Polarities are interdependent realities, not problems to solve. So seek healthy manifestations of—and co-existence, synergy, dynamic balance, and evolutionary vitality between—polarities like divergence /convergence, self / other, individual / collective, material / spiritual, subjective / objective, immediate / long-term, gravity / levity, depths / surfaces, safety / challenge, equality / freedom, etc.
Related: 34 Life-Enhancing Enoughness, 35 Metabolize Polarization, 52 Rich Feedback Dynamics, 58 Subsidiarity, 59 Synergy Between Part and Whole, 60 Systems Thinking, 64 Using Diversity and Disturbance Creatively
Going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
We are dealing here with a reality of life. Efforts to suppress one part of a polarity will only evoke counter-energies from the part that was suppressed. So it’s not a matter of being able to totally do one of them and not the other. You have to take both into account if you want to be wise, if you want to be sustainable, if you want to avoid a lot of problems. So part of being a wise society or a wise democracy is recognizing when the dissonance that you’re being faced with is not a problem to solve but a polarity to relate to and manage.
So in this pattern I list a whole pile of different polarities. I can talk a bit about each of them but we’re looking for some kind of balance or coexistence or synergy between these different different things rather than supporting one of them at the expense of the other.
Divergence-convergence is a very hot polarity. There are processes which create divergence. When you ask open-ended questions suddenly everybody’s different perspectives show up. If you have a conversation based on an open-ended question like “What is art?”, everybody is saying what they think art is and people suddenly go, “Whoa! Come on! Some of these people are ridiculous and some of these people are geniuses. But what are we even talking about here?” Suddenly there is all this disturbance and dissonance.
Then there are processes to help create convergence. The name “consensus” all by itself helps you think in terms of convergence. Voting in a system where people respect the results of the vote is a convergent process. Dynamic facilitation has an interesting dynamic whereby it is supporting a convergence that isn’t so much coming together from different places as emerging out of some previously hidden common ground. Yet even that can be considered convergent, in the sense of people coming together.
Most productive conversations have early divergent dynamics as a topic is explored and then some later convergent dynamics to help people come together. Likewise, healthy societies have dynamics that support both diversity (divergence) and unity (convergence).
Self and other, that’s obvious. We all wrestle with that polarity. I want this and they want that, or we are better than they are, or I am a separate being from the rest of the world. There is the Other and anything that is outside of the self is the Other. One of the ongoing challenges of life is how do you relate to the Other and keep a balance with yourself. You have to serve yourself and you have to serve the Other, you have to show compassion for yourself and for the Other. How do you navigate in the dynamic tension between these? How do you learn, how do you bring forth what you have to say to another person and how do you bring forth what they have to say? There’s some potential learning and wisdom to get from doing all that well. That would be an example of evolutionary vitality, not just coexistence, but actually serving the healthy development of each other.
Individual-collective: Individual rights versus collective well-being: Is there a way to create synergy between those? Can we create systems where individuals can serve the community by being who they most essentially are? Can there be a culture which supports individuals in being who they most effectively and deeply are? There is synergy where you can do things together that you couldn’t do if you didn’t have the community, and where the community can do things it couldn’t do without strong individuals. Mutual respect and support work both ways. It’s not primarily a matter of defending the individual from the collective that it is going to oppress them, or the collective has to defend itself because problematic individuals are going to disrupt it. Although these are necessary aspects of a whole situation, they are seldom worth the exclusive attention they get. We’re looking for more creative and wholesome ways to treat polarities.