We humans don’t like tension – unless we are at a sporting event or a movie, in which case we know that the tension will be resolved by the end.  But the capacity to engage, hold and utilize tension is a critical capability of a Creator.

To suggest that we must learn to hold the tension as a Creator is definitely “counter-cultural” in our quick fix—relieve the pain society that longs for a smooth sailing life.

When tension does arise, we often look to resolve and rid ourselves of the uneasy feelings.  Rescuers may jump at the first solution to fix the situation, all under the heading of being helpful.  Persecutors will find a way to compete, blame or be right in order to control the tension.  Faced with tension, people with a victim mentality will give up easily believing they won’t get what they want.

In The Power of TED*, the tension we consciously engage is in the gap between what we want (Vision/Outcome) and an honest assessment of what we really have (Current Reality).

Educator Parker Palmer refers to this as the gap between reality and possibility. Parker, often referred to as the “teacher’s teacher” and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal,  once appeared as a guest on “Bill Moyer’s Journal” and raised a most important question: “what happens when we don’t learn to hold the tension between what is and what we know to be possible?”

He went on to observe:

“What happens when we don’t learn to hold the tension between what is and what we know to be possible – the reality and the possibility – is that we flip out on one side or the other.  Flip out into too much reality, and you get what I call corrosive cynicism… When you flip out into too much possibility you get irrelevant idealism.  (This) sounds very different from corrosive cynicism, but both have the same function in our lives – both take us out of the action…

I think irrelevant idealism that is not held in tension with what’s really going on on the ground eventually just disappoints and drops people off the wagon… because nothing changes… If you don’t have a capacity to hold the tension in your heart between reality and possibility, then you are just going to give up eventually…

I don’t think, in this culture, we teach very much – or have much formation – around the holding of these great tensions, which is so critical to our lives.”

As we engage the tension between possibility and reality, it is important to tell the truth about the current reality – seeing it for what it is and in its fullness.  We identify and affirm those aspects of current reality that support or are helpful in creating the envisioned outcome.  In turn, we also identify problems or obstacles that are inhibiting our progress toward the outcome.

As we hold this Dynamic Tension between vision and current reality, we explore alternative actions – possible Baby Steps – we might take:

  • to keep focusing on and leveraging what supports us;
  • to stop doing what is within our control that thwarts our efforts (like the self-talk that says “it’s not possible”);
  • to change or do differently something that currently exists that will further our progress; and/or
  • to start doing or attending to aspects of the vision that we have not been focusing upon.

From these options, we then commit to a few “Baby Steps” which will begin to resolve the tension by progressing from current reality toward the envisioned outcome.

By learning to hold the Dynamic Tension in the gap between envisioned outcomes and current realities – and then taking Baby Steps – we will grow in our capacity as a Creator in our personal and professional lives.