Barriers to Agency: Balance

Barriers to Agency: Balance

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#Togetherness #Thursday

Fritz Heider has been credited with illuminating a most fundamental human trait called Balance theory. The power of the human mind is demonstrated in that you can convince yourself of anything. Indeed, you are motivated to create balance in your opinions about objects in the world around you. You form opinions about objects like people, places, your favorite novel, a style of car, your ability, and more. Objects are sometimes related. The challenge we must face together is that the relationships between the objects can cause you dissonance–a feeling of disconnect, lack of congruence between who you believe yourself to be and who your actions show you to be. A further challenge, you will typically resolve your dissonance in whichever way requires the least amount of effort. When faced with dissonance, Heider suggests that you will either:

  • a) Change your opinion of the original object
  • b) Change your opinion of the object being related, or
  • c) Deny that the relationship between objects exists.


Each of the options above is based on two fallacies. The first fallacy is belief that you have to make a decision as quickly as possible to regain balance using only the information that you currently have on hand. I offer to you that you must learn to tolerate ambiguity. You must seek knowledge that provides you with multiple views of objects and the relationships between them. The time it takes to seek out this new knowledge is not wasted time. Taking time to inform you could mean the difference between a sustainable balance that makes room for growth and an unsustainable balance that stifles growth. Because the need for balance is expressed in choices, I mean to communicate that time to learn and tolerance for ambiguity lead to more sustainable choices. No matter the pressure of the situation, there is no rush that outweighs knowledge and informed choice.

The second fallacy is belief that the stress of dissonance is an enemy to health and well-being. You must put in the work required to decide the solution to dissonance that is best for you, AND best for our collaboration. The stress brought about by the feeling of dissonance can be the motivation you need to consider new alternatives, seek new knowledge, and part with “easy” answers. Yes, stress and anxiety can be motivating. The lessons needed are described as meditation or mindfulness. Your task is to learn methods to manage anxiety for your advantage. I know that it can be crippling and signal manic or depressive reactions. But, if you are able–with professional help if needed–to harness the energy and use it to power your dream work, there is nothing that you cannot accomplish. This is a balancing that becomes perpetual motion.

ambiguityThe Example

For example, you believe that you are a capable writer, and you have submitted a draft of a paper that we are working on together. I respond to your draft with a number of edits and corrections. In response to this you could choose to:

  • a) Decide that you are not a capable writer
  • b) Conclude that I am not a good collaborator, or
  • c) Conclude that writing is not an important skill.

But, another option exists. Consider that you have more to learn about the type of writing that forms the basis of our collaboration. Also, consider that my edits are not a critique of your writing, but my contribution to our eventual product. Now, the question is more precisely, are you motivated to engage in the knowledge seeking required to learn more about writing, or will you give up on the collaboration? What are you attempting to balance with your choice? Often, it is your need to be enough–that feeling that you SHOULD be able to do it by yourself. But, that is a false choice. You began in our collaboration as enough. Our task now is to rise to achieve what we, together, can achieve. Now is a chance to determine if our two heads are better than one. If we are not better together, no problem. But, let it not be because we were too preoccupied attempting to balance the project alone.

The stress of the dissonance is the motivator. You know this in your thought, “I don’t agree with your edits. Why did you write it that way?” Now, find out. Let us discuss our collaborative work. Let us agree on a definitive source or group of sources for our pattern for writing. Our collaboration is not your search for balance. Indeed, our interaction will challenge both of us to rethink our pre-collaboration givens. Together, we become something more powerful through complement. My weaknesses may be offset by your strengths. Our fears and perfectionism my flee in the face of mutual resolve. Let’s work together!