Charlotte Ostermann: Tension is the Antidote

DSCF8877_8_9_fused_bwThe well of discourse has been poisoned by suspicion and polarization. People are reduced to small, self-righteous positions at various opposite extremes, and have difficulty perceiving the middle ground as anything but a place of base compromise. The one who suggests there is truth to be found at a via media is rejected by both the opposing camps. At one end, are those who cannot abide the notion of objective truth; at the other, those who give credence only to objective truth.

If you have anyone to influence – children, students, readers – you hope to help them avoid both the nightmare of pure subjectivism and the dark bunker of the opposite extreme. You want to invite them up onto that narrow road where Christ alone keeps us from falling – up into glorious freedom, where they may follow Him right through the confusion into clarity. You can help yourself and others develop the capacity to bear the tension that is characteristic of the via media, and of the territory of freedom.

The antidote to the poison that has weakened and reduced us is the exercise of the ‘muscles’ – intellectual, emotional and spiritual – that have atrophied. The goal is to be able to hold together two ideas that are in tension, and hold open interior space for the help of the Holy Spirit. The result is a resolution, in the person, upon which he may, if he will, act in freedom. ‘Right thought’ is not, then, an impotent abstraction, but an impetus to right action, by which virtue – power, freedom – is increased.

I suggest we start with light weights, such as tensions between things easily acknowledged to be good. In Souls at Work, I ask readers to consider the tension between pairs of such ‘goods’ as individual and community, work and leisure, and delight and discipline. The first step is to become aware that your actions are affected by the pull of such tensions. Many people honestly have no idea that the educational models they’ve chosen, or been immersed in, embody very specific “answers” to questions about such tensions as “Should his own delight direct a child’s studies, or should we provide discipline and direction for him?” Models of healthcare, forms of government, and economic systems likewise embody “pre-fabricated” resolutions of such tensions. When a person makes no conscious effort to resolve them for himself, and to articulate a philosophic basis for his own action, that action is less well informed – more likely to be a reaction to the discomfort of tension than a free response.

The difficulty and discomfort of working to resolve opposing ideas is not, in itself, dangerous. The real danger is the avoidance of that struggle, with the result that we remain safe – but grow weaker – within a narrow and unchallenged spectrum of thought. Though we should not aim at loads too great to bear, we must attempt those that are within reasonable reach of our current capacity. Without this work, our capacity for tension atrophies. With it, with God’s help, and with the help of an intellectual infrastructure given by trustworthy teachers, we can make the climb up to that narrow road where our freedom thrives.

Copyright 2016 Charlotte Ostermann

Photo by hotblack (2015) via Morguefile

Charlotte Ostermann is author of Souls at Rest: An Exploration of the Eucharistic Sabbath and Souls at Work: An Invitation to Freedom. Learn more about Charlotte and her work at

About Angelico Press

Preserving Our Catholic Intellectual and Cultural Tradition in the Digital Age. Twitter @AngelicoPress
This entry was posted in Featured and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.