Throughout the election, I have been silent. In conversations, I have been silent. On social media, I have been silent.
I have been listening. I have been watching. I have been empathizing. I have been thinking. Making my mind up for myself. Sometimes it takes a while, when you see and agree with the values of both sides. When you understand the fears of both sides. When you are ashamed of and disheartened by the, at best, mockery and disrespect—and at worst, the hate—in the narratives of BOTH sides. And when you are every day inspired by the courage, idealism, and commitment to goodness and justice on BOTH sides.
I wouldn’t normally post something like this on One Little Library and if you came here for book talk and are disappointed to get political talk, I apologize. I promise I won’t belabor this point. Come back another time, and we’ll get back to books.
But there comes a time when listening, watching, empathizing, and thinking can turn into paralysis, inaction, and enabling. Lest my silence become a cloak for cowardice, it’s time to say something.
Living in the Tension
I’ve struggled for years with how to articulate my thoughts on political issues. This weekend my company held a retreat for our consultants, one of whom was Jane Kise, who spoke about the idea of polarity and that it is possible to avoid “stuckness” and move forward. I immediately recognized polarity as the language I’ve been looking for. Now I have the words to finally speak.
Polarity is not the tension between right and wrong or good and evil; polarity is the tension between right and right, between two interdependent goods. We see polarities in our lives all the time:
- Inhaling and Exhaling – both are good and necessary. When you inhale too much, you feel the need to exhale. When you exhale for too long, you feel the need to inhale.
- Rest and Activity – when you sit still for too long, you need to move. When you’ve been moving too much, you need to rest.
- Firmness and Graciousness – if you are always strict/firm with your children, they will not learn to be gracious. If you are always lenient, they will not learn when to take a stand.
- Individuals and Groups – Individuals working alone can be less efficient than a system so that no one has to keep re-creating the wheel; but if a group becomes too powerful or bureaucratic, it can limit the freedom and creativity of individuals.
You see the pattern. If you focus on one side of a polarity too much, the other side gets ignored and soon demands attention. This is exactly what we’re seeing in the U.S. political climate. Don’t get me wrong; we’re seeing lots of right/wrong, good/evil debates as well—and our obligation is to fight evil and wrong. ALWAYS. Racism, terrorism, sexism, and genocide are just a few examples of evil that are NEVER ok, in any situation. Ever. Both sides should make it a priority to fight these injustices.
But I’m talking about the problems we can’t seem to solve because to “solve” one problem means another one pops up in the opposite direction. This pendulum often results in no progress being made: stagnation, stalemate, stuck. But it doesn’t have to.
In “Overcoming Polarization by Evolving Both Right and Left,” Steve McIntosh, the co-founder of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, says: “Even though our politics will always exhibit some form of left-right polarity, this natural oppositional relationship can take form as either a ‘stuck polarity,’ such as we currently face, or as a ‘generative polarity,’ wherein both sides work together, challenging and even occasionally supporting each other through compromise and cooperation.”
How do we make this happen? McIntosh writes, “Overcoming our nation’s polarized condition will require each side to see more of the virtue of the other.”
I’ve created the table below reflecting just a handful of the left/right polarities that I commonly see expressed by my friends and family. The table includes both the values of each side, and the fears that drive them. Obviously, these are generalizations—that’s because, as McIntosh writes, polarities are often layered—so there are more polarities that we could identify within each party. He provides a helpful analysis of the polarities within right and left in the article. Surely you can think of someone who is registered in the same party as you, but with whom you disagree on many issues.
Hopefully, no matter what your political opinion, you will agree with and support the values listed here on both sides. Hopefully you will empathize with and understand the fears of both sides. My hope is that this table starts a productive conversation.
|Freedom of expression||Modesty and respect for tradition|
|Generosity and diplomacy||Self-preservation|
|Environmental protection||Economic growth|
|Help the marginalized and underprivileged||Personal responsibility|
|Government’s obligation to solve problems||Individual’s obligation to solve problems|
|Censorship and loss of authentic expression||Loss of foundational American values|
|Provoking unnecessary conflict; loss of innocent lives||Failure to act means permitting harm to the American people or land by an outside force|
|Loss of our environment’s natural beauty and resources; environmental decline means poorer living conditions for everyone||Loss of economic strength and free market; Economic decline means poorer living conditions for everyone|
|Inequitable economic growth; the poor will continue to get poorer as the rich get richer||Loss of the right to keep what you work hard to earn; giving people handouts doesn’t do them any favors and just creates dependency|
|Not enough governmental power can lead to anarchy||Too much governmental power can lead to oppression|
Rejecting False Dichotomies
Some of you reading this might think I’m too idealistic. “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” “You can’t have everything, so you choose the best possible option.” “If you didn’t vote for one, you automatically voted for the other.” If it sounds like I’m not “taking a stand” or “drawing a line,” you’re still not listening.
Here’s what I have to say to you:
America is built on idealism. Unless you’re a potato and don’t have any political views whatsoever, you are already idealistic about certain issues. You believe that a better world is possible. You believe it passionately. That’s why you’re fighting.
Maybe we can’t have it all—but we can sure as hell have more than we’re getting now! It IS possible to cooperate without compromising your values. Yes, it is.
Moreover, I think it is absolutely imperative that we reject the false dichotomy of right vs. left. We are stuck right now, and pretty soon we’re going to need to get un-stuck. We can either succumb to infighting, or we can seek to understand and agree for the common goal in moving forward, creating better lives, and fighting injustice.
Some Practical Next Steps
- If you have contributed to the flow of snide, sarcastic, self-righteous, or scathing comments on social media, STOP. For the love of God or whatever you believe in, stop now.
- You cannot change anything if you do not see the GOODNESS in the party you typically don’t agree with. It’s probably easy to criticize and see each side’s downfalls. Reflect on the table of polarities above. Think about the good qualities and honorable values that the opposite party upholds. Think about how you can help to preserve those good qualities and work to alleviate their fears.
- Be that guy or that girl who plays devil’s advocate at parties. But do it respectfully, while affirming their point of view.
- Help add to the table above. I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic—just a peace-seeker. I will happily update it as time goes on. The catch is: if you want to make an update to the table, you MUST suggest an update to all four quadrants.
- Share this brilliant article: “Overcoming Polarization by Evolving Both Right and Left”
- Take the Political Polarization Test to see where you fall and find suggestions to de-polarize your thinking.
- Donate to the Institute for Cultural Evolution.
- Organize an inter-party dialogue in your community.
- Any other suggestions?
I’d love to hear what you think about all this. Is the idea of polarity new to you? Where else do you see polarities in life? Do you think having this conversation is productive?
I almost decided to close comments on this post because One Little Library is a sacred space and I don’t want trolls or even well-intentioned-but-myopic dissenters to turn it into a battleground. But I believe in, honor, and uphold our First Amendment Rights—and I think we can get more accomplished by having a conversation.
Think of One Little Library as my home, and I’m inviting you in. ALL guests are welcome. But I have some ground rules to keep it a peaceful and productive space for all of us. If you don’t abide by these rules, I will delete your comment and ask you to try again.
- Do not demean or disrespect either party.
- Do not post anything hateful.
- Do not proselytize another commenter.
- If you mention any side’s fear or downfall, also state one of their values that you agree with.
- As stated above, if you want to suggest an update to the table above, you must explain how that impacts all four quadrants.