I first learned about balance in a course that required participants to attend every session (three sessions in a year). During the course, one of the participants stopped attending after the first year and cut off all communication between himself and the rest of the group. It was only a year later (third year) that we heard from him again, which is when he expressed his interest to join the group and continue the course.
Now, it was agreed upon by the group the year prior that each participant would attend every workshop and would be dropped from the course if they missed so much as one workshop, barring, of course, life emergencies and special circumstances, which was at the discretion of the course facilitator and group leaders (in consensus). Also, this ensured that it was fair to those who were dropped in the course earlier and respected those who made it to the workshops every time. Keep in mind that this participant had missed a significant portion in the one year, so it seemed implausible that he could catch up with the rest of us before the next workshop.
In this example, saying yes or no to this participant as a group would have been easy. What was challenging/difficult/”painful” for us was to temporarily resist our urge to say yes/no to the participant so that we could holistically understand his situation without compromising our values.
The challenge for us was to balance his intent to attend the course with his ability to catch up with the rest of us in a short amount of time. While we fully trusted his intent, he had demonstrated little in terms of action for how he would adequately cover what he had missed.
Regardless, from the group’s perspective, what was important was not what the participant did/did not do. For us, what mattered more was our response to this difficult challenge or conflicting situation. This goes back to being proactive.
M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, defines balance as the type of discipline required to discipline discipline. He says that the act of giving something up is painful. It was “painful” for us as a group to not pass immediate judgements (by saying “yes/no”) to this participant and instead extending ourselves to be empathic with him and to question him at the same time without compromising our values.
Balance is showing courage and sensitivity, especially in a difficult/conflicting situation. In the aforementioned example, we were sensitive and empathic to the participant’s intent to rejoin the course. At the same time, we also showed “courage” by way of questioning how he planned to translate that intent into action.
To me, balance is about supporting others and questioning/challenging/confronting them at the same time. For instance, when it comes to sharing our feedback with others, keep the balance between supporting them to reach their goals and challenging them to do better or to nudge them in the right direction when they stray.
Balance can also manifest itself in our daily interactions with others. For instance, it could be in an everyday conversation where you are thanking someone for inviting you to an event (showing sensitivity) and then politely refusing them (showing courage) at the same time.
As a parent, this might mean sometimes choosing to show more courage to the child in the form of “tough love”, while at other times choosing to be more sensitive to their needs or feelings.
At work, this might mean that the results we strive for do not come at the cost of our relationships with our colleagues. At the same time, our work should not suffer because of our relationships. That is balance.
Balance could also mean giving up one thing for the moment so we can do something else. For instance, giving up speed so we can negotiate a tight corner. Giving up the urge to win with our children so we can win at parenting. Giving up the urge to win our conversations with our spouses so we can win their hearts. The point is our relationships with our loved ones are far more important (in the long term) than winning things with them in the short term.
Think of balancing as a seesaw between courage and sensitivity or between being demanding and supportive (to borrow parlance from Angela Duckworth).
According to Peck, balancing requires us to have (and build) a flexible response system. It requires us to have a mature mental health that will have a greater capacity to keep a fine balance between conflicting needs, duties, responsibilities, etc. He says that it is imperative that we use the higher centers of our brain (judgement) to regulate and modulate the lower centers (emotion).
Balancing requires both flexibility and judgement. It means sometimes living in the present and at other times keeping an eye out for the future. It means supporting and questioning ourselves (and others). Anger is another example where we need a great deal of flexibility and judgement in regards to expression. Different kinds of situations may call for different styles/expressions of anger. If we don’t balance our interactions/experiences with ourselves and with others, we might end up hurting ourselves and hurting the other person.
Life will always throw difficult challenges our way. How we respond to those challenges will reveal more about our character than anything else. Of course, passing judgement in the moment is easy, as any 3-year old can demonstrate. What is challenging is the ability to balance that judgement with flexibility and sensitivity. Having balance is what separates those who are able to face difficult challenges by showing flexibility without compromising their own values.