NEW PODCAST > IDEA #1: Step up, shoulders squared

YOU ARE TIRED of people taking rigid, either-or positions. You are weary of people feeding polarities. You are angry at those why try to manipulate you, to get you on their side of an issue.

And, you want to do something about it.

That awareness, that first step, is the biggest one.

I promised to share 7 Ideas for Life: An Antidote to Polarity.  So, here goes.

Rebuilding the centre between polarities starts with this; the first idea:

“Step up, with your shoulders squared.”

Biology matters.

You may have heard of Jordan Peterson and his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.


Peterson’s first rule is the ‘lobster rule’. It’s a biology lesson. Lobsters it seems, are born with complex defensive and aggressive behaviours. If a lobster loses a fight for territory with a bigger, stronger lobster it can’t then afford to look threatened, hurt, anxious or weak.  It risks becoming an easy target for larger lobsters.

It’s a good idea to start here too, when we’re thinking about polarity.

How so? Well, biology matters. We are predisposed to see the world in dichotomies. Good vs. evil. Right vs. wrong. Left vs. right. We have an inbuilt and powerful disposition toward duality.

Acculturation on top of the biology magnifies this– masculine vs. feminine and east vs. west, for example. In politics, we have an image of a left-right political scale firmly lodged and constantly referenced in our unconscious brains.

I’m not letting anyone off the hook here, or out of the lobster trap. Predisposed does not mean doomed.  But there are biological and cultural reasons to explain why we see polarities. This is a constructive starting place.

Once we know that we are prone to this and that, we can pre-empt falling into being victims, or being chronically stuck picking one side or the other. It’s crucial to recognize  and to know that our brains are more than capable of handling contradictory value systems and contradictory points of view.

Knowing this, you can intentionally step in, with your shoulders squared.  You can  choose to engage beyond polarities. You are not going to wade into every polarity that crosses your path. But like the bystander in the bullying scenario, you can decide when it’s necessary for you to roll up your sleeves and step in.

And yes, this requires confidence.

In a world where we talk about a need for courage, the need to be vulnerable, it’s easy to just assume confidence. It’s easy to say ‘just do it’. I don’t think we can assume confidence in everyone. It’s not a given. It’s a choice and it’s a practice.  

Stepping in, with your shoulders squared is a starting point. Like in yoga. It’s grounding, declaratory.

Feeding victimhood.

How do you show up knowing this? Knowing that you and those you connect with are prone to, but not predestined, to polarizing?

I wouldn’t suggest it, but you could see others as victims. 

Helpless, defenseless victims, as we saw recently at Wilfrid Laurier University. Where, last fall, a teaching assistant was disciplined for sharing a Jordan Peterson video with her students.  Why was she disciplined? Some believed the post-secondary students she was showing the video to weren’t ready to handle controversial opinions. Hard to believe. 

My recommendation? Help others learn to respect themselves, to think for themselves. Self-respect. Arm students to see their self-worth; to understand when they were being cast as victims. Teach others to take responsibility for their own thoughts and more importantly for their own lives.

For 8 years, between 2001 and 2009, I had the privilege of leading professional training teams to the country of Yemen. We educated and mentored female leaders in local communities there– doctors, nurses, midwives, lawyers, journalists. It’s a long story, but I’d been invited to bring Canadians to Yemen to enrich the capacity of female professionals there. And I accepted the invitation.

Canada Bridges, the NGO created to do this work, still exists and now works with First Nations communities here in Alberta, at the invitation of Indigenous youth.

IMG_1952Yemen is a challenging country. Maternal and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the world. People are poor. And now, very shockingly, the country is in the midst of a civil war with Saudi on one side and Iran on the other. Talk about polarities.

When we traveled to these communities with Canadian educators, I always talked to the team about how we engaged with these local women, and men. You will be overwhelmed by what you see. By the needs.

But if you see these people we are training as victims, helpless victims, we will not be helping them at all.

We’re not in Yemen to save these people; we’re in Yemen to support the technical and leadership skills of community leaders who have invited us there.

Now, back to Canada where some college and university students have been raised in tidy little safe cocoons. Some have hyper-protective parents who have evolved into annoying helicopter parents. Irritating drones.

And, some of these students may prefer their safe world not to be shaken by their experience of going to college.

But, then what? Is their job or life situation going to be able to provide the same safe space?

Educators need to ask themselves: Am I trying to create students who are safe, or strong. Or both.

Step up, with your shoulders squared.

To step up, 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 is to accept that you are capable. 

It’s a reminder to yourself that there is a personal responsibility here, to see those dichotomies.

And, it means you are prepared to at least consider when you want to take on the burden of wading into the debate.

The next idea? 

Next week, we’ll be sharing IDEA #2: Treat YOU like the ones you teach.

All of us are educators. We’re role models. And mentors. We teach others, not so much by what we say, but by what we do.

Your ability to model behaviours – how to recognize polarized positioning, and how to engage in these discussions without getting played or co-opted by either side– is a gift to others. How can you treat yourself like the ones you teach? More, next week!

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Donna Kennedy-Glans, April 15th, 2018

See also:

7 Ideas for Life: An Antidote to Polarity


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