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The concept of yin and yang, darkness and light, and how the concept is played out in life has intrigued me for years.  The idea reality does not truly exist in terms of black and white, but shades of grey along a circular continuum, energizes me.  It gives me hope.  So when Richard Kyte referred to the yin and yang in his discussion on the prediction of consequential states in, An Ethical Life:  A Practical Guide to Ethical Decision Making  (2012,draft), I could not help but respond to the topic.

Kyte (2012) claims that future states are impossible to predict because of the yin/yang continuum and impermanence of pleasure and pain:

Sometimes what looks like a good turn of events has unexpected consequences that lead to misfortune; and sometimes an apparent misfortune leads to something good. This idea—that good and bad are intertwined—is symbolized in the yin and yang image. Light pushes into the darkness, and darkness pushes into the light, suggesting that neither is stationary but always moves into the territory of the other. (p. 18)

Consequentialism, or attempting to predict the consequences of our actions for not only ourselves but others, is a method of ethical thinking that we constantly use to navigate our day-to-day choices.  Routinely, before we take action, we consider the possible positive and negative effects of that action, and the prudent individual chooses the action with the most positive and/or least negative results.  Kyte (2012) suggests a step by step strategy when considering consequences in decision making with groups, especially those that are widely divisive or those where personal and emotional baggage are entwined with the issue:  1) define the situation; 2) identify the possible solutions; 3) identify who may be affected by the various solutions; 4) predict positive and negative outcomes; and 5) determine which solution will produce the most positive effects. (p. 2)

While this strategy provides a starting point for conversation amongst groups and an organized way for the individual to manage decision making, it can be problematic because of what I term the “yin/yang continuum” – the circular span of positivity and negativity upon which all energy flows.  While the above mentioned strategy is helpful in defining cause and effect, and it is possible to determine whether a consequence will produce pleasure or pain in the short-term, it is relatively impossible to ascertain how the consequence will move along the yin/yang continuum in the long-term.

Let me present a real situation from my life to illustrate Kyte’s claim that the nature of consequences moves along a yin/yang continuum.  I had good friends back in Minnesota who had lived in their home for about five years.  They were about to embark on a number of large scale property improvements and decided to have their property surveyed.  The survey showed one of their neighbors’ fences was built directly on the property line instead of three feet within his property, as stated by city ordinance.  Sean and Stacy were concerned the current, and incorrect, placement of the fence would cause problems for their future projects.  They understood the fence had been there a long time, and it may be a while before they had the money saved up for their building project, but they decided the most prudent time to approach their neighbor about the fence was while the survey stakes were still in the ground.

The neighbor, George, was not happy.  He did not understand why he should move his fence now after it had been up for the last 10 years.  Sean’s offer to help clear the brush that had grown up on George’s side of the fence was not “Minnesota nice” enough for him.  The man did not speak to my friends for the next five years because he was so upset with being asked to move the fence off the property line.  That is, until the water main to his house broke.  Had the fence still been standing where it was five years previous, the city would have had to tear out the brush and the fence in order to get to the water main.  George would have been without water to his home for several days.  However the new position of the fence made it easy for a backhoe to access the broken main.  He had running water in his home within a day.  After five years of neighborly silence, George came over to my friends’ home to thank them for suggesting the fence move and helping with the brush project.  The fence issue had moved from being on the yin (dark) side of the continuum to the yang (light) after five long years, and it took less than 24 hours for that movement to occur!

Consequences are not always expressed physically; they can be inwardly transformative as well.  The positive effect of a misfortune or the negative nature of lucky circumstance is difficult to predict because they are often experienced internally, away from outside observation.  If one has the courage to embrace the misfortune, to experience the “desert”, as this time is often referred to, one can be positively transformed in innumerable ways.  Likewise a good turn of events can warp an individual so drastically their personalities are no longer recognizable to friends and family.  An example is those instances when someone receives a promotion at work, becomes arrogant and self-absorbed, and no longer speaks with his coworkers or has time for his family.  Job promotions are normally considered a positive event, but in some instances relationships are harmed when the individual allows their new role to change who they authentically are.

I agree with Kyte’s (2012) observation that, “The yin and yang reminds us that good and bad experiences—we could even say the pleasurable and the painful—are not sharply and permanently separated from each other but are always flowing into and out of one another.” (p. 19).  This understanding makes it impossible to compartmentalize life into neat little boxes to be shelved into good and bad sections.  If you find it difficult to decide where to place the box in your hand, it will be impossible for you to predict where to place all the boxes that are waiting in the truck outside.  That is why defining consequences is only one part of Kyte’s Four Way Method of Ethical Decision Making (p. 5).  Taking into consideration truth, fairness, and character in tandem with consequences can give one a more complete evaluation when doing ethical decision making.

References

Kyte, Richard (2012, draft). An ethical life: A practical guide to ethical decision making.

Retrieved from http://blackboard.viterbo.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_id=_2_1&url=%2fwebapps%2fblackboard%2fexecute%2flauncher%3ftype%3dCourse%26id%3d_19205_1%26url%3d

Paiz, J., Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., Brizee, A.,

Keck, A. (2012, May 30). General format. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/1/

Paiz, J., Angeli, E., Wagner, J., Lawrick, E., Moore, K., Anderson, M., Soderlund, L., Brizee, A.,

Keck, A. (2012, March 14). In-text citations: The basics. Retrieved from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/1/

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