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"I consider an improvement anything that might shift it into even a slightly more malleable form…"

Paradoxes can make us stupid, but also uncommonly wise. Alexander demonstrated great wisdom when encountering that stupid knot prophesied as determining his fate. Rather than choose to untie or not, he rent the knot in two, rendering it absolutely irrelevant, forever thereafter neither tied nor untied. Few of us show such presence of mind when finding ourselves in a paradox's grip. Few of us ever seem to realize just what we're dealing with, so we trot out one of our half dozen or so trusty problem solving strategies, none of which could possibly produce the faintest twitch of surrender in even a low-order, run-of-the-mill paradox. The paradox is never the problem not realizing what we're facing turns out to be.

Damned if you do and also damned if you don't hardly circumscribes the range of available choices, of which there exist in any instant an infinite number from which to choose.
But paradox hypnotizes us like a skillful carnival barker and seems to pull us in to our doom. We accept the proffered terms of engagement, thinking ourselves perhaps morally superior for the foolish choice we make, falling into the trap regardless. We fancy ourselves smart and logical, expert chess players at a table playing liar's poker, aiming to check their queen while their unseen pawns tear us apart.

I have long railed about the paradox 9-11 presented to the leadership of what was then known as The Free World. On the face of it, our nation had been rudely attacked. Worse, our pride had been deeply, deeply wounded. The two choices facing us seemed inescapable, to retaliate or not, to show them who they're dealing with or not. Of course our leaders, perhaps unaware of the paradoxical nature of their choice point, chose to retaliate, a move which in retrospect seemed to play directly into a broader strategy, one the terrorists understood would be our probable choice, as if they knew that we would not be able to resist. We set about working to untie the knot presented. After all, what other choice did we have? Our future depended upon making that decision, or so we reassured ourselves. We're still reassuring ourselves.

Had Alexander knelt down and commenced to untying the stupid knot, we would not now call him The Great. Perhaps only Alex, a footnote sort of leader, famous for being famous and little more. He dared to commit an Anything But That, something capable of surprising the teeshirt right off his goading paradox. Perhaps he succeeded by recognizing what he was dealing with so he could respond appropriately. When the choices seem slim, start proliferating more. When the alternatives seem grim, try cracking a few jokes in the general direction of the apparent difficulty. Anything to jangle yourself out of the notion that this tangle might be logically resolved.

There are not nor could there possibly be any templates enumerating the seven easy steps for dealing with any paradox. I do carry some tips, though, most of which I steadfastly ignore under duress, which sometimes help me recognize that I'm dealing with a paradox and not one of those more straightforwardly resolvable dealies. If it appears BIG and HUGE, I step back. If it appears overwhelmingly urgent, I try to remember to wind my watch before engaging with it. If I'm convinced that it's "just" a scaled up version of a difficulty the likes of which I've many times before conquered, I question my judgement. Scaling up hardly ever resolves anything. If I sense a sort of perverse Anything But That possibility, my ears perk up.

Maybe ninety percent of resolving any paradox lies in simply recognizing that one's hectoring you. The trick for me then is to walk away from the tried and true. It might be that anything as insidious as a paradox demands an at least as insidious a response. A novel, insidious, Anything But That won't seem particularly likely to work because it will probably violate several of your rules for what's supposed to work. So much the better. It might be that nothing could resolve the difficulty, but I consider an improvement anything that might shift it into even a slightly more malleable form, to transform it from being a finite win/lose engagement perhaps into something that might continue play.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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