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Embracing the Light and the Dark

As I’m writing this, the sun is setting and the last rays of light are kissing the tops of the bare trees outside my windows. I have always enjoyed the tranquil beauty of sunrises and sunsets. Time seems to slow down at the transitions between day and night. We have all taken a moment to enjoy a beautiful sunset as the sky trades blue for black in a vibrant transaction of purples, reds, oranges, and yellows. And those of us who have taken the time to watch a sunrise know the exquisite stillness that accompanies the start of a new day. There is something spiritual about these times. They are pregnant with possibility.

In our religions, literature, and language, light and darkness are metaphorical opponents. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”[1] “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”[2] Darkness is frequently the antagonist, presumably because our reptilian brains still fear the unknown dangers hidden in the darkness outside of our caves, while light is the protagonist for which we root. Throughout humanity’s history, light and dark have clashed in an eternal struggle for dominance, or at least so we think.

Sunrises and sunsets demonstrate that light and dark are not the enemies we presume. They are partners. They are artists who bring their pigments and talents together to create these daily joint masterpieces. Daytime can be wonderful, as the yellow sun shines in a blue sky and warms the earth and all its creatures below. As an amateur astronomer, I can testify that the night can be just as beautiful as the day recedes and the sky reveals the vast scope and spectrum of the universe. As lovely as any day may be and as wonderfully mysterious as the night may be, though, neither of them can create a sunrise or sunset alone. They need each other.

We need each other.

The events of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol serve as a stark reminder of the foolishness of viewing the other, even our opponents, as our enemy. As a society, we have embraced the lazy expedience of simplifying the rich complexity of the other to a binary “friend” or “foe.” This approach is as wrong as it is easy. Discounting, or worse, discarding those who think differently from us sacrifices potential for comfort.

None of us is perfect. None of us is all-knowing. We are not the light and our enemies are not the dark. Well, maybe we view ourselves that way, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we need the other to achieve our full potential. In fact, I would argue that only in engaging with the other can we achieve the biggest gains in politics, business, and life.

The U.S. celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this week. Many of the milestones in our long and continued struggle for racial equity and justice were the result of opposites working together to make progress. As Doris Kearns Goodwin brought to life in Team of Rivals, Abraham Lincoln was skilled in convincing opponents on his Cabinet to work together towards the end of abolishing slavery. Branch Rickey began the integration of Major League Baseball and led the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series by signing Jackie Robinson to a largely antagonistic and previously all-white Brooklyn Dodgers team. MLK had the wisdom and skill to navigate and work with his opponents to move the U.S. toward greater racial equality and help bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. None of these advances were easy or pretty, but they were all made possible by leaders working with their opponents to achieve their goals.

For those of us who cut our teeth in the technology industry, consider the case of Microsoft and Linux. In the late 2000s, Microsoft realized that working with the competitive open-source OS would be better than continuing to treat it as a “cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.”[3] Microsoft began contributing to the Linux kernel, partnering with Linux service providers, and otherwise engaging with the Linux ecosystem. Today, Microsoft is able to opportunistically leverage both platforms based on its markets’ and customers’ need. Microsoft figured out how to work with the “cancer” to achieve its greater goals.

As leaders, many of our greatest advances come from working with our “opponents,” or more accurately, those who think differently from us. They goad us out of the ruts of the easy path and force us to blaze new trails. Rather than avoiding them, we should seek them out. It feels more comfortable to “stick with our own,” to reside fully in the light or the darkness, but that’s not where the magic happens.

Yesterday, we watched as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as the President and Vice President of the United States. It is the dawn of a new day in our country. For some, President Biden’s inauguration is a ray of hope. For others, it may feel like darkness is descending. Regardless of which side we’re on, however, we need to remember that we need each other – in politics, in business, in life. Only when we work together, leveraging and building through our differences, can we advance as a nation and society and create the masterpieces of which we are all capable.


[1] John 1:5 (NRSV)

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Loving Your Enemies” sermon, Dec. 25, 1957

[3] Steve Ballmer in interview, Chicago Sun-Times, June 1, 2001

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