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Thinking Bigger for a Thriving, Self-Governing Democracy

Many of us have been wondering what we can do in response to the latest election with the greater purpose of preserving and supporting democracy for all. Typically, we want to take action, which of course is needed. But we forget that the quality and impact of our actions are based on who we are, how we think, and the level of maturity (consciousness) we have developed.

In our consulting practice, a core platform we use to build and guide healthy organizations is Polarity Thinking. Contrasting our typical way of thinking to Polarity Thinking sets the stage for learning healthy ways to think and act to sustain democracy.

We are trained to think in either/or terms. Either this truth is right or the other truth is right. They cannot coexist. For example, our democracy is predicated on Individual Freedom and Equity/Collective Responsibility. If we think Individual Freedom is right and Collective Responsibility is wrong, then individuals think they have the right to do anything they want. At the extreme, white supremists have the right to harass people of color. People of color can work to flip the balance of power so they are in charge. Each person has the right to do exactly what they want with their property no matter how it impacts others. Collectivists call this vigilantism.

If we think Collective Responsibility/Equity is right and Individual Freedom is wrong, everyone is taken care of in the same way, usually at the lowest common denominator. I just visited Cuba and learned that all are paid the same whether Doctor or ditch digger: from $20–$50 monthly. As a result, many restaurant servers are doctors, engineers, dentists, and lawyers because they can make more money. Needed talent is wasted. Individualists call this socialism or communism.

As these two sides fight, we create a vicious cycle, dragging all of us down, down, down. Witness the pattern of social media messages during the campaign even to the extent of fake journalism.

Polarity Thinking points us to Both/And thinking. To sustain a thriving, healthy democracy, we need both Individual Freedom AND Collective Responsibility for Equity. They are interdependent. If either value is over-done, we get the downside of that value like the descriptions above. Eventually we are in the downsides of both values: blaming the other side for all the ills of society and seeing the other as enemy. Individualists holler about the socialists. And Collectivists holler about hateful, unrestrained individuals.

The wisdom of both values can be mapped. Notice the upsides and downsides of both.

Polarity Thinking provides a way out of a seemingly unresolvable, destructive fight.

  1. Remember the Greater Purpose for which we strive: Thriving Democracy.

  2. Acknowledge there is value in both Freedom and Equity.

  3. Plan actions steps to keep the best of both values.

  4. Plan early warning signs to signal an over-focus on either value.

  5. Perhaps, and most difficult, when you are in the downside of your preferred value, correct to the upside of the other value. If there is hateful speech, hold the person accountable for impact on the whole. If there is an over focus on protecting everyone to the extreme, support individual differences. Neither of these corrections mean that we unconditionally accept bad behavior. The intent is to move to the upside of both values.

  6. Understand your role in constructive and destructive patterns. We all contribute and we all can begin to solve what feel like unsolvable problems.

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