One of the lessons I do with pre-intermediate students is on opposites.

What is the opposite of light?

Well, I suspect most of you would have said Dark, but I’d have accepted Heavy too. Many words have multiple opposites: right  can be the opposite of wrong but also of left.

Most concepts have their opposites too. Good versus evil, Light versus Dark, introvert/extrovert.

I was thinking last night about how our very world shapes our perceptions of things. For instance, mathematics is based largely on the fact that for some reason we have two hands(binary) and ten fingers(digital). I think also the way we interact conceptually is based on having two hands. Everything is either/or or simply both. We can hold things in each hand. When you add things to the equation, it becomes complex and we seek to simplify by putting things into categories. We like to pigeonhole everything. We like things to be symmetrical and even.

And because our planet spins round the sun, we are aware from our earliest days of the contrast between dark and light, between day and night, and this is something I feel has strongly influenced how we perceive the moral and ethical world too. The seasons too have a power to change how we classify the way the world works.

Often when I have covered opposites, I move onto synonyms. People often forget that due to English being a composite language made up of hundreds of influences we often have words that mean almost but not quite the same thing. Is valiant the same as courageous? Not quite. Is intelligent the same thing as clever? No. There are shades and nuances in language that make it so hard for even native speakers to fully get to grips with it.

It’s the same with life. Absolute good and absolute evil are not things we normally encounter. I do believe they exist. I believe in God and I believe also in Not-god. I don’t like the terms that exist for this, because they carry a medieval taint. For most things though, there are infinite shades of in-between good and evil.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s built into the laws of physics. For every hero there is a villain. Our world is built around opposites.

So why do New Agers find it so hard to accept that Light and Dark are as much a part of our world and every person here, that the oppsite of light is not evil? Daytime and nighttime are built into the biology of life. You can’t have life without both. Dark is not evil. Dark is just…dark.

10 thoughts on “Opposites

  1. The human experience demands opposites it is how we think.

    For me as a Christian I recognize that I cannot understand the grace of God without the selfishness of Judas,the failures of David, etc…..
    The men and women of the Bible were always messing up and,for me, this serves to magnify the glory and perfection of God.

    I think that the wonderful thing about art is: the sparkling of eyes and far away looks that are created when one tries to find opposites,subconsciously, for the new thing set before them.There are no comparisons or contrasts without a solid foundation of opposites. or maybe not 🙂

    and when these ideas of light and dark get too heavy maybe I just : “Step out of a triangle into striped light”
    Tropical Hotdog Night – Captain Beefheart

    I really enjoyed this opposite thing.


  2. This is an interesting topic, and one of the first things that I thought as I kept reading, is that besides having to create a category for everything, we also feel compelled to label something as “good” or “bad”, which then influences our ability to take it in, I think. Forget moderation, or individual experiences. Many of us just have a tendency to throw something in one of those categories and be done with it.

    Maybe that also helps to explain prejudice and generalizing about groups of people. I will need to think on that one.

    Either/or thinking just limits the possibilities for us so much!


    • This reminds me of a friend who went for a job interview and the interviewer asked about her English. She hesitated for a while trying to define her level and then he said impatiently, “You either know it or don’t know it.”
      I’m sure Viv will agree that there is so much in between…


    • I do think “digital” and “binary” thinking, not to mention thinking in only three dimensions does so limit us, but waking up to it can free us.
      thanks for the thoughts!


  3. Hi Viv….. Nice post , very thought provoking….

    I find that we are always placed in a position of opposites in our lives. I get disappointed when I think that it is all about everything being black or white, right or wrong, good or evil…

    Now I have come to understand that it is also about the grey areas, pale grey areas, white areas and not so white areas in the whole picture. It is also about the blues, greens, oranges, yellows, reds, the pinks, the mauves and all the different hues on the palette of Life!

    Don’t you think so?


    • Definitely. I sometimes wonder if most people are actually “colourblind” though…it would explain a lot. If you can’t perceive colours, and most people can’t, then you woulnd’t believe other colours exist at all….


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