Polarization refers to deepening divisions where polar opposite viewpoints become increasingly entrenched and diverse perspectives are shut down (or don’t exist). The impact of polarization is far reaching and ultimately ends up weakening our communities and prevents us from working together effectively. Our divisiveness pits us against each other rather than uniting us to address our collective challenges—even when lives are at stake.
We are in an era where we need all of our collective strengths and wisdom to address climate change, food security, housing, poverty and systemic discrimination (to name a few).
In my work supporting leaders and organizations to nurture community change, the emotional impact of polarization (and the anger that often accompanies it), is taking a toll on their health, relationships and well-being.
Recently, I was interviewed by Don Shafer of the Conversations Lab, and we dove into polarization—how I view it, the opportunity it presents and a pathway forward.
5 Key strategies for engaging polarization effectively
#1: Reframe the challenge
The tell tale signs a culture is in a disintegration phase include:
When we situate polarization within the cyclical nature of any given civilization or culture, we can move away from seeing it as a problem to fix and look at it as a potential doorway, if handled skillfully, to a new era—one that is more interconnected, just and sustainable. After all, within chaos there is often an order getting ready to emerge. And in time, within order, there is a burgeoning chaos that will eventually be unleashed.
Engaging effectively with polarization means reframing the challenge as an opportunity to learn new skills to usher in a new era.
#2: Understand the bio-chemistry involved & create inner safety
If we want to engage with polarization effectively, as part of a pathway to a better future, we need to choose a different response, which requires our commitment, courage and tenacity. Making that different choice starts with each of us mastering our inner landscape.
Once we recognize we are in a storm and our sense of safety feels threatened, it is helpful to learn ways to first tend to our inner landscape by recognizing what has been triggered within us.
In polarized situations, typically our sense of right and wrong, past traumas and cherished beliefs are triggered. Once we bring awareness to what is stirred up within us, we can more easily learn how to soothe our triggers. Each person develops their own toolkit depending on our life experience, culture and era we live in. Once we learn how to soothe our triggers, we are more able to get curious about ourselves and the Other. This is when and where the magic starts to happen.
Engaging ourselves is often the hardest and most crucial step. When we see polarization as an opportunity to connect with ourselves and learn new skills to identify and soothe our triggers and strengthen curiosity, it becomes an adventure worth going on.
#3: Dig for the gold
Imagine if, collectively, we began to view polarization as an opportunity to deepen our awareness of ourselves, each other and the world around us. In that process, we could gain clarity about our shared and divergent values, leading us to live out our values more fully in our moment by moment choices.
When faced with community-wide challenges, I always start by creating a collaborative decision-making process where we first identify our shared values that then inform our guiding principles of how we will work and make decisions together. Once we have shared principles, it is akin to having a rudder to guide us through turbulent times, informing our actions and decisions along the way. When we do this collective work, we create space for diverse viewpoints and opportunities to unlock hidden talents and wisdom within a community.
#4: Liberate worldviews & unlock hidden talents
When we explore our own worldview and make space for how others make meaning, we begin to liberate worldviews that may hold the hidden knowledge, values, teachings and talents that are needed to address your most pressing community challenges.
A pitfall in understanding worldview diversity is to mistakenly treat disinformation as a worldview. Worldviews are cultural beliefs about how the world was created and our role as human beings within it. Disinformation is not a worldview; it is sharing of either false information or information out of context to manipulate others. The creation of distorted narratives is the “root rot” of our times. In this way, our work to liberate worldviews involves identifying sources of decay or disinformation and creating more wholesome ecosystems.
When we see engaging with polarization skillfully as an opportunity to liberate worldviews; tend to the “root rot” of our times; and to unlock the hidden knowledge, values, and talents within our team or community, we can harness our strengths and effectively address any given challenge we face—from climate change, to poverty and discrimination.
#5: See polarization as an adventure
Stuck and need a sounding board?
We provide 3 spots a month for a 30-minute chat so that you can share what challenging situation you are struggling with in your team, organization or community. We’ll ask you some curious questions and, if wanted, offer some tips and strategies. Book a call here.