The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us. Nelson Mandela
Black vs. Blue
Black vs. White
Right vs. Wrong
Gay vs. Straight
Male vs. Female
Boss vs. Employee
Religion vs. Religion
Immigrant vs. National
Republican vs. Democrat
Nationalist vs. Regional Unions
Terrorism vs. National/Border Security
These, are but a few of the extremes and polarities we are swimming in in our world today. The news, the dinner conversations, the community chatter – all are dominated by the stories of versus. I call them the versus debates. In the versus debates, we are pitted against each other. Pitted against family members, friends, and sometimes even against the various parts of our own selves. Then we trap ourselves in the divides by throwing stones and calling each other derogatory names that reinforce these divides. It really all does seem hopeless. Like there isn’t a single thing any of us common people who do not hold the reins of policy and politics can do about it. Or is it?
What does it look like: when we change the
versus to and? When we engage in dialogue vs. debate? When we can accept each other’s positions and identities without forcing our own on others? When we seek to understand rather than correct/fix others? When we trade the anxiety we each hold in the place of trying to control others for faith in our common humanity? When we trade the arrogance of trying to teach others our own way for an openness to learn from other experiences?
What happens when we see ourselves as fully part of each other and fully a part of a world that holds all of these differences? When we are willing to admit that we do not have all the answers and accept that life does include mysteries? When we accept that we are both the same AND different AND it was meant to be this way. When we know that our differences will not go away and decide to engage with and enrich each other so that we can all thrive! When we decide to build bridges rather than stay stuck in our divides?
And to grow and thrive in our humanity, we must engage our differences with respect and honoring and not run away from, or try to stifle them. We know this from all forms of social science theory that approach human development from the perspective of complex adaptive thought, engaging difference and conflict resolution. See for example Glenda Eoyang’s recent blog post to the Human Systems Dynamics Community and work on Deep Democracy. This law of human difference and diversity, that it holds the potential for change and growth even and especially when conflicts arise, has been true through the ages and will remain so.
So in a world of extreme differences, the answer has never been the other extreme. The answer lies in a genuine exploration of these questions:
What’s my part in this versus debate (and we all have a part in every one of them…this is OUR world)
What is my story and language about this versus debate?
What does it look like if this versus becomes an AND?
What can I learn?
How can we thrive together?
What is our bridge?
We can each start building bridges in every moment-to-moment interaction, everyday! So in your very next situation where you encounter any of the versus debates, consider how you engage the difference, try these questions and see what emerges.
Build a bridge.