Accepting Duality…Embracing Totality

Champion Contrast and Boost Emotional Intelligence

In Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical “Into the Woods,” Little Red Riding Hood learns about the duality of life, proclaiming, “Scary is exciting,” “even flowers have their dangers,” and “nice is different than good.” The best actors thrive in duality. Conveying a single emotion is not just one-dimensionally dull, but also not accurate. That’s just not how life—or humans—work. 

Many of us struggle with controlling the natural paradox of the human experience. Indeed, living in life’s duality can be challenging. It’s complex, uncertain and risky while simultaneously more rewarding, real and vastly richer. Quite the double paradox. Truthfully, you can eliminate the struggle if you start to to recognize that what you perceive as “duality” is simply “totality.” This re-framing will help you to trade control for acceptance and manipulation for appreciation. Four simple steps from the world of acting will help you put this into action, while strengthening your relationships, communication, and key skills of emotional intelligence.

“Without dualities life would neither be known nor experienced. Also dualities are a must if daily life is to be recognised and experienced.”

Dr. Vijai S. Shankar, MD.PhD.


Look inside first. Implement a regular emotional check-in throughout your day to determine how you are really feeling. Notice changes in emotions and the triggers of those changes. Develop a practice of meditation or quiet reflection each day for 10 minutes. Around family, friends, at social events or unexpected circumstances, take a few breaths and notice any dual emotions you have. By tending to your inner emotional life, you’re building foundational levels of emotional intelligence: namely, self-awareness and the ability to determine and recognize layers of emotions.


Notice opposing forces around you—nature, geography, or topography. See the contradictory and complementary elements in all designs and appreciate how they work together to create the whole. Keenly observe non-verbal communication around you and determine whether discrepancies exist. Recognize and articulate all emotions you are experiencing from those around you, regardless of whether they are contrasting or complementary emotions. Devote some time to this each day and you’ll notice a boost in your emotional quotient of attentiveness, mindfulness, openness, and improvement of your keen observation skills. 


Once layered emotions are discovered and specified, an actor will wade in deeper for meaning and understanding. Ask yourself: How do these dual energies or emotions complement each other? Are they in harmony? Why are they present and necessary? Where did they originate? Are they equally present or is one more powerfully dominant? Do they trigger any other feelings? Your ability to suspend judgement and dig into emotions for understanding will engender greater acceptance, understanding, and empathy, deepening your relationships, tolerance, and respect.


An actor must strategize her approach, behaviors, and presence so she can best serve the greater outcome of the story. We all should follow that lead. Articulate a clear intention that aligns your purpose with your message and audience. Allow the intention to focus all your emotions, energies, and presence (behavior) toward one congruent, successful outcome. Developing your intentionality and mindfulness will expand your leadership capacity to motivate and influence others, manage conflict, collaborate, and manage teams. 


Begin your own practice to embrace duality. By using the techniques here, you’ll develop greater ease and appreciation of it and also improve your relationships as well as expand your empathy and communication. Those rewards are definitely worth striving for…no two ways about it.