How Do You “Host” Polarities?

Given how polarized the political climate in the US is right now, I thought it would be valuable to look at what polarities are and how we might better manage or leverage them at work and in our communities. This is the second piece in a three-part series on polarities. 

A polarity is a state in which two ideas, opinions or beliefs are completely opposite or very different from one another. It is not a problem to be solved but a state to be managed. How can the notion of hosting* help you manage such a state?

Hosting in the traditional, non-computer sense means receiving or entertaining guests. Hosting polarities means receiving and entertaining opposing “truths” in apparently polarized ideas or between groups with apparently polarized positions.

Given the multiple challenges in doing this, why would you want to attempt this or take it on as a part of your role as a leader, facilitator, consultant, or change agent? Because hidden in the tension between polarities is the possibility and power to move forward and create positive change.

Without welcoming, making space for, or hosting polarities, people remain stuck on one side or the other, setting up defensive camps to protect their “truth.”

In the previous blog “Polarities Are Not Problems,” I explored one cognitive approach to managing polarities: investigating the up and down sides of polarities and proposing that one manages or balances the poles.

Hosting polarities is an essential step in making such an investigation more than just an intellectual exercise that can be discounted in time or that can eventually become a source of significant conflict. When you host polarities you intellectually, emotionally, and energetically make space for seemingly opposite ideas to both be true.

You host polarities when you can honestly listen to, restate, understand and entertain the meaning and importance of the position or pole to the polarized individuals or groups, including how they came to embrace this particular “truth.” When you are able to do this you create space in which people feel less need to defend their “truth” and they can open to trying to at least understand the “truths” of others, if not agree with them.

It is through this more open space that new possibilities can emerge and energy can begin to move.

When people are polarized and they and their polar truths are at war, the usual tactic is to try to convince others how they are wrong and you are right, as if information alone will make a difference. Already barricaded into camps, people are busy defending their truth and, unconsciously, their sense of identity that is often interwoven with their truth.   There is no space emotionally, cognitively or kinesthetically to be open to the truths of others.

However, if you can host the polarities so people experience themselves as heard and acknowledged, you create the possibility that they can hear, acknowledge and even understand a perspective that heretofore had set their hair on fire.

When you host polarities, you are creating space for larger truths to emerge, like what our larger or higher purposes are. You are also helping people avoid or resolve conflicts that divide them and get in the way of moving forward together.

Next blog, I will talk about the internal challenges of hosting polarities and how you can strengthen your capability to take on this much-needed role at work, at home, or in your community.

* I am grateful to William Ury and Thomas Hüble for the notion of “hosting” a conflict that inspired me to consider how to host polarities, often the source of conflicts.

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