The Duality of Being Human


Stephen F. Dennstedt

My brother Joel and I had a long philosophical discussion over breakfast this morning. Breakfast in paradise (Yucatan, MX) I might add. Sorry ’bout that—just had to get my little envy-factor dig in, that’s the way I roll. On a more serious note, I came away with a few observations about human nature and what being human is all about. Empirical evidence would suggest we are creatures of opposites.

Almost everything about us shouts duality: male/female, young/old, dark/light, love/hate, introvert/extrovert, conservative/progressive, bravery/cowardice and the list goes on ad infinitum. Even though science refers to us with the collective Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man”) we seem to be anything but homogeneous. We are different, you and I.

Yet as a species we are less different from what we think. Seen from afar, and not mucking around in our own private little hells, we share many things in common. So what might be first perceived as duality is in fact non-duality. We are simply two sides of the same coin. Like the black (Yin) and white (Yang) of the Taoist Tai Chi ball, we are opposites contained in oneness (or wholeness). And within each opposite resides the eye of the other.


And these opposites chase each other around like the fish they represent. Head after tail, round and round we go. Is it any wonder then that we are constantly in a state of war with ourselves and others? It’s hard enough to reconcile the differences within us (the individual) much less reconcile our differences with the other (the group). We live in troubling times fraught with fear, frustration and anxiety. This only serves to exacerbate and exaggerate our differences and does nothing whatsoever to reconcile those differences. This is not helpful and plays right into the hands of the unscrupulous fear mongers.

I would suggest that we are better off as individuals and as a species when we are aware and present in the moment. I love the Buddhist invitation to do less harm. That we cause harm in this life is a given (there is no way around that) but with awareness we can mitigate some of that harm and subsequent damage. Before we shout someone into submission on social media be aware, before we say something hurtful be aware, before we pass judgement be aware. This in no way suggests that we abdicate our social responsibilities. Quite the contrary in fact.

But I think it’s both helpful and important to look (deeply) into the opposite that is our counterpoint. Only by understanding our opposite can we judge the whole. Life is about perspective and we each have our own (with its attendant filters). We seem to have lost sight of (at least temporarily) the social arts: the art of civil discussion and debate and the art of compromise. The aphorism before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes comes to mind. This aphorism, by the way, comes to us from the Cherokee Nation of our Native American brothers and sisters.

Before we rush to judgement, before we eviscerate our opponent, before we cause harm—it might be wise to look into the eye of the opposite that resides in us. Within the black fish of Yin there is the white eye of Yang and within the white fish of Yang there is the black eye of Yin. The symbol of Yin and Yang (the Tai Chi ball) depicts in graphic detail the conundrum that is the human condition. Until we can see ourselves within our opposites we cannot fully realize our more noble traits: love, empathy, compassion and compromise. Food for thought in today’s world.

5 responses to “The Duality of Being Human

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