CG #63 –Why Not Declare Peace?
We polarize over our differences and turn what is merely strenuous into something stressful and exhausting. What if there was a better way?
Reading Time: About 2 minutes
The internet exposes our tendency to go to war over our differences, especially in an election year. It takes about 5 comments on a blog before two clear sides emerge and commenters hunker down in support of one camp or the other. With an upcoming election in the USA, polarized rhetoric is heating up.
It’s a fertile laboratory for practicing a more productive approach to polarity.
Polarities are everywhere
You can find polarities wherever there is lasting, unresolved conflict or a problem that won’t stay solved. Take the stormy relationship between management and union employees, or between Sales and R&D; or the divide between the IT department and its customers. The endless, unproductive debate over how to deal with ongoing social ills is another example. Work-life balance is a polarity.
You Can’t Solve a Polarity
Polarities aren’t problems. That’s why the right answer, the once-and-for-all answer can’t be found. The tension between the innovations you need to stay competitive and the need for reliable cash flow really is endless. The tension between the wild and wildly expensive ideas that your engineers dream up and what is feasible to build is not a problem to do away with either: It’s a polarity that is the lifeblood of your company. And it’s going to be much easier on everyone if we stop trying to “solve” polarities.
If only it wasn’t so difficult. I don’t know about you, but my brain has a hair-trigger about some things. Corruption, unfair treatment, deception, self-righteous in-crowds – they all make me crazy, and it seems to happen instantly.
When I decide these are a problem to be solved rather than a polarity to make room for, it leads to those 2 entrenched camps that pop up in virtually every internet comment thread: If your point of view is the problem, then my point of view is the solution. No matter how smooth we are, and how well we bury it in inclusive language, we wish the other side would stop being so difficult. We wish they’d be just a little more like us, a little more reasonable, a little less of a…problem.
That’s declaring war, no matter how subtle we are about it. And declaring war is endless and exhausting. I want a way to get off this painful treadmill quickly and reliably.
1. I’m making “People are never the problem” the mantra I take everywhere. When that’s too much to ask of myself, I’ll try “What if people are never the problem?”
I can’t prove this is true. Instead, I’m going to invite you to join me in testing it. Is it going to lead to being too accepting, too “weak?” Will I be taken advantage of? I don’t think so and here’s why: I am a “people” too, and I’m never the problem either. I suspect this levels the playing field in a transformative way.
I’m adopting a word substitution without softening the polarity.
Instead of saying or implying “or” say “both…and.” “This isn’t working for my team” (with the implied but unspoken: “Fix this or I’ll escalate”) becomes “This needs to work for both you and I, and we’re really at odds here.” (you and me and our difference)
I’m asking myself: “How am I contributing to the fight?” “Is it necessary?” It takes energy to stay at war with a person, department or idea. I’d rather spend that energy elsewhere.
What I’m not saying
There are only polarities, not problems
There will always problems that need to be confronted, named and solved. In my experience, embracing the overarching polarity helps me find and solve problems without experiencing backlash from either “side.” It’s polarities and problems, not polarities or problems.
It’s all hugs and puppies
There is evil. There are injustices that need to be made right. That work can make us hard and unkind. I’m hopeful that refusing to make enemies out of even keeps us kind and human as we draw necessary lines and impose consequences. Kind and firm: Polarities really are everywhere.