The Archer’s Paradox

The Archer’s Paradox

May 12
The Archer’s Paradox

Imagine that you have a bow and you’re trying to shoot an arrow at a target.  When you release the string, it is going to throw force directly at the bow.  The arrow, however, rests on the side of the bow.  In order to fully utilize the force of the string and properly hit the target, the arrow needs to go through the bow itself.  Yet, despite the arrow pointing to the side, it flies straight toward the target.

This is because the arrow oscillates.  It “snakes” back and forth while in flight, making an “S” in the air.  You can easily find  YouTube videos that show this oscillation in slow motion so that you can see the arrow wobble in flight and yet it appears to fly in a straight line.  My favorite video of the Archer’s Paradox is this one.

There are opposing forces at work on the arrow on each side – forces pushing the tip left and forces pushing it right.  In sum, these forces create a perfect balance, causing a “straight as an arrow” flight despite the obvious wobble when viewed in slow motion.

The arrow flies straight and true right to its target – unless you view the arrow in slow motion, in which case it appears to be wobbly and highly inaccurate.

I believe there’s a lesson for us in the Archer’s Paradox.  We need forces that pull us in different directions in order to get us around obstacles in the way.

Neither the archer nor the arrow resent these forces.  Instead, they work with them, accepting them as necessary and beneficial.

In other words, opposition is critical to success.

I believe this is true with respect to politics, religion, gender, race, sexuality – these tensions are useful.

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to “self sort” into homogenous groups.  We tend to surround ourselves with people who think and believe like we do.  In general, we belittle those disagree, we demonize those who oppose our views, we marginalize and trivialize beliefs or viewpoints that do not agree with our own.

In other words, the only voices we tend to hear are those that agree with us and so we come to think that a majority of people think and feel exactly like we do.

Consider the most recent election – did practically everyone you know vote for the same person as you?  The result being that you were either completely unsurprised by the result or you were completely blindsided by it.

Let’s put it another way – when was the last time someone changed your mind about something?  Or when did you last persuade someone to a different viewpoint?  While not many of us would claim to be infallible or to never make mistakes, we live and talk as if the opposite is true.

In other words, we are arrows that do not wobble, that do not deviate in the slightest from our chosen course, and we believe that makes us accurate.  In truth, accuracy comes from opposing forces, course corrections from the right and the left, from above and below.

This is our paradox:  when we are unable to see that we’re off target then we cannot possibly be accurate.

I believe with all my heart that this is at the heart of the teachings of Jesus.  It is the core of my religion, the foundation of Christianity.  Not only did Jesus speak the words, but He lived them.  He treated others as better than Himself.  He submitted Himself to those who were beneath Him, to those who disagreed, to those who He knew were wrong, to those who killed Him.  If anyone every had a right to flaunt their superiority, their correctness, their flawless viewpoint, it would have been Jesus.  Yet He did the very opposite.

Jesus committed the greatest atrocity that the 21st Century can imagine – He sacrificed Himself for someone who disagreed with Him.

Try to imagine a world where people treat others as better than themselves…

  • Where Democrats treat Republicans as superior
  • Where Republicans treat Democrats as superior
  • Where heterosexuals treat the LGBT community as superior
  • Where the LGBT community treats heterosexuals as superior
  • Where the educated treat the uneducated as superior
  • Where the uneducated treat the educated as superior
  • Where whites treat blacks as superior
  • Where blacks treat whites as superior
  • Where men treat women as superior
  • Where women treat men as superior

In most scenarios you can think of, you will see a group that either already sees itself as superior or that is demanding greater recognition or rights.  Try to think of a situation in which one group is trying to promote a group other than itself.  Think of any area of disagreement where one group willingly submits itself to the opposition.

Instead, what I see and hear over and over are the justifications, the reasons why the opposition is undeserving or too demanding.  Why they have it coming or why they have brought it upon themselves.  We are quick to point out the “hypocrisy” of the opposition and its demands.

Underneath it all is a resounding message:  I do not need to change, especially not for you.

And so we become the arrow that only bends one direction, that misses the target because we would not bend to the forces that pull the other way.  The inflexible arrow will always miss.

To be inflexible is to be unloving.

Love is patient and kind.  It isn’t jealous, it doesn’t try to take for itself what someone else has, nor does it point out how it is better than anyone else.  Love doesn’t put anyone down, doesn’t treat anyone as inferior, and doesn’t need to promote itself or seek to get its own way.  Love doesn’t need to be “right.”  Love doesn’t keep track of who did what to who or who misbehaved first.  Love never wishes harm on anyone and it certainly never cheers at the mistakes or misfortunes of others.  Instead, love seeks to protect others from harm.  Love looks for the best in everyone, especially when it is hard to find good in them.  Not only does love believe in good, look for good, and do good, it reflects back the good it finds in others and helps them see it in themselves.

Love is always about what you can give to someone else.  It is never about what they do or do not give to you.

Love is willing to bend for someone else.  It never misses.

Love may be the greatest paradox ever – it is only received by being given away.

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