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Posted by Philip on 3 July 2011, 12:44 pm in , , , , , ,

Be careful how you shine

In my recent post How to create more rainbows, I talked about the relationship between lightness and darkness in terms of colour. In this post I want to talk about another aspect of this relationship that I learnt in the recent retreat I attended, run by Sue Davidoff and Allan Kaplan of the Proteus Initiative.

The other part of the connection between light and dark is that light creates darkness by casting shadow. The two go hand in hand – they are the equal and opposite reactions of each other. They are a manifestation of nature's perfect balance of positivity and negativity. We cannot have light without shadow; nor can we have shadow without light.

In the social setting of human endeavour, "doing good" can be equated with "creating light". It may be providing a human service, parenting a child, setting up an environmental organisation, even giving pleasure others through entertainment.

Whatever we do, when we create light by doing good, we cannot help to cast a shadow. So how does it manifest, this shadow of good-doing?

It may be the dependence you create in the people whom receive a great human service, or the assumption of complacent indispensibility into which the individuals or organisations providing it fall. It may be forgetting to meet your own needs in favour of your child's. It may be the unexpected disconnection and conflict between staff and management in your sustainable organisation. It may be the arrogant self-interest you get when you know people think you are very talented.

Where the shadow may manifest is uncertain. It may be inside or outside the individual or organisation. It may be close to or far from the good-doing. It may be obvious or subtle. What is certain though, is that the shadow is there, whether you notice it or not. And the more good that is done, the more shadow is cast. And the less it is noticed, the more harm it can do.

It becomes imperative, therefore, to become aware of the shadow so that it doesn't erode the light of the good-doing. It may involve dialogue within a team, arranging parenting support to get a break, checking in with service clients that what you are providing is actually working for them, restructuring a hierarchical organisation or checking that your stardom is not making you too big-headed.

This kind of conscious behaviour helps manage the shadow but, unfortunately, it will just move it around, in the same way a shadow moves when you move an object or the light shining on it.

The only way to lesson the shadow is to do something quite counter-intuitive, particularly if you work in any area of good-doing. It requires creating less light, by doing less good.

It may mean having the honesty, courage and humility to ask yourself, "Am I shining too brightly?" It may mean contemplating how you could share your light with others. It may even mean turning the light off altogether.

Or it may be about asking the paradoxical question: What is the light that comes from the shadow?