Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Polarity Thinking: from "Either-Or" to "Both-And"

There's been a buzz lately about polarity thinking, the idea that opposites (or sides of an argument) are interdependent, like light and dark, north and south, in and out. These are what I'd call neutral opposites, though, because most of us don't feel the need to place a value judgment on them. We don't get up in arms or write a strongly worded letter when a restaurant serves both hot and cold foods. We accept that that's normal and okay. Diversity and choice are desirable, right? 

But what about the polarity created when you are an animal rights activist, and you find out your new best friend (from Alaska) is a hunter. Suddenly, you're right and she's wrong, and you either have to change her or end the relationship. This is where we (as individuals, relationships, and society) get in trouble. When we're right, the other, by definition, must be wrong

Doing justice to the theory of polarity thinking is outside of my scope (trust me, there are charts and graphs and "mapping".......sheesh!) so let's just look at how we can use it to soothe our troubled minds and improve our lives. Here are a few key points:

  1. Anything that makes us want to take a stand represents a value, and every value has a necessary opposite here in the 3-D world. Examples: love and hate, good and bad, honest and dishonest. (Note that there are certainly other worlds and dimensions that are not based on duality, but this isn't one of them!) 
  2. Polarities are attributes that come in pairs, and extreme valuing of one leads to over-focusing on it's opposite. Examples: love for animals can lead to hate of those who hurt animals, or wanting to do the right thing can lead to obsessing about the wrong thing.
  3. The above can lead to wasted time and energy spent swinging back and forth between opposites, and in some cases can cause extreme anxiety, confusion, and self-doubt, "I'm right and he's, no, he's right and I'm wrong...!" We've all been there, and it's crazy-making.
  4. When we value one thing, we tend to fear it's opposite, so we build up a lot of emotion about that "negative" thing in our psyche, thus drawing it to us. Aack!
  5. Interdependent value pairs need each other in order to create the greater purpose they both share. One contributes to, and acts synergistically with, the other. Therefore, banishing one does not help the other reach it's greatest potential. 
What all this means to me is that whenever I take a strong stand in one direction, I am empowering and activating it's opposite, both within my mind and in the world. When I resist and judge the variety of human thoughts, feelings, values, and ways of being, I become confused and upset, because it's never as simple as right and wrong, or good and bad. Either-Or doesn't serve us anymore. Both-And is where evolution is taking us.

So, you can both love and hate your job. You can adore your children and occasionally want to get in your car and drive far, far away. You can argue with someone and both be right, and both be wrong at the same time. It's all relative and fleeting, because everyone might feel differently the next day.   

This week, please join me in taking a Both-And stance where you otherwise would have applied the big Either-Or. See what happens in yourself and in the situation. When you relax and become more accepting, it tends to have a ripple effect on everyone around you.

For more information, check out the following article: Polarity Thinking: Learning to Accept Both Sides of an Argument