Posted by: susanrmeyer | August 4, 2007

Balancing Light and Shadow

I am in the midst of a wonderful dialogue about the role of the Shadow in Appreciative Inquiry. This is shadow in the sense of the darker or unexpressed side, not Shadow in the sense of observer, as coined by Donna Karlin. Often, we work hard to eliminate anything that isn’t positive, light, cheerful. People say, “don’t dwell on the negative” or “lighten up” or “focus on the positive” as if it was possible to have a one-sided emotional spectrum. But the world is not one-sided. Emotions run a full range from joy to sorrow, ecstasy to depression. There is room for fear and anger alongside courage and compassion. In fact, how could one exist without the other? How could there be light without darkness? Day without night? Each shade in any spectrum has its own place.

I gained an new understanding of the word appreciation this morning. We have come to think of appreciation in a context drawn from finance – to grow in worth – and have come to see appreciation as solely positive. In a purer sense, though, to  appreciate is to value – a term open to both light and shadow. I may appreciate the many joys in my life, and I may also appreciate the sorrows because of what they have taught me. As a coach and as a consultant, I can appreciate the shadow side of situations and experiences simply because they exist. As a practicing transformational girlfriend, I can allow space for the shadow side without encouraging permanent residence in that place and I can mine the shadows for the rich experiences that will inform the light.



  1. Ahh but the Shadow I work with when Shadow Coaching my clients is multi-faceted and indeed includes the Shadow personality in the individual. We look at some of the behaviours that might have haunted them in the past, for example when they showed creativity in school only to be sharply chastised for it as it didn’t fit the norm and was looked at a misbehaving.

    Now, as adults we sometimes have to look at behaviours we tucked away in a closet somewhere which didn’t serve us then but might serve us now. It’s revisiting all the parts of who we are, looking at what serves us and what does, and yes, as you say encourage perhaps without taking permanent residence. Sometimes it’s good for those sides to come out and play, to let others know there much more than meets the eye.

    You never cease to amaze me and make me very grateful you are in my life. Congrats on your wonderful accomplishment! I’m applauding from afar.

  2. This kind of work – and the recognition of both shadow and light is precisely what the session was about. Learning and change require reflection and acceptance of all aspects of ourselves.
    Now, if only we had thousands more like Donna out there!

  3. Well done, great blog and great posts!!!

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