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Center for Enlightened Leadership

In Defense of Imbalance

  Bart Pasternak

Bart Pasternak
Guest Contributor

When I was invited to submit an article for this edition of the Lens, I was told the topic would be “balance.” Clearly, balance is an essential part of living a full and integrated life, and I’m certain that the other contributors to this issue will expound on this virtue. But in thinking about what I wanted to say, I began to think of the virtues of imbalance, of not living a measured, balanced, “Middle Path” life.

Ignoring balance in pursuit of great achievement has been the hallmark of those individuals whom we tend to hold in the highest regard. Stories of the personal sacrifices chosen by the world’s greatest men and women are legion. From Presidents to inventors to titans of industry to social reformers, the story is usually the same: total imbalance, the pursuit of a dream at all costs. Were these people happy? Did they know the joys of family and friends? Did they get to sit down with a good book or while away the hours in fun? Probably not. Their life stories are more usually of bad marriages, disaffected children, poor health, and general unhappiness. Often, even achieving their dreams was not enough to bring them happiness; if they didn’t reach their goals, they were relegated to the worst punishment of all: an abiding sense of their own failure.

Still, which of us would not like to be one of those who truly changed the face of the world? Would Jonas Salk have traded a good marriage for the vaccine? If Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that death would follow his efforts, would he have skipped Selma and the “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington? Would any of us turn down the chance to really change the world for the better, with all the attendant fame and fortune, in order to live a balanced life?

Another name for imbalance is passion. Men and women with a passion for achievement care little about the cost to themselves or others in reaching their goals. The nature of the goal is irrelevant. What matters to them is the quest and the satisfaction they will achieve from the accomplishment. That is not to say that all passion is good—Hitler had a passion to conquer the world. Yet passion is rarely volitional. It is the fever that burns for good or evil and cannot be quenched without satisfaction.

The luckiest of us have known the thrill of passion at one time or another in our lives. Whether it was for love or some other desire, it drove us to a point of changing how we perceived the world. But, for most, it fades. The exigencies of life calm the waters, and we begin to see the world from a more balanced view. Then, if we have the gift of introspection, we begin to appreciate the value of balance and the inner calm it can bring.

I opt for balance. It may be because I think that whatever ability I may have had for greatness is long gone. It may be that I lack the passion necessary to sacrifice all for its fulfillment. Still, the great passions of the mind or heart are the stuff of dreams.

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