Your Passionate Ambivalence

On the Sunday address by Dr Francis Macnab, 30 August 2015.
By John Abbate.

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“The basic movement of the life of dialogue is the turning towards the other. This is accomplished in mundane acts like greeting another person, having a conversation, or simply exchanging meaningful glances.” —Martin Buber

Ambivalence pervades life. Our decision making processes are never wholly insulated from our emotions. When our thoughts become entangled, indecision and uncertainty creep in; the self is torn, split. We are “of two minds.”

Our emotions “invade the situation,” said Dr Macnab. They are the source of our “passionate ambivalence.”

One might love one’s job, yet find one’s colleagues too tiresome to contemplate, or vice versa.

One might enjoy the benefits of faith and community that church life offers, even as one laments the hymns as toxic, and the beliefs as outdated and irrelevant.

Dr Macnab gives another example of ambivalence being played out on a global scale. Millions of traumatised people are fleeing their war-torn homeland of Syria. In Europe, there are those ready to welcome them; others are more ambivalent. “We are bonded together as one people on planet Earth,” said Dr Macnab, “but there is often a strong reaction amongst us to break that bond, and let large sections of the human population drift into oblivion.”

As Germany agrees to accept 800,000 Syrian refugees, our own government spends billions of dollars to police Australian waters and incarcerate, offshore, any desperate soul unlucky enough to approach. On another continent, a celebrity billionaire is promising to build a “great, great wall” to keep “them” out, if he is elected President.

We hold compassion “locked up in our hearts,” said Dr Macnab. We might see a resolution to our ambivalence if we allowed that compassion to break free.

What is the main issue? Ambivalence poorly handled can provoke unhappiness, discontent, anger, aggression, anxiety and even illness. Dr Macnab offers two suggestions here: 1. Find a way to positively manage ambivalence, and, 2. focus on compassion.

The self is divided, said Dr Macnab, referencing the psychologist R.D. Laing. Ambivalence has its negative side, but it is also common to human existence. “The ambivalence we experience can provoke deep disruption, both in ourselves and in others….But on the positive side, we need to accept that ambivalence is part of our life, basic to our life; and, being basic, we search for a balance. Balance is a part of the good life—part of who we are and what we can be.”

Dr Macnab offers one final gift of wisdom: “The positive way to handle our everyday ambivalence is to keep focused on seeing ahead of us a new way of being, and making sure we are participants in it.”


One comment on “Your Passionate Ambivalence”

  1. Bernadette Brown says:

    My mother clings to the ambivalent state that you describe, and I can see how this leads to being unwell. My mother can strip away the idea of being a grandmother with a single lashing sentence.” I never wanted to be seen as a grandmother because grannies just sit and knit”. This was hurled at my 33 year old daughter who thought that she had grown up with a relationship. However, then my mother does a complete flip to the reverse and quietly admires characteristics about her grandchildren.

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