify various degrees of this sort of tension daily. You may want to give yourself regular quiet time to scan for the tension, examine it and do what it takes to arrive at the position that you know is ethical, that maintains your integrity and honors the trust of the people around you. If you are caught in the web of an organization that rewards unethical behavior, you may need this quiet assessment hour by hour. (And you may need to leave that web, of course.)
Conflicting intentions in the leadership of our country, our own organizations or in our personal lives will indeed create tension. So will signing up to participate in a triathlon. Tension per se is not an evil thing, it is essential to life. The absence of tension would render us as ineffective as a rubber band, too loose and floppy for the job. Tension can beget creativity.
The key is awareness. Tension in the body will accompany a conflicted mind. So pay attention to it, identify the conflict and examine it for increased insight about who the heck you are. As a country, I hope we can examine the dilemmas we face and define – or redefine – how we want to be in this world.
Conflicting intentions can lead to headaches and indigestion, or to innovative solutions. I’m ready for more of that.

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