Living In a Polarized World

polarized positive negative sign

When I was 15 my family moved to a new neighborhood. For some reason my mom wasn’t happy. She was a good woman who was normally well liked, but while living there she developed contentious relationships with a couple of the neighbors.

Things got pretty ugly and as a typical teenager I felt embarrassed and became angry with my mom.

One of the things that really bothered me was that once she became upset with a person, it was as if EVERYTHING they did was bad, maybe even evil. They could run into a burning building to save a child, and she would still find something wrong with it.

Her perspective was very black and white. She was right and they were wrong. She was good and they were bad. And, that was all that mattered.

I now believe there was something more going on with my mom at the time and have compassion for how she felt during this period in her life. I’m sure those neighbors also did some pretty bad things.

What I took away from this experience was that I didn’t want to be a person who polarized against others and I watched myself carefully for this behavior.

It has shown up often. I have found myself building stories of opposition in my mind against:

  • Exes
  • Bosses
  • Those who harm or disrespect others
  • Unethical business people
  • And, even people I’ve grown to love

And, while I accept that I am human, this is one behavior I continue to work on shifting.

Our world feels like it is overwhelmingly polarized these days. We tend to feel pretty strongly about things like:

  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Race
  • Sexuality
  • Parenting
  • Abortion
  • And, so much more.

The problem is that whatever our perspective, beliefs, or opinions are, we tend to believe that it means that everyone else is wrong. We polarize against them. We forget how to listen. How to be compassionate. And, how be to respectful of others even when they are different than we are.

This polarization comes from fear, hurt, and anger. We may feel we, or our entire way of life are threatened by people who look or think differently. We hold onto being right because it makes us feel better about ourselves and more secure in the world.

But, polarizing against others limits us and is dangerous. It is why we have wars. Wars in our personal relationships or ones that involve the entire world.

When we are courageous we don’t try to out yell each other with our opinions. We give each other a a chance to speak and listen with the intention to understand. We recognize that feeling heard is a basic human need and without it we will not be able to come together in service to our common goals.

I enjoy diversity and am curious about people who are different than I am. The conversations I have had with them are revealing and generally lend themselves to mutual understanding. But, there are still times when I fall into the habit of polarization, even when I know that it does not resolve anything.

When that happens, I remind myself that we are all multifaceted human beings. No one is all good or all bad. All right or all wrong. There are unimaginable things going on in the lives of people around us that can cause them to behave unskillfully.

Sometimes it helps me to remember that the person who did what I judge as wrong was once someone’s baby and picture them as a sweet little infant before things in their life changed them. And then, the compassion can come. 

Polarizing against others lends itself to making enemies when what we need most is to come together for the highest good of all. We need to remember that we are each a part of the larger human family that lives on this planet Earth.

And, no one is all good or bad or right or wrong.

If you would like the support of a professional coach in improving how you see and interact with others, I would love to talk to you.  You can contact me here.

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5 thoughts on “Living In a Polarized World

  1. Flora M. Brown says:

    Your account of your mother as seeing things in black and white reminds me of my mom. All these decades later, one of my cousins and I were acknowledging that when we were young our mothers got upset with each other about something, and continued to hold on to it for the rest of their lives. My mother expected me to “not like” whoever she had decided to “not like”, but I refused to do so. Fortunately, my cousin and I can see past whatever polarized our mothers and we continue to be friends.

    As a mom and grandma, however, I see glimpses of this trait in myself when it comes to people and even relatives that my kids/grandkids and I can’t see eye to eye about. Now I get to work on resolving this issue within myself, and respecting my kids/grandkids as adults who can make decisions about people for themselves.

    In our current political climate, it’s tough to resist becoming polarized when confronted by people who have no intention of being compassionate, thoughtful, or open to new ideas. And yet, we must do all we can to protect our peace of mind and claim our joy.

  2. shelley says:

    This tendency to demonize people who aren’t like us or who think or behave differently than we do has really bothered me lately. It seems like the current political climate has only made the situation worse and I don’t see an end to it. I’m not sure what the answer is but I think that at least an awareness of the situation is a start.

    • Linda Luke says:

      I agree. Awareness is always a good beginning. The challenging part is coming forward authentically even when what you have to say is not popular. It’s not about saying everything, just speaking up when it’s really important or a teachable moment.

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