Are you tired of living in a either/or world?
Weary of people taking rigid, polarized positions? Done with being manipulated?
Angry at being put in a victim position, imposed upon, spoken for, assumed?
Are you ready to move beyond either-or thinking?
If yes, then this blog is for you (and please listen to the podcast series, click below on the link to the first episode).
Polarized thinking has been around for a long time. It’s not always bad. There are times when taking a clear side is wise. But, when we are being seduced to pick a side, when our need to belong is being exploited, it’s a problem.
This blog space is dedicated to bringing awareness to the exploitation of our natural tendencies to either-or thinking. And, the human implications. Unrelenting contradictory choices keeps us in conflict, wildly swinging to and fro. Certainly, not moving forward.
The work of the brave.
Recently, a college in Edmonton invited me to speak to their educators. How can they recognize either/or thinking in the classroom? And move beyond it, and its limitations.
It was a brave and forward-thinking invitation. Not exactly what you would expect with all the brouhaha going on in education right now.
Protect free speech! facing off against protect the students! Places like my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, are thankfully getting their hands slapped for trying to turn students into fragile victims.
When you are responsible for educating a diverse group of students, how do you create the conditions for authentic conversations? How do you call out political correctness and self-righteousness?
You can’t do ‘everything for everybody all the time’. And, you don’t want to minimize the differences either.
Educators, teachers, all the people who care about learning, are in a unique place right now. They have the power not only to influence students. But also, to demonstrate to the rest of the world what critical thinking looks like.
Now, this may be a little mocking. And hopefully you will see it as playful. But I’m going to echo Jordan Peterson a little here, and his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. As I presented to these educators in Edmonton, let me present to you, 7 Ideas for Life: An Antidote to Polarity.
I don’t agree with everything Peterson says. But I like his truth bomb approach. It’s my style too.
Break free of binary thinking.
It easier to stay stuck in polarity when you stick with people who think, act and look like you. Anywhere you have diversity, there’s more opportunity to break out of binary thinking.
And there’s risk and sensitivity too.
Classrooms and workplaces and communities and social media spaces can be host to great, and no doubt enlivening, diversity.
The college in Edmonton where I spoke has students hailing from 138 countries of birth, 103 languages are spoken on campus. Hundreds of students self-identify as indigenous and there’s wide age diversity. They also have students arriving with silver spoons in their mouths, and students from have-not families. It is a bastion of diversity.
So, how do you nurture and navigate this space of incredible diversity, while at the same time assuring some coherence? Some shared sense of what you are all doing, together.
It’s the same question we need to ask ourselves as Canadians – we’re a vast country with growing diversity. How do we reconcile the differences and our need to be one nation?
We’re living in an either-or world.
There is a lot of superficiality and knee-jerking going on. In business. In politics. In what used to be diplomacy.
Sometimes, it feels like we’ve all forgotten that it takes grit and hard work to do trade negotiations. To do any negotiations. To thoughtfully design and implement exceptions to our rigid ways of thinking.
Instead, we become champions. Of Gender equality. Climate change. LGBTQ rights. Reconciliation with indigenous peoples. Or we stand in opposition to these positions.
And we stare down those who dare to oppose our ideas.
We’re afraid of the slippery slopes we may slide down, of the dominoes that may fall one after another, if we allow even a wee crack in our rigid positions.
We’re seeing a lot of people, including students, take a stand on lofty aspirational principles in increasingly uncompromising ways.
You are either with me or you are against me!
You either agree that we should ignore the presumption of innocence in any situation involving a whiff of sexual harassment, or you are against #MeToo.
You either believe in man-made climate change and the imperative to stop the development of the oil sands, or you are a climate change denier.
You are either a socialist or you are a conservative.
You either endorse indigenous reconciliation in the way I envision it or you are racist.
Putting people in boxes
People like to put you in a box.
On social media people are constantly trying to define my political identity. People and political parties like purists. A ‘true believer’ is a guaranteed voter.
But there is no need for any of us to settle for a box full of someone else’s ideas. Trying to shoe-horn yourself into a box, or worse, being stuffed in, is destructive to your sense of self.
I’m a political moderate. I use conservative thought in some issue areas (largely fiscal) and progressive thought in others.
And being moderate doesn’t mean I’m sitting in the mild middle. I’m quite passionate about both my conservative and progressive values.
7 Ideas for Life: An Antidote to Polarity
I invite you to watch this blog space over the next 7 weeks. Seven weeks. Seven ideas to rebuild that centre, to consider another way.
Why ideas, not rules like Peterson? I’m not really a rules sort of person. In my experience, rules and laws only get us too far. Weird, for a lawyer, huh?
Ideas arise out of beliefs. So, to prepare you for these 7 ideas, I need to be transparent about my core beliefs. My way of seeing the world.
First, everyone matters. Everybody has inherent value. The simplest word for this is dignity.
I believe that everyone is accountable and has some creative ability to contribute.
And finally, we are all connected. Like it or not, we’re on this little planet together.
Idea #1: Step up, shoulders squared.
Join me next week in this blog space for the launch of Idea #1: Step up, shoulders squared.
To step into a polarized issue with your shoulders squared is to accept that there are people in the world who want you on their side of a polarized issue.
It’s a reminder, to yourself, that there is a personal responsibility here, to recognize those dichotomies.
And, it means you are prepared to at least consider when you want to take on the burden of stepping into the debate. And trying to rebuild that centre, to rise above the polarity.
Living ‘beyond polarity’ is deeply personal work
In a world divided into good feminists vs. bad feminists, climate change deniers vs. apocalyptic thinkers, political right vs. political left, haves vs. have-nots, it can be daunting.
And, it can feel sort of lofty. Kind of like building world peace.
But it’s not.
Rebuilding your centre, not getting stuck in polarized ways of thinking, is deeply personal.
I just lost my father, one of the saddest experiences of my life. And, just a month before that, my oldest son married an amazing woman. One of the most joyful experiences of my life.
So personally, I’ve been dealing with extreme joy and extreme sorrow, at the same time. And it’s not like you can stay in either one of those ‘opposing’ emotions. Or that they mix together and become muted. You feel them both, joy and sorrow.
Living beyond duality means accepting the paradox. You can’t have light without dark. And, sometimes, you can even rise above the duality to create something new. The way high-pitched keys and low-pitched keys on a piano come together to create chords and beautiful music.
So I’ll say it again. This work of living beyond polarity is deeply personal.
And, I am amazed and encouraged that so many people are stepping up to do this work. Please join us. Let’s move from weary to inspired, from boxed to free.
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Donna Kennedy-Glans, April 8th, 2018