April 4, 2017
Our World is Out of Whack
We live in a world of increasing tension and polarization. Each day’s news is chock-full of chest thumping gamesmanship as autocratic global leaders jockey to demonstrate their power and assert their views over neighbouring nations. Then, back at home, they face constituents who are unable to reconcile their widely disparate views or find common ground with one another. Rather than seeking to discover similarities people look for what separates them. Sadly, as nations and as individuals we are deeply divided, seemingly incapable of acknowledging the value in the other.
Duality is the Problem
This belief in duality, the viewing of all things in two parts, has been chronicled by many cultures for more than 2500 years. At one time this brought us closer together by helping us better understand our world but now it widens the gaps amongst us. Today, everything in our lives is compared and labelled; good or bad, happy or sad, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor. Unfortunately, categorization encourages the belief that if one side is right then the other is wrong. Instead, we need to develop the awareness that things which appear divergent and opposite are really ‘different expressions of the same’.
This thought was poignantly demonstrated in the 2015 animated and Oscar winning film ‘Inside Out’, which explored the emotions of joy, fear, anger, disgust, and sadness in a pre-pubescent girl named Riley. In the control center of her mind, the emotions coexist happily until her father takes a job in another city and she is suddenly uprooted. Before the move, joy is Riley’s predominant emotion, but as she navigates her new life, negative emotions begin to vie for position. Ultimately, Riley realizes that although experiencing sadness is painful, without it, she cannot feel happiness — one frames the other.
We Manage by Duality
The workplace is also steeped in the duality of ‘either/or’ worlds. Traditional management separates things into parts, labels them and then distributes tasks and assignments. Consequently, organizations operate within silos and rather than viewing the bottom-line and the demands of stakeholders holistically, they compete for funds. It is easy to forget that one is necessary for the other and that there is a short distance between the two. Sally Helgeson, author of ‘The Female Advantage’ said, “What is needed is leaders who can work against feelings of alienation that affect our institutions, by bridging the gap between the demands of efficiency and the need to nurture the human spirit.” The task of efficient production can be contrary to establishing relationships that nurture employees, yet both are needed for a successful operation — so how can we bridge that gap?
Biggest Duality is Gender
We can start by integrating the interdependent opposites within ourselves. Of the many dualities that exist in our lives, the most prominent is masculine and feminine. The first word that 9 out of 10 people will use when asked to describe themselves (or others) is ‘man’or ‘woman’. Gender is a large part of our personal identity and yet, it is often what prevents us from living freely as individuals.
Upon entering the world, a pink or blue yoke is placed around our neck and with it comes expectations of how we should look or act and even who we should be attracted to. Then, attached to archaic gender views we line-up and take sides to make our side right and the other wrong. Unfortunately, seeing the opposite sex as separate from us can deteriorate to name-calling, prejudice, discrimination, and even violence. This not only hurts others, it stunts our personal growth and limits our opportunities. Because we see ourselves as one or the other, we use only half of the actions and options available to us. We become out of balance and the many virtues of being masculine or feminine get dialed up to the extreme and evolve into vices. We are witnessing this on the world stage currently and a rethink is necessary.
Accept Ourselves, Accept Others
It may be that we cling to duality because it is easier to project our shortcomings onto others and blame them than to do the hard work of solving our problems ourselves. This pattern of external castigation rather than internal reflection is evident in countries, companies, communities, and individuals. We need realize that the traits displayed in others and ourselves are ‘two sides of the same coin’. Once we embrace the attributes of the opposite gender in ourselves, it naturally follows that we’ll accept them in our neighbour as well. In this state, we will no longer view the behaviors of others as faults but instead will see their actions as we would our own which will lead to deeper recognition and understanding. We’ll find sameness instead of separation.
Becoming Whole Human Beings
My personal mission is to help people escape from their restrictive gender boxes and limiting stereotypes. It is time to leave behind duality, move beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’ and be whole human beings… not one or the other but both. By pushing past here or there, the right way or the wrong way we’ll reduce divisiveness and find common ground. People and systems that are ‘out of balance’ invariably topple and achieving balance comes from accepting both sides of ourselves. The recognition that we are ‘different expressions of the same’ will help to bridge the gap with those who hold disparate views. From there it is a short distance to demanding holistic leaders who will also search for common ground.