The good life is like a tightrope. It is stretched taut between birth and death, suspended over the abyss of potential chaos. Like a tightrope walker we inch forward, a bit to the left and a bit to the right, struggling to keep our …
Balance! Lose balance, and the tightrope walker plunges toward the sawdust floor. Lose our balance, and we find ourselves hurtling into all kinds of chaos, conflict and pain. The tightrope walker must balance the opposites of gravitational pull. We must balance the opposites of “enough” and “too much.”
We need enough anger to move us, lest we be complacent and uncaring. We need enough anger to challenge injustice and evil, to protect ourselves and others from exploitation and abuse. Anger is the name of the energy we mobilize to defend our boundaries. Yet we must beware too much anger, lest we irrevocably destroy relationships. We need to restrain our anger when it tempts us to abuse, degrade or seek mere revenge.
We need enough fear to protect us, lest we disregard dangers real and present. We need enough fear to mobilize change. Yet too much fear paralyzes us. Clearly we were not created to go through life trembling at every turn.
We need enough work to help us develop discipline and responsibility. We need enough work to get important things done. We need meaningful work, because a whole and vital life includes having a sense of contribution for the world. Yet too much work and we forget to play. We forget to celebrate life and restore our souls through recreation (read re-creation). I’ve known too many people — mostly men — who have sacrificed marriages and families on the altar of vocation. Come home, gentlemen. Be with your wife and children.
Children and adolescents need enough rebellion and rule-breaking to aid and abet the development of a real identity. In a world without corporate rites of passage into adulthood, modern adolescents have little other means to promote the journey of differentiation (becoming a whole, solid, separate self). So they walk with deliberate, provocative slowness as they “obey” your directive about the trash. They practice ceremonial scorn for parents by rolling their eyes, sighing and making the “tic” sound by popping the tongue off the palate. They dress, wear hair and makeup in ways to deliberately annoy you. Yet too much rebellion and rule-breaking and you can end up pregnant, diseased, addicted, incarcerated, unemployable, injured or dead. Modern adolescents are in many ways more vulnerable than newborns.
We need enough trust to make relationship possible. We need to risk heartbreak, rejection and betrayal if we want to know love. Yet too much trust is naive, and maintaining a healthy suspicion is appropriate for those people not deserving of our trust.
We need enough occasional hedonism to remember our instincts, to feel alive. In the words of the Christian liturgical calendar, we need an occasional “Fat Tuesday,” otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday. That’s the day before Ash Wednesday, beginning 40 days of Lent. Yeah, Lent. Forty days of sacrifice and rigorous self-examination. So, the Tuesday preceding is set aside to awaken the instincts that Lent will then examine, restrain and mortify. In New Orleans, they have Mardi Gras. In neighborhood churches in Las Vegas, they have pancake suppers. Now that’s letting your hair down and howling at the moon! Going back for a third stack of pancakes with lots of syrup!
Seriously, there’s a time for bawdy revelry. It’s good for us. Yet too much revelry and we become disappointing, unproductive vagrants. Nothing happens. To be truly human, we must master our instincts.
We need enough grace to give ourselves and others a second chance - a wagonload of second chances, actually. We need enough grace to pardon sin and injustice, to offer reconciliation and redemption to a broken world. Yet grace alone won’t do. We need enough judgment to take injustice seriously. Without judgment, grace is cheap. A “feel good,” saccharine dollop of metallic, sugar-free ice cream. However uncomfortable it makes us feel, we need to consider how our small, selfish, reckless behavior has injured others. We need to acknowledge ways we’ve been injured. Then grace and forgiveness can become real.
These are examples of Life’s tightrope. We never know for sure if there is a net below. Sometimes Life gives us ample warnings that things are out of balance. But occasionally we don’t know we’re out of balance until we’re falling. Until it’s too late.
A bit to the left, a bit to the right. The good life is found through balance.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at email@example.com.