Hold the Tension
/ Author: Jonathan Heinen
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Hold the Tension

Can we hold the tension between a love for all humans, and the incredible difficulty to stay engaged in the context of our differences?

By Jon Heinen, Representative

When I was a struggling, confused university student, I remember learning about and loving the idea of paradox. By definition, paradox is “a statement in which it seems that if one part of it is true, the other part of it cannot be true.”

The question I kept thinking about is, can two things be true at the same time? What does it mean to hold the tension between two sides?

In reality, we do this every day. At home, I hold the tension as I raise children, experiencing great joy and incredible frustration often simultaneously.

In competitive sports, the tension can be the desire to see both teams succeed, knowing that there will ultimately be a team that is exuberant and a team that is disappointed.

In work, it’s the tension between making enough to keep the business financially successful but also paying employees well to ensure they have a quality life.

This is particularly interesting when we look at how we use our energy as human beings. Almost two years ago, I took a course called 50 Ways to Fight Bias, which is designed to create awareness of the different biases we each have.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that I have affinity bias, which is the unconscious tendency to get along with and prefer those who are like me. This became an aha moment for me when I considered that I have five brothers who are all very similar to me—but it still struck me as interesting in the context of paradox.

When I deal with people who are drastically different than me, I struggle to relate to them. The paradox for me is that I’m heavily interested in engaging with and supporting others, while at the same time unable to do so in some circumstances because of the differences between us. I find it difficult then to stay engaged because it drains my energy.

The awareness of this has helped me in reigniting my love of the paradox. Can I hold the tension between a love for all humans, and the incredible difficulty to stay engaged in the context of our differences?

This plays itself out in so many different areas of our life, in particular, in the workplace, where we don’t always get to choose who we work with. 

Many of us respond to this differently, but I feel that as a union, our role is to support our members in holding the tension. The tension that inherently exists between the employer and the employees, the economic tension of profit and wages, the tension between autonomy of self and of being directed by supervision, and perhaps the tension between coworkers for a variety of reasons.

Can you hold the tension?

For me, it’s been about taking care of myself and watching my own energy. If my energy is high enough because I’ve been taking care of myself, holding the tension becomes easier. When I’m drained, I need to improve my communication and set up better boundaries, or I slide to one side.

The beauty of life is that we live in a world with so many different people and perspectives. When we can embrace the tension of the paradoxthat both sides may be trueit creates the recipe for compassion, grace, and hopefully a more peaceful community of people.

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