When I hear the word opposite, I see a book of words that I had as a child. It was a Little Golden Book — remember those? — and I see now that my fondness for this book probably said something about my fascination with reading and books and words in general. With opposites, I imagine a page of colorful images, obviously contrasting to one another — diametrically opposed, one might say, although I realize that I am not quite sure what “diametrically” means.
[Pause for looking up “diametrical.”] I decided to go with the Merriam-Webster online dictionary definition, and (it seems obvious now) “diametric” is related to the geometric term “diameter,” which I would define as the distance across a circle. Oh, I see: the precise mathematical definition is more specific: “the length of a straight line passing through the center of a circle and connecting two points on the circumference” (audioenglish.com definition). So, the two points on either side of the circle are diametrically opposed.
I like that visual image of the diameter as an aid to understanding opposites: the words that come to mind are adjectives like thin/fat, rich/poor, greedy/selfless, harsh/gentle, and so on. There are verbs that are also diametrically opposed, completely across from one another in the circle of meaning: stand/sit, asleep/awake, give/take, grow/shrink, buy/sell, and so on. But what about those words that are somewhere in the middle? Surely we have all experienced that odd state between sleeping and waking, in which the words that someone is saying in the “real” world somehow infiltrate and shape one’s dreams? Even an action like crouching falls somewhere in the realm between standing and sitting.
Much of life is lived trying to find a balance between those opposites. I remember being quite disciplined as a college student: only one weekend night would I “go out” (I lived on top of a mountain during college and didn’t have a car, so going out didn’t necessarily mean leaving the college campus; it did, however, mean leaving my library carrel). I can recall my roommate being frustrated with me for my rigidity — and, today, I quite understand that.
Somehow, I have now swung from being very structured to being quite unstructured. Today, I have so many useful and necessary tasks on my to-do list, but, when I finally got home from dropping off my daughter at dance class and braving the sub-freezing temperatures to put gas in the car, where did I head? Straight for my laptop, because I knew it was SoCS Saturday. That was exactly the opposite of what I should have done.
I can’t help but think about the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in terms of opposites: here, we have a group of writers and artists who are pushing freedom of expression to its extremes, as I understand it. On the other hand, we have a small group of people who are living their faith to a violent extreme. No matter how offensive the cartoons, it is impossible to legitimize the murder of the artists, writers, and publishers.
What is opposed in this tragedy? Freedom versus dogmatism? Expression versus suppression? Pictures were the weapon on one side; guns were the weapon on the other. How are we to live in a world where the clashing of opposites has such horrific outcomes? Ideological warfare is perhaps the most heinous kind. It is what lay behind World War II; it inspired many of the world’s most horrific genocides.
Yet senseless violence, such as the massacres at Newtown, Virginia Tech, or the movie theater in Colorado, is abhorrent, too. There is not even a rational explanation for such evil acts, apart from the desire of the lonely or disturbed individual to leave his mark on an indifferent world.
Violence is not new, of course: the first murder occurred within a family, when one sibling murdered another — ostensibly because of the opposite outcomes of their offerings to God. Hope is not to be found here on this earth or within the heart of man. Yet we must try to order our actions in such a way as to live peacefully with others, whether our beliefs are diametrically opposed or not.
To participate in Linda’s Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday event, check out her Friday post for the rules and the prompt of the week.