Transcending Polarization

I try to stay informed.  What that means to me is that I try and listen to both sides of the argument… whatever “the argument” may be.  Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that we have become so polarized in our efforts to resolve our financial and societal crises that we’ve all but lost the ability to transcend differences and find common ground.

Potentially polarizing points of view are not unique to 21st century America.  The six Native American tribes that combined to form the Iroquois Confederacy, the thirteen colonies that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the twelve states that sent representatives to Philadelphia in 1787 each had disparate opinions and interests. Yet, in each of the three instances, the common good transcended both the diverse interests at stake as well as the personal egos of the individuals representing those interests.

Given the dire circumstances we now find ourselves facing, why can we not see the wisdom of those lessons? I think the answers are ego, greed and fear of the unknown.

Contrast those examples with the current state of our economy, just one of the many challenges we face.  Both sides are blaming the other and both sides are dug in deep.  Each has special interests coming to bear. The common good doesn’t appear to be anyone’s priority, although if you listen carefully they each have some valid points and helpful suggestions.  The problem is that when you “dig in deep” there’s so much mud on top it’s hard to hear above ground!

Our President should be making a positive, leadership contribution towards resolving the underlying issues and elevating the discourse. Instead, he was most recently at Facebook corporate headquarters yesterday fueling the blame game and doing it directly with one of the groups he is courting politically for 2012, the young. That delivery, instead of inspiring others to seek the common good, was soliciting votes for the second term.  And while Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, added that he “wouldn’t mind paying a little more in increased taxes on the wealthy”… a comment that got him a laugh from his constituents (also known as his “employees”)… he’s not one to look to for guidance.  He appropriated the idea for his company and had to pay 65 million dollars for the mea culpa.

The solution is to drop the posturing and realize that more resources (energy, time, and money) are wasted on maintaining incompatible positions than are needed to solve the problem.  To acknowledge that we are all in this together and that it really is sink or swim time.  To accept that reprioritizing our values will make us better human beings not poorer ones.  Finally, to be grown up enough to acknowledge that no one person… or one side… has all the answers.  Both sides have kernels of good ideas to contribute toward meeting our challenges.

I like the saying, “wisdom may come from your grandmother cooking chicken soup at the stove.” The key is being confident enough… and smart enough… to know that and listen for it.



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