During the holiday season I spent my time taking in DVDs and mysteries stories. Often I was reminded of the function of contrast and need for balance; the greater the contrast in elements, the more interesting the story. Trouble ended only once some semblance of balance had been restored.
A reader has sometimes commented that my articles start very darkly, or contain a lot of negative information; this is both true and intentional. Contrast is necessary. The significance of some really superb events in a person’s life is vastly diminished without the ‘backstory’—understanding the contrasting events that make those events superb. No one would want to read a crime novel in which there was no crime or injustice, from which the accused (?) was rescued by clever detectives and wily barristers to resume living a life of light and sunshine which he never left. A dark element would be necessary, and the darker the element, the deeper the interest of the reader, the better the story, and the more wonderful the outcome.
Similarly, in previous discussions about mistaking one thing for another, although elements such as empathy and sympathy, or strength and power, were not sinister, they were contrasting elements on a continuum. There are many examples of this sort of contrast. Children preparing their catechisms learn that a sacrament is ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’. Contrasts in lighting and colour make an image visible or not, rendering it blasé or dramatic. To shoot the arrow, you must draw back on the string. Contrast (as opposed to distinction) is necessary. The Taoist concept of Yin and Yang is as much about contrast as it is about balance of opposites. When Yin and Yang are balanced, there is harmony; when not, there is chaos.
People don’t always like contrast—they prefer not to see, or be reminded of, the darker parts of life. They sometimes yield to the temptation of oversimplified or selective thinking. A contrast does not always speak about good and evil, and in real life, nothing is ever entirely one thing or another. We all have the capacity for goodness within us; we can show genuine compassion and experience real joy. We’re also capable of profound cruelty and unspeakable rage—there is not one person in whom these do not exist deep down. What gives us our character is the contrast between ‘yin’ and ‘yang’, and not just between good and evil, but (im)maturity, (in)temperament, (lack of) discipline, and (the absence of) self-restraint.
Without these reminders, however, the lighter sides are not as significant. Without an awareness of contrast, balance is difficult to attain, and balance is very important. The survival of the seven-year-old girl, Sailor, in the Kentucky plane crash last Friday is especially exciting given that the rest of her family died in the crash and she came away with minor physical injuries. The significance of the miracle rests in the death of four and the salvation of one.
It is difficult to come to any reasonable and sound conclusion about anything when only half the facts are taken into account. Until we appreciate this—if not the contrast itself, then at least that it is present—we will not understand who or what is before us, nor can we give fair consideration. It is difficult to really appreciate the beauty of something without knowing what the absence of beauty is like. The one who has been hungriest enjoys the feast the most! A small achievement, in light of background events, may actually be a huge victory.
Light shines brightest in darkness.
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