Balance Breakdown

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Note: Here, breakdown means a list of its separate parts, not a failure or a crisis

I hope you’ve had a chance to look at some Balance Challenge examples. All of the examples from the posts have a few important features in common. Below is an explanation of these features—the principles of this balance analogy.

Made up of Two Opposites

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Each of the Balance Challenge examples offers two opposing “sides” – opposites, that form a dichotomy. We can call them the two poles, like the north and south poles of the earth. In the Holding a Thought example, sharing a thought is the opposite of holding a thought.

Both Poles are Positive

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Sometimes people discuss types of balances like a “work-life balance.” In these analogies, one side tends to be preferred over the other (life over work) and thus the scale is already tipped in one direction.

But in these Balance Challenge examples, the two poles are both positives, virtues, good things. In the How Much Work Balance Challenge, both relaxing and working hard are good things – neither is better than the other in all circumstances.

Either Extreme is Negative

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As we start to apply the image of the balance scale, we can look at what happens when either pole is taken to the extreme.

Any time we take advice—even good advice—to the absolute extreme, it can make it no longer good advice. It’s a lovely sentiment when people say, “always be kind”… but if you’re kind all the time, it can mean you get taken advantage of, you don’t speak up for your wants, or that you suppress natural angry responses to events in your life.

In our Balance Challenge examples, we highlight the dangers of taking either pole to its extreme. For example, in the post about Joining a New Group, revealing too much information about yourself can leave you open to teasing; holding back too much information prevents people from getting to know you.

Middle isn’t the Mission

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In science class, you probably used a double pan balance to find the mass of an object. The goal was to get the scale precisely balanced, right in the middle.

In the social world, things are so much more complex. In our Balance Challenges, the goal is not always to find the exact middle. Instead, we want to find how much to “lean” toward one side or another. In the original Balance Challenge post about Your Wants and Others’ Wants, we see that it’s not important to find the exact middle between yourself and others. Sometimes it’s fine to lean more toward your own wants, and other times it makes more sense to lean towards the wants of others.

When do we lean which way? Well, that leads us to…

Context is Everything

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Autism researcher and educator Peter Vermeulen defines “context” as:

everything in a certain situation (including your knowledge & in the surroundings) that reveals and influences the meaning of something (which can be an object, a behavior, a word)

[Vermeulen, Autism as Context Blindness]

To help us decide which way to “lean,” we need to consider these surroundings, aspects of the context:

  • Whom are we with, and what’s our relationship to him/her?
  • What is the setting we’re in, and what does that say about what’s expected of us?
  • What just happened recently, and how does that influence what action would be best now?
  • And more…

Using elements in the context can help determine what side of the balance to lean more toward. If no one else is talking, maybe I should lean more towards sharing my thoughts instead of holding them. If I got a bad grade, maybe I should lean toward working a little harder instead of relaxing right now.

Balance is a Challenge

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Striking the “right” balance is hard! (I can’t even write “right” without quotation marks.) There’s no universally correct answer to the question, What should I do?

Determining how best to act in a given situation is complex. Hopefully the Balance Challenge can help by being a guide to make decisions you’re happy with.

Do you think the Balance Challenge is useful? Do you have questions? Let me know what you think in the comments.

—Aaron

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