Purpose of polarity

Every challenge is a disguised teacher, teaching us the values of life

Man with one smiling and other sad stress balls

I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.

— Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese American artist, poet, and writer best known for his book The Prophet. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than 20 languages, it was one of the bestselling books of the twentieth century in the United States.

My interpretation

Through these words, Gibran is reminding us of one of the greatest paradoxes of life: opposites exist to define each other.

Polarities such as sadness/joy, silence/noise, compassion/apathy, and success/failure exist in pairs because, together they make a whole. It’s impossible for one to exist without the other. On its own, it would lose all meaning. If we can understand and accept that all pain in our life exists for a reason—to give us an opportunity to experience and understand the exact opposite sentiment of pleasure, we would live a more fulfilled life. The stings of life will hurt less when we know that they serve an important purpose.

But Gibran is reflecting on how we tend to forget this unalterable fact and condemn the ‘wrongs’ we encounter. We are quick to point a finger at those who are unkind, intolerant or talkative, forgetting that it is because of them that we learn to value kindness, tolerance and silence. He is telling us to accept existence in its totality, with the good, and the bad. In pondering about his ungratefulness to these ‘teachers’, he gently prods us to remain grateful to life’s challenges by viewing them as teachers.

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri is a highly experienced wellbeing consultant. He is also a writer-editor and has written on topics ranging from strategic marketing and business management to art, culture and even philosophy. His more than 1250 published stories—articles, interviews, full-length features—have appeared in some of the leading newspapers and magazines of India. A certified cognitive behavioural therapist, he works as a personal counsellor too. He is the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed self-improvement book based on powerful ideas of some of the greatest thought leaders. Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".


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