The Reverberations of Yin and Yang: Identifying Imbalance and Acting Upon It
I was speaking with a family member in his 20s, and one of the topics that came up was “male” and “female” energy.
“I’m all male energy,” he said with gusto and a great deal of pride.
As lovingly as possible and with the seasoning of some additional years and a dash of keeping it real, I said: “No way”. Each of us has male and female energy, if that is indeed what we’d like to call and label it.
To add a more encompassing framework and one less bounded by gender-specific nomenclature, let’s allow the ancient wisdom of Yin and Yang to enter into the picture. You don’t have to be an energy guru or yogi to appreciate the concept, which says that Yin and Yang can be used to characterize a world of perceived opposites (duality), in which nothing is ever purely one (Yin) or the other (Yang).
Based on Yin and Yang, certain aspects of our world have a “Yang” characterization, while others have a “Yin” characterization. We have hot and cold, day and night, mobile and static, acting and resting, male and female, etc. There are infinite gradations in between, and as the Yin and Yang image shows, in every Yang there is some Yin, and in every Yin there is some Yang.
In alignment with the wisdom of Yin and Yang, a large imbalance or suppression of either Yin or Yang creates challenge, and in my view, there seems to be a powerful undercurrent of too much Yang energy (male-associated energy) in our world today.
Close observation and circumspection often can reveal “tells”, similar to cards, that allow us to gather information and act upon problems that exist on a personal, local and global level.
Example 1: Vulnerability or the Lack Thereof
An example of embracing all of who we are comes from a recent podcast featuring Junot Diaz, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” and articles such as “Radical Hope is Our Best Weapon”.
In the podcast interview, Diaz shares searing and heart-centered perspectives, experiences and feelings on being black in the United States, the immense challenges his ancestors overcame through radical strength and hope, and the power – yes, power – of vulnerability.
By vulnerability, I mean the ability to really share and listen, and to be open to possibility. Vulnerability is often shunned as a male trait in cultures across the globe, and Diaz shared this as his experience growing up in the Dominican culture. I posit – and I know Junot Diaz would agree – that vulnerability is one of our greatest opportunities and potential salves in our world today.
On both individual and global levels, we are finding it hard to speak and listen with vulnerability, openness, truth, care and empathy. An insight to remember is that when we can have vulnerability combined with trust (and thus, intimacy), we can have heart-felt exchange and thus progress. Without getting naked or being vulnerable, we often can’t get to the core of the issue and we will continue to waste time.
On an individual level, check out how vulnerability, or the lack thereof, affects your closest relationships. If you don’t have vulnerability, your relationship probably isn’t working in some way.
By many of us cutting off our vulnerable side or suppressing “Ying” strengths – the flowing and yielding power of our whole selves – then we are putting ourselves at a great disadvantage. We are living like part-time beings rather than whole and full-time beings.
This doesn’t require us to be a pushover or have a target on our foreheads – but it does require us to listen carefully, empathetically, and have the courage to both share how we are feeling and to honestly recognize what is happening based on fact.
As the martial artist, mystic, and philosopher Bruce Lee once said: “Water can flow and it can crash – be like water my friend.”
Example 2: Look Locally at Workplace Culture
On a local and community level, it is important to check ourselves and our businesses against an overdrive of “Yang” energy, entitlement and exclusion.
Between men and women (and this discussion must also include individuals of color as well as those ostracized or labeled as the “other”), we’ve seen unacceptable pay gaps, differences in representation at executive, middle management and board levels, zero to little chance of breaking into certain industries, and moments of truth that have uncovered egregious and unequal treatment. The most recent experiences and stories come from the tech industry, which is not alone and has both its stand-up leaders and status-quo protectors.
So, what do we do once we identify inequality and imbalance in our workplace? How can we choose to act?
What if, instead of just taking up space, we create and expand the space for those around us so that they can be who they are and have the opportunity to flourish in their potential? How can each of us choose to mentor, to sponsor, to support, to recruit broadly, to be open to hearing and honoring different skill-sets and life experiences, to teach, to nurture opportunities rather than protect “what is ours”, and to pass it on? What can you do in your community sphere that will make things more balanced and supportive of life, supportive of potential?
Imagine the possibilities! Look at how good so many folks are at their jobs while looking over their shoulder and worried about survival? In a basketball analogy, what if you knew you could drive to both sides of the net without being unfairly fouled and penalized? Or as a football player, what if you didn’t have to favor one knee or shoulder over another?
It would be a different game for both you and your team.
Example 3: Mother Nature
As a final note, I include an opening for us to think more about Yin and Yang, and also see how it plays out in our treatment of our environment.
As a global community, environmental abuse and aggression from long-standing corporate and consumer practices, have led us to denigrate “Mother” Nature – counter to her life-sustaining, life-nourishing characteristics.
There are ways for us to look at this without getting overwhelmed and we can also intentionally balance the Yin and Yang of our actions. For example, if we want to counter aggressive, expansive consumption (Yang-like), we can practice restraint and contract in our consumption (Ying-like). As animals in Mother Nature also do, we can eat and use what we require, then leave the rest. Think Globally, Double Down Locally, and Triple Down Inside.
Think Globally – We can recognize and wholly encourage global cooperation such as the Paris Agreement (a pact of more than 170 countries to reduce climate-change emissions) and large macro efforts to bring greater accountability to large global companies. One effort gaining momentum is improved ESG company standards, which includes behaviors and company policies that better align to a spirit of reciprocal care and nurturing of our environment. Large global and institutional investors are beginning to demand ESG in companies in which they invest.
(*ESG = Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance)
Another insight and tenet that I remind myself of is that while something may be happening far away, we not only live in an interconnected system, we live in an interdependent system. This unified perspective is one of Yin and Yang, given that there is no separation. Thus, what has an effect somewhere else, does have an effect wherever I am. When we see parts of the world affected by weather crises and environmental disasters, it is within the realm of our capability to stay tuned, to be empathetic, and to do what we can to be of service, whether this is with money, time, or shared awareness. Even sending good wishes and keeping people who are struggling on your mind and in your heart will change your view and behavior. This might be the most important and impactful thing we can do at times.
Double Down Locally – Tell your story and what you are doing for the environment to family members, friends and colleagues. Never underestimate the power of telling your story. I often end up sharing a smile with the cash register at my local grocery store: “No bag and no receipt” (as I put a banana in my pocket and carry a glass milk jug in one hand and a cereal box in the other). I explain my decisions and reasoning to children whenever I can. I am an advocate and investor in companies that take ESG into account.
Triple Down Inside – What can I choose to buy on a daily basis? For me, I am avoiding all single-use plastic, such as plastic water bottles, plastic coffee lids and iced-coffee cups. (Challenge: Try going to the supermarket and buying nothing with plastic.) It is within your power to think carefully about what you buy, and just as importantly, what you don’t buy. How can we take that aphoristic reminder – “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” – and really make it true, especially, Reduce? I am definitely reducing my clothing wardrobe (interestingly, it was already a bit stark!)
I find it powerful to think about why we as children called nature “Mother Nature”. At the time and for many years as an adult, I didn’t know why.
Yet, in the context of Yin and Yang, it is perfectly clear: “Mother” Nature is called mother because she is nourishing, creating, sustaining – and she provides what we as humans require, what animals require, what plants require, along with so much more. Yet at the same time, “Mother Nature” is also balanced through Yang energy and in the concept of Yin-Yang balance – as Bruce Lee said, “water can flow and it can crash. Be like water my friend.”
Be (like) Mother Nature, my friend.
Be balanced. Use Yin and Yang as a tool to see and act in the world. “Flow” and “crash”, as required and in the service of doing what is good and great.