Years ago I saw the movie What About Bob. It’s about Bob (Bill Murray), a very paranoid New Yorker who is afraid of everything. His fears are so extreme that he has trouble functioning every day. He is referred to a new psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), just before Dr. Martin leaves on an extended vacation with his family. Certain that he can’t function without regular contact with Dr. Marvin, Bob follows him to his vacation home. Dr. Marvin is irritated at first, but soon that irritation turns into outright hatred, and he plots against Bob. Bob is too naïve to realize that Dr. Marvin has anything but good intentions for him. He believes each new situation that Dr. Marvin puts him in is a new form of therapy, when it is really a plot to get rid of Bob. It’s comical to see Bob make progress and overcome his fears through these “therapies.” Instead of getting rid of Bob, Dr. Marvin unwittingly paves the way for his success. And with every failed attempt to get Bob out of his life, Dr. Marvin gets just a little crazier.
Recently I caught a few minutes of this show on television, and realized that there is more to it than just a funny movie. I recognized a principle I had just learned about: the Law of Polarity.
The Law of Polarity states that everything has an opposite: good has bad, yes has no, up has down. The Law of Polarity also states that within every circumstance is the seed for both good and bad, to an equal degree. Imagine a number line, with zero marked in the middle. On either side of zero, the numbers move out sequentially, decreasing to the left of zero (-1, -2, -3, -4… ), and increasing to the right of it (1, 2, 3, 4,…). The events of any circumstance are neutral, or in the “zero” position on the number line. When we experience “bad” things, the experiences themselves just are. They are only “bad” to us because we attach negative meaning to the circumstances that exist. The Law of Polarity tells us that the worse our circumstances are, the more potential good can come from them. Something that is only a little bad on the scale (imagine a -1 on the number line) has the potential for a little good (a positive 1). But something really bad, maybe a -10, has great potential for good, to an equal or greater (positive 10 or higher) degree.
The greatest growth experiences in my life, the ones that have changed me and made me better, have all been difficult experiences. In fact, it is (by law) because of the difficulty that the good can come. The learning doesn’t come without the struggle. And the lessons, without the struggle, would be meaningless. Change-real, lasting change-is a product of experiences that try us to our very limits. But in the end, we are victorious and the good that comes is more than just a happy coincidence, it is a part of us. So the greatest blessings, by law, come from our greatest difficulties. How much further ahead we are in the game when we learn to be grateful for our adversities! (An interesting side note: in my recent reading of scripture, one writer I noticed made particular mention of the greatness of his trials and the greatness of his blessings in the same verse-on more than one occasion.)
Athletes know that they can only improve their skill by pushing themselves to their current limits and beyond. They do hard things. It doesn’t happen overnight, but at the end of a difficult workout, they know that on the other side of the pain is the growth they desire. The difficult training sessions are not just good growing experiences, they are planned ahead of time! If we change the way we view our challenges, if we have faith that there is good in every circumstance, we can look forward to difficulties, knowing that in the grand scheme of things, those difficulties will bless us in amazing ways.
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