I watched the movie Frozen again recently.
It’s a vivid, delightful, and tender demonstration of the limits (and dangers) of either-or thinking and the beauty and power of switching to a mindset of both-and.
The benefits of both-and thinking are most evident when problems are complex and stakeholders seek long-term, sustainable solutions. It’s the kind of thinking we need in our world and that, from this blogger’s perspective at least, is sadly lacking. Yet it also applies in other contexts.
InPower and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, Adam Kahane writing about the “both-and” of power and love, quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
… power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic…
What struck me about Frozen, besides of course the gorgeous music and animation, is how the movie highlights the false choice between power and love and what can happen when we choose both.
Elsa, the Snow Queen, struggles in the early part of the movie with “keeping it in.” Because her power is dangerous to those she loves, she’s afraid of it and holds it back. Thinking she is choosing love, she represses her enormous power, and eventually disconnects completely from herself and from those she most loves.
In the powerful show-stopper, “Let It Go,” she finally breaks out and frees her life force to do what it will, without fetters of any kind. She’s done with concealing, with not feeling, and with holding back. She stops caring what people will say, stands firm and lets fly without limits. But in the process she builds a tower of isolation and eventually harms the one person in her life she loves the most.
By the end of the movie, through an equally enormous act of love, Elsa understands it doesn’t have to be “either” keep it in “or” let it go. She finds the path that leads to both-and, where she can channel her vast power, her life energy, her ki, constructively, powerfully, and lovingly.
Aikido, the martial art I practice and love for its physical and metaphorical grounding, demonstrates this combination of power and love in what’s become known and “The Unbendable Arm.” Physically, the Unbendable Arm is effortless and strong at the same time. As a metaphor for life, it shows us that when our life energy (our ki) is directed toward purpose, we can effortlessly accomplish great things, flow through difficult conversations, and influence our environment and our lives consciously.