Two feelings, even more, can exist at the same time inside us. Horror at the Australian Defence Force war-crime allegations and joy while holding a new baby in the same moment. I can feel aggrieved and delight over different issues at the same time. Even more challenging – and perhaps more important – than having opposing feelings over different issues concurrently, is holding opposing issues over the same issue or person.


So we can vehemently disagree with a politician over one thing they have done while also warmly acknowledging another very good thing they’ve done. The same celebrity can do good and bad things. Acknowledging one need not be a diminishment of the other. We can endorse one argument by a person, and reject another of theirs. We can hold the complexity of a single issue and see the many conflicting positive and negative threads inside it. The Melbourne lockdown, for example: it was both horrendously hard on many people, while also being very necessary. My feeling it was essential is not indifference to the pain many people went through, and my genuine sympathy with them is not a rejection of the lockdown laws.

This, of course, does not mean we do not have firm opinions on issues that matter to us; it just means we can also, when required, exist with a diversity of feelings inside us simultaneously, and accept that one does not negate the other. Grappling with this is an intellectual and emotional maturity.

We can feel one thing not in spite of an opposite feeling, nor even because of it, but because we can hold multiple beliefs and feelings inside us at once without negating any of them. This is not a confusion, but it is a tension. And tension is uncomfortable, so it is no wonder we retreat to a singularity, and then overlay a moral judgement on top of it (“Wow. Nice you can be happy when X is happening.”). But feeling tension is not a bad thing.

Those spiderwebs I’m removing hang useless because the tension is gone. A spiderweb only works with multiple threads, each pulling tight. If one part falls slack or is absent, the web collapses. The tension created by multiple threads under strain delivers a configuration that is paradoxically delicate and strong.


We can use this tension to create our own fragile and robust scaffolding for multiple threads that exist concurrently inside us: disagreement and agreement, happiness and sadness, acceptance and rejection. As I bang down the limp webs, long abandoned by their hosts, I feel many things simultaneously. Despair over the unimpeded march of COVID across the world, love for the abundant generosity from a stranger, sadness over being separated from a very ill family member, gratitude for beautiful friends, annoyance at the anonymous abuse that comes to my inbox, gentle goodwill to the same people who send it. This is not wishy-washiness. It’s richness.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale December 13. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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