How Do You Make Opposites Work for You?

We encounter opposites everywhere –the right creative mind and the left logical mind, the thorns and flowers adjacent to each other, the expert and novice working in the same team, and clay which absorbs water with sand that allows water to infiltrate through. Examples are many.

Opposites can work against each other or build mutual relationships that benefit us. I am compiling my thoughts on opposites in one article hoping that this article would help the reader find a way to make opposites work for her/him.

The symbiotic relationship between opposites

The idea of this buzz was born soon after reading a great buzz by @David Navarro López on “Compromise”. We choose and compromise our choices, but then who knows into which trajectory those paths may take us. We live in a world filled with opposites and contradictions and we find ourselves increasingly in need of compromising. Compromising differences is a topic that warrants attention.

Small differences can affect our lives in unimaginable ways. Not only human differences but even differences in materials that we consume. One example is that of two very similar chemicals that are mirror images of each other. They differ only in the way they turn light- one isomer turns it right and the other left. Even such negligible differences may affect our lives drastically in three ways. They may show three different symbiotic behavior.

  • Communalism- often only one of a drug’s optical isomers is responsible for the desired physiological effects with the other isomer neutral
  • Parasitism- as in thalidomide drugs in which the symbiotic relationship between the two isomers resulted in terrible side effects for babies whose mothers consumed this drug during pregnancy
  • Mutualism- is the win-win form of symbiotic relationships, with both partners benefiting

Human relationships are similar. Two people who might seem very similar in their behaviors with very small differences might develop the three types of symbiotic relationship between them. Small differences in attributes and characters might result in completely different behaviors that exceed our imagination.

A creative way of generating new behaviors is taming the differences and by doing that creatively we may produce overwhelming results that would build on mutualism- differences that make all parties winners. One example is clay and sand. Clay allows water to run through and has low capacity for storing heat. The opposite of sand is clay for it absorbs water and has a high capacity to store heat. What happens if we sensibly mix the two? Great improvements in crop yields.

  • Rough and Smooth is a principle in magic in which cards coated with roughing fluid cause them to either temporarily stick together or slicker than the others. The two opposites may have a magical effect if brought together.
  • Rough and smooth textures have been employed to decorate houses and beautify them.
  • Rough and smooth– we find it in our cells existing together. Our cells need both of them to function properly.

Creativity people have the attributes of being able to host opposites and use them wisely. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention beautifully illustrates this concept. A creative individual is more likely to be both aggressive and cooperative, either at the same time or at different times, depending on the situation. Highly creative people tend to be more likely to have opposing sets of character pairings – and that they’re more extreme.

Do creative people may act stupidly sometimes? I believe so as expressed in my presentation “Stupidity Spawns Creativity”. Stupidity may relax the mind and awaken the child within us. Creativity is making two opposites have mutualism between them and turning a communalism or parasitism into a mutualism one.

Inducing Opposites for Purpose

In her post, Sara wrote “From Ali Anani’s provocative post on … When we wish to mix with people very similar to us we run into the risk of staying …

I am writing from home because I am not feeling well, yet I can’t resist the drive to write this post. The outstanding post of Sara Jacobovici of yesterday titled “Human Paradox #2: Being Independently Dependent” exited me to the extent I find myself writing. In her post, Sara wrote, “From Ali Anani’s provocative post on negativity and positivity, and the dynamic discussion of opposites that ensued, this series titled Human Paradox emerged”. The exchange of ideas with Sara is developing into a game by throwing an “idea ball” at her and she responds by returning another “idea ball” at me.

Dealing with opposites is tricky, but is an extremely enjoyable game. Building a strategy to invest in differences is possible, even though it requires advanced creative thinking. Let me start with a real story from which we may deduce a possible strategy.

My neighbor had two kids with opposite characters. One kid was nice and quiet; the other one was a trouble maker and rough. My neighbor lived on renting a few flats in which he collected monthly rents. As expected, some of the tenants procrastinated in paying the rent on time. My neighbor used to send first his “polite” kid to them to remind them of the due rent. Some tenants responded and the rest didn’t. So, the next time my neighbor sent his rough kid to those tenants who didn’t pay the rent. The kid was so aggressive that most of them paid the rent to him to avoid his harsh words and possible wicked actions.

The previous story shows how we may build a strategy to use opposite characters to our advantage by applying one opposite at a time. The strategy would follow the steps shown in the graph below:

Having opposites may be employed using a different strategy than the one I proposed above. Here, we may learn from nature. If we look at the bizarre behavior of plants we find that they use smell to repel and attract. That is to say, the same smell has dual, but opposing functions. The Stink Lily plant, which is found mostly in the Balkans regions, got its nicknames from the smell that it gives off, which has been compared to the smell of rotting flesh. The smell attracts pollinators so that the plant can continue to grow. The good thing is that the smell is only temporary and does eventually go away. What a creative way of using opposites! There are many other plants that behave similarly. They use the same smell to keep away predators while inviting pollinators.

It is in the diversity that we see new possibilities.

Storytelling benefits from conflicts in personalities. One extrovert and the other introvert for example. When we wish to mix with people very similar to us we run into the risk of staying in our comfort zone. We seek comfort and avoid disrupting it. That is great as long as we don’t wish to experiment, discover, and learn. It is in dealing with opposite characters that we get challenged, find new zones to walk into, and open our eyes to new possibilities. I find homogeneous teams whose members share the same attributes efficiently, but not very creatively. It is in the diversity that we see new possibilities. This is one of the risks of having social groups of similar interests as there is very little to disturb “their waters“. Similar teams or groups or two people are like two keys with no lock to open. The challenge is to find the lock for the key and having the creativity to do that using smart approaches. I suggest to you my presentation below which shows how to use the opposites of silk flowers versus natural flowers purposefully:

The opposites that puzzle me the most are optical isomers. These are molecules that have the same structure but aren’t superimposable on each other. Notice how building up differences results in “emerging” properties.

Notice that each of the black atoms carries the same four different atoms or groups. Yet; they are not superimposable on each other. This results in much diversity in their performances. One molecule shall turn the polarized light to the right while the other molecule will turn the light to the left.

You might ask, but so what? My answer is that our bodies are rich in molecules that exhibit this character. Not only that as our bodies show different metabolic pathways to the molecule rotating polarized light to the right than the same molecules which turn light to the left. There is a need to separate the constituent of drugs and only use the isomer that heals our bodies. Using the two together could lead to drastic harmful impacts. A still-living example is Thalidomide. The drug was used o treat pregnant women from morning sickness. Only years later it was discovered that this drug was responsible for the missing limbs of babies. The drug had the two optical isomers: one active and the other causing the babies’ problems.

Opposites may have their “butterfly effect. A small difference in one molecule turning light right and the other isomer turning light left caused huge problems to humanity. Not all opposites are innocent.


Ali Anani
Ali Anani
My name is Ali Anani. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia (UK, 1972) Since the early nineties I switched my interests to publish posts and presentations and e-books on different social media platforms.

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