In his 1962 essay, Greenleaf briefly explores ‘Paradox.’ When he wrote about servant-leadership eight years later he noted that at our healthiest we are living paradoxes. In his 1962 essay, Greenleaf writes:
…there is an important internal attribute that does not have as clear an external reference. It is paradox.
Usually we think of paradox as an unwanted contradiction, an illogical notion or situation that shouldn’t exist. I would like to present the idea of paradox as a necessary and desirable attribute of life.
Webster’s Dictionary admits paradox to mean something seemingly contradictory but that may be true in fact. I would like to explore here the paradoxical aspects of strong, responsible, successful people. For instance, a leader – or anyone responsible for other people – may sometimes be both soft and tough at the same time, dealing with the same set of conditions.
This is the paradox: the seeming contradiction between a set of attributes that are quite opposite, the blend of which makes for great strength…
How does one separate paradox, the necessary embodiment of contradictory qualities which strong people who are carrying responsible roles are likely to have, from those obvious undesirables: two-facedness and hypocrisy?
The difference, it seems to me, lies in the motives and the quality of the person. A man of lesser character than Lincoln might not have it said about him that, “He expressed and acted on these usually incompatible motives and ideas with such rare propriety and amenity that their union in his behavior and spirit passes not only without criticism but almost without comment.”
The moral, I take it, is not to strive for that consistency which Emerson called “foolish” and “the hobgoblin of little minds” but to strive rather for those qualities of propriety and amenity the possession of which renders the paradox of inconsistency a source of strength rather than a liability.
There is probably a logic underlying paradox, but it is not syllogistic logic. It is more likely…what Emerson was trying to convey when he spoke of “The good of evil born.” Man at his greatest…is paradox and it seems right that this should be his nature.