Get the balance right

The mantra of being ‘balanced in all things’ is a well-established idea, but there is a paradox here. If we are aiming to be balanced in all things, doesn’t that mean we are being extreme (and therefore unbalanced) about being balanced? Shouldn’t we be trying to find a balance between being balanced and unbalanced?

But, however we tackle that philosophical riddle, the value of seeking balance remains strong. This can apply in a number of ways. For example, there is considerable wisdom in balancing head and heart. This means that we should not let our heart rule our head (which could get us into all sorts of difficulty!), but nor should we try to be entirely rational beings as if emotion is a problem to be solved (rather than a key part of what makes us human). As the old saying goes: go where your heart takes you, but take your head with you.

There is also a balance of ‘self and others’ to be struck. If we are entirely selfish, we can find ourselves isolated, unsupported and struggling. If we go to the other extreme and become totally ‘other directed’ (to use the technical term), then we are neglecting our self-care, which can also be highly problematic. The philosopher, Voltaire, wrote about ‘enlightened self-interest’ by which he meant helping ourselves by helping others – that is, we can meet our own needs by helping other people to meet theirs. This is not only the basis of the idea of community, but also a very effective way of achieving a balance of self and others.

But, just to complicate matters further, we also have to be aware that there is a subjective element to what is seen as a balance. What one person considers to be extreme another person may see as balanced. For example, someone who is committed to social justice and tackling inequality may see certain political steps as reasonable and justified, while for someone who sees inequality as natural, inevitable and even desirable, such actions may be dismissed as left-wing extremism. What this means, then, is that there is no absolute sense of balance – it is a matter of what is balanced for you, what works for you in your circumstances.

A key point to note is that being balanced means looking at situations more holistically, seeing the big picture. Focusing narrowly on one aspect of a situation will give us a very unbalanced view. This can happen in relation to risk issues sometimes. For example, someone weighing up the risks involved in a particular set of circumstances can easily make the mistake of seeing only the dangers involved. They can fail to take account of the range of factors that can make the chances that the danger will materialise very slim indeed. The result can then be an over-reaction that, ironically, can introduce new risks into the situation.

So, the notion of getting the balance right is not as simple an idea as it may originally seem. But it is still an important one. We shouldn’t be looking for simple answers to the challenge of finding a balanced approach to whatever it is we are tackling. What is likely to be much more helpful is a well-thought-out approach that takes account of the complexities involved – and which gives us a richer and more well-rounded picture of the challenges we face.