What is Duality?

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By Linda Fisher Thornton

What is Duality?

What is duality? This is a tricky question, because the answer depends on your perspective and why you’re asking. Each discipline answers the question from a different angle. This post samples the varying disciplinary perspectives on duality.

Two Parts in Perpetual Opposition 

“Dualism (from the Latin word duo meaning “two”) denotes a state of two parts… Dualism can refer to moral dualism, (e.g. the conflict between good and evil), mind-body or mind-matter dualism (e.g. Cartesian Dualism) or physical dualism (e.g. the Chinese Yin and Yang).”

http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/duality?region=us dual nature

Duality in Human Nature   

“Stevenson describes how there is a good and an evil side to everyone’s personality, but what is important is how you behave and the decisions you make. The choices people make determine whether a person is good or not.”

Themes, Duality of Human Nature, BBC (On Stephenson, the Author of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Duality in Language

“I take the term ‘duality’ to stand for an opposition or dichotomy between, or of, two entities.Some examples of dualities are: Day and Night, Left and Right (i.e., polarities of direction,and chirality, ‘handedness’), Positive and Negative (e.g., electromagnetic poles, values), Lifeand Death, Male and Female, Up and Down (i.e., polarities of spatial dimensions), True andFalse, Right and Wrong, etc.”

Begley, The Concept of Duality and its Representation in Language as Antonymy

Duality in Neuroscience and Cognition

“The idea that we have ‘two minds’, only one of which corresponds to personal, volitional cognition, has also wide implications beyond cognitive science.”

Frankish, The Duality of Mind

Duality in Leadership

In terms of ethical leadership, duality can refer to good and evil. But good and evil are not mutually exclusive. Someone is not “all good” or “all evil.”  We each have the capacity for both. So in ethical leadership, duality is an oversimplification. 

At the highest levels of leadership, thinking is more complex and duality is transcended.

Level 5 leaders are a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.” 

Jim Collins, Good to Great

We must stretch to see the complexity of ethical leadership, looking beyond the “all or nothing” “one or the other” thinking that duality represents. 

 

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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