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The Uses of Not

Jacques Derrida wrote, when we speak of one thing, we invoke its opposite and what it is not. For example, to speak of a man or woman I speak of its opposite a woman or a man. Instead of understood as opposites, things, including words and ideas, complement each other, making them whole.

Albert Camus suggested “there is no love of life without despair of life.” Without one, we cannot have the other. Compassion means to share one’s love and suffering with each other. When we look deeper and are mindful of what we see, we recognize the how what is not readily evident is needed to make the whole of something.

This is not a new idea. Lao Tzu wrote this poem about what makes something useful is what complements it: the hub and spokes of a wheel; the hollow of a pot and the clay; and doors and windows and the room. Each profits from what it is not.

Often, there is paradox in understanding how things and people complement one another, making them whole.

Thirty spokes

meet in the hub.

Where the wheel isn’t

is where it’s useful

Hollowed out,

clay makes a pot.

Where the pot’s not

is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows

to make a room.

Where the room isn’t,

there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is

is in the use of what isn’t.

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