Hello Leader,

Everyone is entitled to a rant and rave once in a long while. This KEY is my rant about a terrible blind spot and a stupidity often perpetrated and rampantly propagated. Perhaps you want to share the Symmetry Trap insight with your sons and daughters and with your spouse. It saved some couples I know from many therapy sessions. Let's get to it.

Your comments are welcome. Please forward this KEY to friends, family and associates.

Listen to our podcast: Your Biggest Mistake Ever - The Symmetry Trap, The Fallacy of Karl Marx and Talk of Love.


Aviv Shahar

Your Biggest Mistake Ever - The Symmetry Trap

The symmetry trap is the biggest mistake people fall into in life. For some irrational, crazy reason we get hooked, even mesmerized, by the idea of symmetry and expect life to be equally symmetrical; this ruins almost everything important.

The Newtonian obsession
There is nothing symmetrical in the real world. The symmetry trap is a distortion invented by man. Even beautiful flowers are not symmetrical; same with leaves. Similarity and likeness, yes - symmetry, no. Still, the Newtonian obsession (derived by idealized physics experiments) that expects action and reaction to be symmetrically opposite and equal causes tremendous grief, misunderstandings and misery in relationships everywhere.

Expecting relationships to be symmetrical is a current insanity. You assume what you get should be equal to what you give; the person you love would love you back in a symmetrical way. You think the help you provide to someone else should be offered back symmetrically; the effort you put into a cause will be returned equally to you. This is insane! Please hear me out. You might save yourself and your loved ones years of grief.

Reciprocity is not symmetrical
The simple fact is there is absolutely no symmetry in relationships or in anything to do with humans. Expecting symmetry is a sure sign of something gone wrong with our rationality, especially if only yesterday we were quite happy to do our part and let the other person be and do his/her part. You will not find, anywhere in this world, any relationship that is symmetrical. It doesn't exist. Oh, there are a great many healthy and robust reciprocal relationships, but reciprocity is not 'symmetricity'. (Yes, we just made this word up to make the point.) There are rich and fulfilling, meaningful and loving relationships that are not symmetrical. How can anything be symmetrical if we are each uniquely different?

Perhaps you've tried this with a picture of yourself and you know that your face is not symmetrical. There is no symmetrical face in the world. Take a picture of your face and copy the right side to the left and on another piece of paper copy the left to the right. You get two very different pictures. In reality you look different from both sides. You are not symmetrical. Nothing in nature is symmetrical. Only man-made, mass-produced products are symmetrical. So why do we insist on symmetry?

This symmetry trap is made worse by political correctness that puts a morality on being equal. It distorts and corrupts the nature of relationships and engagement in life, because young people are indoctrinated to expect it.

The Fallacy of Karl Marx
In business it's now fashionable to talk about transactional exchange versus relationships. Good business is based on equitable exchange and equitable exchange leads to relationships. Again, reciprocity is important. But reciprocity is not symmetrical. It's the difference between equality and equitability. Regrettably, even most dictionaries are confused about the matter. Indulge me for a moment. Equal by definition is not equitable. This is what Karl Marx failed to understand. Nothing in this world is equal, but a world that continues to move on the trajectory of becoming increasingly more equitable is by definition increasingly enlightened. Whew, I feel better.

Apart from the "one man, one vote" principle and reductionist economic models, nothing in this world is equal. This is a differentiated universe. Everything is unique. We are talking about natural processes where nothing turns out to be equal. If something is meant to be equal, it is meant to be equal to itself. You are meant to be equal to you. I am meant to be equal to me. Your son is not meant to be equal to you but to himself. You bring unique value because you are you. Your son brings the unique presence and value that he grows into because of him. That's where equity is found. Only when one can stand and be equal to him or herself, can he or she be part of the whole and find his or her place in the whole.

Talk of Love
Person A loves person B very much. And person B loves person A very much. They each passionately love each other. Not more. Not less. And not symmetrically equal. A's love for B and B's love for A are not quantifiable, and therefore not equal and not symmetrical. Love is what occurs in each one of them uniquely.

Unrequited love is the biggest falsehood from the beginning of literature. Love happens inside a person. It cannot be unrequited because it cannot be requited in the first place. How was this Newtonian distortion brought into relationships anyway? It should have been corrected centuries ago.

You give your love, devotion and dedication to a cause because you want to, because you feel compelled to, because it gives you meaning and purpose. It is a commitment not conditioned on symmetrical return. Think of the equity of faith and of devotion.

Reciprocity means that each is working to help the other, that each is trying to help the other person meet his or her needs. Needs are never symmetrical and neither is their fulfillment. My plea is simple. Looking for symmetry in your relationships with your spouse or your child is a form of insanity that distorts anything natural and gets in the way of the bounty and beauty of unquantifiable returns on relationship equity.

Now it's your turn. Turn the Key. Talk to your loved ones and friends about this treacherous trap. Help each other break out of the shackles of symmetry. Open a new possibility for you and for the people you love. Forge together new space and freedom in your relationships and in how you grow and support each other. We are all on a journey to discover our purpose and realize how we can make this world a better place. This is the meaning of personal equity. Equity found in the unique contribution and presence we create and bring to the world.

© Aviv Shahar