A Reconciling Third


The quote below is a portion of a daily meditation from Richard Rohr.  It is a freeing description of how we can resolve the tension between two people or groups who must always be right. (I have added the bold emphasis; see the end of the post for a definition of dialectic and a link to further description.)

 . . . . “Dialectic” is the process of overcoming seeming opposites by uncovering a reconciling third. The third way is not simply a third opinion. It’s a third space, a holding tank, where you hold the truth in both positions without dismissing either one of them. It often becomes the “house that wisdom builds” (Proverbs 9:1-6). It’s really the fruit of a contemplative mind.

Contemplation gives us an inner capacity to live with paradoxes and contradictions. It is a quantum leap in our tolerance for ambiguity and mystery. More than anything else, this new way of processing the moment is what moves us from mere intelligence, or correct information, to what we normally mean by wisdom or non-dual thinking. The contemporary mind has almost no training in dialectical thought processes or how to think paradoxically. In fact, what it often means to be “smart” is the ability to make more and more clever distinctions! And we never experience things in their wholeness, thus the angry politics and the angry religion that is overwhelming so many of us today.

I love this idea of a “holding tank” where we can keep an idea that is gray- somewhere in between two other options that are held out as our only choices. I often find myself here, chewing over and  looking inside and out of an idea and finding that my ending place is still in the holding tank. In my most self-critical moments,  I chastise myself for not being able to take one side or the other.

But more and more I find it possible to “live with paradoxes and contradictions.” When I am teaching, this resting place is often frustrating to participants who want to know what the right answer is. I love Rohr’s statement that this capacity is a “quantum leap in our tolerance for ambiguity and mystery.  How I long for more people in the world to develop this capacity!

Dialectic: “any systematic reasoning, exposition, or argument that juxtaposes opposed or contradictory ideas and usually seeks to resolve their conflict.” 

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3 Responses to A Reconciling Third

  1. Pingback: Lent, 2017 – What Will We Live For? – Selfless Love | Living as Apprentices

  2. And thanks for adding your thoughts!

  3. Ruth Evenhouse says:

    Karen, what you said about “living with paradoxes and contradictions” reminded me of a quote from M. Scott Peck. (It’s quite likely you gave me his quote from Abounding Grace, An Anthology of Wisdom). “For me, the capacity to embrace paradox – to perceive the validity of opposites, such as tolerance and intolerance, each in its own season – is a key to wisdom.”
    Embracing paradox is embracing life itself, in all it’s ambiguities.
    Once again, thank you for your thoughts!!

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