Part 8 | The Nine Laws of Life

Strengths Photo 21

March 30, 2017

Law Eight: We Need the Extremes

Light needs darkness to shine in.  Without it, it would just be light shining into more light, which is just light indistinguishable from itself.  Right?

Opposites define each other.  Like it or not, if we want to experience warmth, we need to have something cold to compare it to.  Or, if we would like to know silence, we also need to know loud.  This does not mean that we need to jump in a cold lake or clash a cymbal every time we want to experience warmth or silence; instead, it means that we need to be, at least, aware of opposites in order to authentically experience the spectrum contained between them.

Take happiness, for example.  The fullness and intensity of our joy in any given moment is felt in direct relation to all of our past experiences with joy and non-joy.  In general, we know exactly how happy we are based upon our memories of happiness and unhappiness.  We know that we are precisely this happy because we know what it is like to not be this happy—maybe more, maybe less.  It’s like a dance where opposites are defining each other, and where when one gets more extreme, so too does the other.

Or, in the words of Alan Watts, “We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain.”

An awareness of extremes gives us definite points of comparison, things we can point to and say, “Ah, I am definitely experiencing Y because I am aware of XY and Z…and this is not X or Z, it’s definitely Y.”  Without two extremes, there can be no mid-point.  So, in this way, the extremes co-create everything that is between them.

That is, we cannot have a middle without at least two ends.  Right?  So, in order to know where the center is, we must first know where the two poles live.  (Or, if we are dealing with something more complex, something better suited to a matrix, we need to know the shape of the grid and where its boundaries are.)  Either way, we must know what is outer-most in order to locate what is inner-most.

So, outside and inside are two parts of a single whole.  We cannot have one without the other.  They are absolutely inextricable.  Some would even say that outside and inside are the same thing.

In all cases, without acknowledging the full range of our experience, we cannot participate in the fullness of what life may be offering us.  If we say, for example, “There are only positive thoughts in my head”, we are denying the other half of that equation—the contrast points, the “non-positive” points of comparison that give us our definition of what is “positive”.  That type of denial is dangerous.  Not only does it exclude very real parts of ourselves, but it also eliminates our chance to achieve authentic balance in our lives.  This is because there can be no true balance until we know what is at either end.

Imagine, for example, a playground with a teetertotter that has no ends—it’s just a board that extends out in both directions infinitely.  Not only would that be really weird, it would also be impossible to determine where the balancing point is.  In this way, it is the extremes themselves that create and define the center.  We need them.

Importantly, as the extremes change, so too does the center-point.  The middle and the ends are in constant working dialogue.  Neither are ever fixed.

If nothing more, we are wise to periodically remember this Law of Life, as it can put things into perspective and challenge rigid black and white thinking.  This matters because so much of life happens in the grays, in the in-betweens.  And, if we spend our time focusing on the extremes, which is easy to do, we miss out on the fact that there is an entire range of experiences that we could be having right here, right now.  Acknowledging the extremes helps us acknowledge the spectrum, the mid-points, the center—and when we hold that type of awareness, we are more likely to be and feel present in our lives.

Of course, we will visit the extremes in our lives–emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially, and physically.  But, it would be difficult to exist purely in them.  So, we need not try to live there.  No way.  Instead, if we want more clarity about where exactly we are in our lives, we need, at a minimum, to be aware of the totality of what we are working with.

From there, the question becomes simple: Between what extremes am I living?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.


Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.

Part 7 | The Nine Laws of Life

Strengths Photo 20March 22, 2017

Law Seven: Our Surroundings Matter

Wouldn’t it be strange to visit Antarctica and find vibrant, healthy flowers growing out of the ice?  Or, imagine a heavy ocean creature covered in long and dense fur.  Or, a landscape with only one kind of bird, one kind of mammal, and one kind of insect.

None of this seems very likely, right?  That is because certain environments produce certain things.

Therefore, everything is a co-creation of its environment.  As hard as one may try, ice does not create flowers; however, soil does.  And, when it does so, it does it effortlessly.  Everything—including us—is a co-production of its surroundings.  We evolve out of our environment, we are a part of it/it is a part of us.

Our surroundings have an instinctive way of weeding out what doesn’t make sense there.  This applies not only to the natural world, but also to our social and mental environments as well.

Humans affect humans, it’s as plain as that.  We are, in fact, vital components of one another’s environment.  Imagine, for example, how hard it would be for someone to stay passionate and driven when everyone around them is dreary and pessimistic.  It’s common enough.  That passion over time gets heavier and heavier to hold when they are the only one carrying it.

We grow and evolve in direct relationship with our surroundings.  Our environments produce the limits—on both ends—of our potential.  For this reason, we have a common cultural story of the small town kid moving to New York or Los Angeles in order to become the person they want to be.  In that narrative, the person wants/needs to be exposed to variety and diversity in order to expand—they need to be challenged in order to change.  It’s a question of inner resources (perspective) being paired with outer resources (horizons).

If we are not aware and intentional about whom we surround ourselves with as well as the ideas we expose ourselves to repeatedly, we run the risk of becoming like boiling crabs.

That is, when a pot of crabs is brought to boil over a stove the animals, understandably, begin to panic.  As this happens, every so often one of them will get its claw over the side of the pot and begins to pull itself out of the deadly water.  In that moment, the other crabs do not help him escape, instead they pull him immediately back inside where they all boil.

This can be what happens to us if we are not wise about our environment.  It’s that whole “misery loves company” thing.

The flipside, however, is to be like the migrating ducks who, famously, take turns being at the head of the V—where it’s hardest—and then cheer one another on turn by turn.

Because we are, to a large extent, the co-creation of our environment, it matters who and what we surround ourselves with.  Since we cannot control everything that goes on around us, we are left with one line of defense, one essential tool, and that is: awareness.  And, only after we’ve become aware can we take direct, calculated, and effective action.

Questions we can ask ourselves are: Who are the five people I surround myself most with?  Do they promote greater and greater versions of me, or do they want to keep me the same?  Do I have access to resources where I am?  What do I feel is missing from my environment?  How can I put myself in touch with people, ideas, and perspectives that promote my highest self?

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.


Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.

Part 6 | The Nine Laws of Life

Strengths Photo 19March 10, 2017

Law Six: We Need One Another

Why is it that babies in orphanages die without human affection?  Why is it that the physical growth of babies is stunted when they are not held regularly?  Why is it that long-term solitary confinement is considered by the psychiatric community as torture?  It seems that the human body and the human mind were not designed to last in isolation.

In 1624, when poet John Donne wrote that “No man is an island, entire of itself”, he was making a pretty straightforward observation about us.  That is, we cannot be whole and cutoff from our fellow humans at the same time.  More simply put: We need each other.

This idea has held true throughout time.  And, it would be difficult to argue with it in its most primitive sense: Surviving birth.  The fact that we cannot survive for even a day without another human being for the first year of our life says something about who we are as a species.  As babies, we are helpless.  So, at a minimum, we need other people at least until we can walk.  (Then, hopefully, a benevolent pack of wolves will come and raise us up.)

Insert the fact here that as a species, because we cannot self-replicate, we need each other on a universal scale of genetic existence.  It’s beginning to look like Law Six is unavoidable.  It is impossible for any one of us to exist from start-to-finish without another human being.

Looking beyond the basic biology of survival, a case can continue to be made for our interdependence on one another during all stages of life.

Perhaps we can agree that it is unlikely that we have been put here simply to survive and endure; if the natural world is any indicator of our ‘purpose’ here, we are here to grow and change in relationship to our environment.  So, the question becomes, is our innate ‘non-islandness’ present, too, when it comes to thriving?

The answer seems to be: yes.  In general, throughout time and across the globe, human beings have organized their individual lives and actions around hubs of other human beings and their individual lives and actions.

Even if we are loners or those who reject society, we are relying on the knowledge and infrastructure of the past for personal points of comparison.  That is, we still stand upon the foundation of those who have come before us to define and create our present selves.  We are, after all, social creatures as well as transcendent ones—that is, we seem naturally inclined to want (maybe need) to improve ourselves and our situations.  And, we connect with other humans past and present to achieve this.

This is not to say that every person on earth is meant to be joyfully joining arms in harmonious co-evolution.  No way.  There are plenty of people who choose to live in isolation or to walk an ascetic path, which is, in fact, a reaction against the communal quality of our basic human nature.  And, embedded in every reaction is an acknowledgement.  Ironic, in a way, is the fact that these outliers are just as interdependent as anyone else.  This is because anything that creates a counterpoint is in direct relationship with its opposite.  The one defines the other; without the one, the other cannot exist.

We know light only because there is darkness.

The hermit, for example, decides to live away from others because of others, or some quality of the community that is intolerable to him.  In this case, society guided his decision to live in opposition to social norms—it gave him something to react against and define himself by; without others, he would not have to become a hermit at all.

As we evolve as individuals, we don’t all need one another in the same exact same ways.  There is clearly a spectrum of human-to-human needs in which we participate to various degrees, which is fortunate because it allows for the astonishing variety of our interactions; this keeps things interesting.  Nevertheless, we need each other, none of us exist in a vacuum.

Be your greatness. Start. Do. Go.


Zach Carlsen is the grateful lead blogger at

His strengths of Ideation, Connectedness, Input, Strategic, and Empathy have taken him all over the world.  He is an inventor, athlete, joyous wanderer/wonderer, translator, poet, and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach.