"Youare old, Father William," the young man said...

BLOG          MUSINGS         RADIOSHOW         LETTERS         STORIES          GLOSSARY          LINKS         THECENTER


Complementary Wholeness means valuing each aspect of the whole for what it has to offer. Thus, we value BOTH sun AND rain, sun for its warmth and energy, and rain for its moisture and nurturance.  Similarly, we could value BOTH work AND play, work for its results and satisfaction, and play for its relaxation and joy. We Westerners find this particularly hard to do because of our EITHER/OR way of thinking.  EITHER/OR thinking means I value EITHER this OR that,  but certainly not both.  This is true despite the fact that Complementary Wholeness and BOTH/AND are deeply embedded in our Western culture.  For example, recall Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

This is what Complementary Wholeness means:  To value each in its own time.  But when Pete Seger and The Byrds used this section of Ecclesiastes for the lyrics of the hit song "Turn, Turn, Turn," they actually perverted its meaning. If you listen carefully to the song, you'll find they changed the last line to "A time for peace, I swear it's not too late." In other words, Seger and The Byrds took a BOTH/AND message and changed it to EITHER/OR (peace is good, war is bad).  While I personally abhor violence, it does not follow that war is wrong; sometimes (as in cases of genocide) it may be the only choice.

“EITHER-OR” Keeps US from Working TOGETHER

It's impossible to over exaggerate the power of our EITHER/OR world view. Just as it led The Byrds to distort Ecclesiastes, it leads us into the error of consistently polarizing our personal experience. We may not consciously intend to divide the world up in two piles, but it is what we do, and doing so wreaks havoc with human relationships. Notice how constantly we insist we have "the right way," and you'll also notice that means we are "good" and those who differ with us are "bad." Whether I  do this when I judge your appearance ("Who would wear a shirt like that!") or your personality ("He's such a pushover!") doesn't matter;  my righteousness cripples my ability to appreciate and work with you.


Great organizations create visionary purpose, grow their people, produce world-class excellence and enjoy exceptional results.  They do this by blending the contributions of four very differentPersonality Types, who, left on their own, can rarely work together (The Natural Depths Profile):


First, there is the existing, imperfect situation. It is The Evaluators who audit and analyze, forcing us to confront realities we wish to avoid.  They insist our systems produce results—and that we recognize where we are less than excellent.  These are the hard-nosed, "show me" types who demand system maximization and settle only for logical, documented proof of performance. 


Second, there is the vision, the image of what we want to create. This is our long-term target, our global goal. Its role is to capture our hearts, to inspire us to persevere through all the muck of Murphy's Laws.  Where do such visions come from?  From The Imagers, from those who can see what has not yet been and help the rest of us to see it, too.  These are the idealists, the dreamers who reach for the stars and want to bring heaven to earth.


Third, there is humaneness, the love of people with all their flaws, that moderates visions and systems so they serve, rather than subjugate humanity. It is The Developers, full of compassion and compromise, who humanize the often rigid demands of Imagers and Evaluators. These are the communicators, the feeling folks who live in the non-linear world of human emotions—and it is they who must lead us in the design of truly "human" systems.

Implementers Produce Results THAT REWARD

Fourth, there is actualization, the organizing and operation of the vision-inspired and humanist-softened system.  This is the province of The Implementers who, with an earthy humor and a little baling wire, make the whole thing work day in and day out. These are the sleeves-rolled-up, "let's get moving" people who—come hell or high water—get the job done.  

We Need All Four — And Rarely Get Them Together

When EITHER/OR conditioning undermines using all of these, we are left with visions without impact, systems that suffocate life, compassion that cripples and activity for its own sake. We can do better—so much better—if we will outgrow our childish paranoia of human differences. 

Why Do We Quarrel When We Need Each Other?

It's our EITHER/OR way of thinking about our world—our infantile good/bad, right/wrong, black/white polarization of reality—that undermines our personal and organizational sanity.  Choose any institution you like—business, government, military, religious—and watch the visionaries (like John DeLorean,John F. Kennedy, Billy Mitchell and Joan of Arc) and the systems (like General Motors, the CIA, the Army and the Catholic Church) depreciate and ostracize each other to the detriment of all our interests.  Why do these natural partners quarrel so viciously when they have so much in common—and need each other so desperately?  And what can we do about it?

Artist Vs. Merchants, Prophets Vs. Clerics, etc...

Recall how for centuries our artists and merchants have scorned each other as "parasitic dreamers" or "philistine materialists." Yet whose life has not been powerfully enriched by an artist's vision? And how would we have been exposed to those visions without the far-reaching distribution systems created by our merchants? And hear our prophets and clerics calling one another "Pharisee" or "heretic" in their ridiculous attempts to corner the market on God. What would be the use of our religions if they were not built on visions generated by prophets like Buddha, Christ, Moses and Mohammed? And what help would those visions be without effective churches to help people incorporate the wisdom into their lives?  

We Must See WholenesS TO Integrate Its Elements

There is another way of seeing reality; it is the way our scientists have learned to see. Instead of EITHER/OR we can see—and think—in terms of BOTH/AND. This way of thinking is more common, more comfortable in Eastern cultures.  It is based on the concepts of Yin and Yang.  I like to call it Complementary Wholeness.  It means that, instead of fragmenting reality into EITHER/OR partialness, we look for the wholeness that is always composed of complementary parts. Our Western physicists are now saying quite clearly that the Complementary Wholeness model is a more accurate representation of the universe than is EITHER/OR.  For examples, consider the protons and electrons of atomic structure, the north and south poles of the magnetic field, the mother and father of the newborn infant. (If you'd like to pursue this, read The Turning Point byFritjof Capra or Order Out of Chaos by Prigogine and Stengers.)

Such Integration Will Not Be Easy — Nor Impossible

The essence of this Eastern thinking is that we create wholeness by combining its complementary parts, by synthesizing the best of both vision and system. This synthesis will be easy for neither East nor  West.  Some cultures lack the action tradition that effectively builds and runs systems.  Others are so action-oriented they often build systems the world could better do without. But the integration is certainly not impossible, and it is inevitable.  Look at how many Western systems (Quality Circles, among others) Japan has successfully incorporated—and in only two hundred years!

Complementary Wholeness In THE WORKPLACE

Basic to this success is the appreciation and application of Complementary Wholeness. The Art of Japanese Management by Athos and Pascale provides a fascinating example of a manager practicing this art:  

A Japanese executive invites a key subordinate into his office and, after pleasantries, proceeds to tell the younger man that he needs his help. The executive is to go to New York to meet with a key U.S. customer; he will make a presentation on a number of important changes in the design of next year's products.  He anticipates that the customer will not be pleased with one or two of the changes, and wants the presentation to diminish as much as possible any negative response. He tells his subordinate that he is still uncertain while speaking English, and perhaps as a result tends to get flustered and lose track of where he is during a talk.  Once this happens, usually after a surprising interruption that may raise a matter requiring him to think on his feet, he expects that his normal difficulty with such a situation in Japan will be much worse in another language. Therefore, he asks the subordinate to design a presentation that will take his limitations into account.  He offers only as an illustration the possibility of a lights-out slide show, which is less likely to be interrupted, followed by a small panel to respond to the Americans, which he could chair. In such an instance, he says, he would be pleased if his subordinate were to accompany him to New York to help in any appropriate capacity.  (p. 117)

Notice how this Japanese manager acknowledges his vulnerability, his incompleteness, his humanness. Contrast this simple honesty and assumption of interdependence with another manager's approach to a similar problem:

An American executive stops one of his promising new subordinates after a weekly meeting and tells him he has an important assignment for him.  He wants him to put together a presentation that is to be made to the corporate financial staff a month hence.  (He does not mention that he is very nervous about the presentation because the last time one of the corporate staff attacked his figures and made him look bad in front of his own vice-president.  He knows he has only a limited grasp of the financial side of things and is determined not to look ignorant and flustered again.)  He tells the young man he wants a presentation that is well thought out, double checked with the controller of the division, and organized to conform to the general pattern of such presentations—that is, a lights-out, slide-based, tough-minded analysis, no jazz or frills. He adds he wants the complete presentation one week before it is to be made so he can make any changes necessary. (He also intends to practice giving it at home, and to double check it with both the controller and a neighbor for financial sophistication.) He ends by telling the junior executive laughingly that "all those courses at Wharton should help you do a terrific job, and you can count on my remembering it in June." (the next regular time for salary increases). When he returns to his office, he begins to think of a way to ensure that the controller will be at the meeting so that he can refer any really difficult questions to him after the slide show.  (pp. 117-118)

This manager's behavior is not unusual; we all feel the pressure to "look good," to be "in control," to have "the right stuff." To manage using Complementary Wholeness requires acceptance of our own incompleteness—and that we do with great difficulty.

Beware Of "THE (EITHER-OR) Right Stuff"

Much of our personal and organizational floundering results from our confusion about the meaning of inter-dependence.  When we think in EITHER/OR  terms, then it follows we are EITHER independent and complete OR we are dependent and incomplete.  Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff is a penetrating look at our phobia of being incomplete. In this documentary of the astronaut's selection and training, Wolfe captures the heart of what it is to grow up male in America: To be OK you must have THE RIGHT STUFF. And there is one way (and only one way) to tell whether or not you have IT—you never falter, you never fail, and, God forbid, you never need help or support.

In EITHER/OR realities there is no room for incompleteness, for need, for inter-dependency. We are EITHER independent  (with all the “right stuff” self-sufficiency and perfection implied) OR we are dependent  with all the whining subservience implied).   Rationally, we know this is nonsense, butCultural Archetypes of "the self-sufficient super-person" (ala Any Rand, John Wayne, Nietzsche, etc.) too often overpower the intellect.

Let's Begin To Use Complementary Wholeness

To many of us, incompleteness equates with the frightening dependence of childhood (The Four Stages of Psychological Growth), and so of course we hide our incompleteness from each other—and even from ourselves.  And since we cannot admit we are incomplete, we cannot work with each other unless we have no need to do so.  (If I truly need your help, I don't have "the right stuff.") This is why we cannot yet build the healthy, productive organizations we need; they require us to acknowledge and use our interdependence, and this we have been terrified to do. But it is here we must begin, and 1 Corinthians 12: 12-26 offers an age-old vision to guide us on the way...  

For the body is not one member but many.

If the foot shall say, Because I am not of the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?

If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

But now hath the Spirit set the members every one of them in the body. And if they were all one member, where were the body?

But now they are many members, yet but one body.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary;

And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

For our comely parts have no need: but the Spirit hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care for one another.

And when one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

Now ye are the body of the spirit, and members in particular.

So, let us work together to create organizations that embody the Complementary Wholeness that is life... for then we will joyously and proudly commit our energies to their causes!  


BLOG          MUSINGS         RADIOSHOW         LETTERS         STORIES          GLOSSARY          LINKS         THECENTER

©1964-2006William Idol All Rights Reserved