by Ann Betz and Karen Kimsey-House
Philosophers have debated the complexities of balance and integration for centuries: yin/yang, light and dark, masculine and feminine. The concepts behind the philosophy of Co-Active aren’t new at all. In fact, being Co-Active might be more aptly described as a modern approach to ancient wisdom that has been largely lost in today’s Western world, ruled as it is by Cartesian dualistic thinking.
Instead of dualistic thinking, where the mind is profoundly separate from the rest of who we are, being Co-Active shows us that the world is fundamentally relational. In other words, while the Cartesian worldview that largely dominates today may admit the importance of both the “being” and “doing” energies, it does not see the full value of integrating them. In this classic (but limited) view, one that dominates the Western world today, while there is room for “this or that,” the importance of this and that has not yet taken center stage. Now is the time!
Being relational means that the most important element of the descriptor Co-Active is not Co or Active, but in reality, the hyphen itself. What is crucial about Co-Active is not the power of being or doing, separateness or oneness, though arguments can and have been made for the past few centuries about the relative value of each, but the fact that the true magic of life lies in the integration of both. The wisdom of the ancients pointed us to balance and flow, to the deep paradox of holding yin and yang, to knowing both Apollo’s calm rationality and Dionysus’ spontaneity, to honoring masculine focus and feminine spaciousness, to finding, above all, integration in all things.
Being Co-Active helps us understand and make real the process of this integration. We start with the being, the meaning, the purpose, and the point, and make our lives real by moving into action from there. This is powerful everywhere—in our relationship with ourselves, in our relationships with all others in our lives, and in our relationship with life itself. Being Co-Active points us to honoring both the being and the doing at every moment in life.
Being Co-Active points to the challenge of both being fully ourselves and linked with others powerfully. Popular wisdom tells us we have to compromise, sacrifice, and make concessions in order to get along. Most people are working on a polarity continuum between selfishness and codependency, or, to put it another way, between being fully self-expressed or responsible for their impact. On the one side of this polarity are those who are fully self-expressed, standing tall as individuals, not caring whether or not people like them or whether they get anything done. On the other side are those who are so concerned about their impact that their individual needs and self-expression are relegated to the dark corners of the mind. Neither is fulfilling, effective, nor the full possibility of who we can be as human beings.
We tend to get out of balance in different ways depending on our own unique personalities and contexts. We all have our defaults: In the word Co-Active, we have the very relational people who tend toward the Co, and the Active ones who are more focused on results. Some of us worry so much about making sure everyone is happy that nothing gets done; while others get captured by their to-do lists and sacrifice relationships in the process. Either side can run amok, and then we find ourselves swinging between polarities, reacting rather than creating. We think, “Oh dear, I got so focused on relationships I forgot about results, so everyone, march!” or “Oops, I forgot my family while I was working to get ahead, so here I am now, let’s all connect—wait, where are you going?” It’s a bit like a seesaw one side bumping down to the ground, only to be shifted up to the sky by the other.
The challenge is learning to stand more and more in the hyphen. If you’ve ever tried balancing in the middle of a seesaw, you know it’s not an inherently stable place to be, but requires continuous adjustments and recalibration. Holding the Co and the Active is dynamic, challenging, and ultimately, very effective.
It’s also a bit of a paradox, which is part of what makes it so challenging. But as our world expands and becomes more complex it is essential that we learn to dance with paradox and hold two seemingly opposing ideas at the same time. While linear thinking was workable in a time when our world was simpler, we won’t be able to navigate the challenges that face us unless we are able to be more expansive in our thinking and in our lives. We must learn to hold complexity and paradoxical ideas in order to resolve the challenges that face us. We need to learn to embrace the “yes, and” of life rather than the “either/or.”
Ann Betz is the co-founder of BEabove Leadership, and an international expert on the intersection of neuroscience, coaching, and human transformation.
Karen Kimsey-House is Co-Founder of The Coaches Training Institute and co-aurthur of Co-Active Coaching, considered a seminal text for the coaching profession and now in it’s third edition.
Integration: The Power of Being Co-Active in Work and Life
Integration examines how we came to be polarized in our dealing with self and other, and what we can do to move from an either/or state to a more effective and fulfilling way of being.