What is polarization? Is it possible not to become polarized? Whether it’s politics, gender, religion, or parenting, sometimes not taking sides seems impossible.
In his book The Wisdom Pattern, Richard Rohr says there is a “third way.”
“This is a position that refuses to become polarized. This is a position that recognizes the ego at work both in excluding and oppressing the other, as well as in claiming moral superiority through a continuous victimhood narrative.”
Two like charges repel each other. But if I reverse one of them, they will attract. My ego will always push away the other ego. They are too alike. I need to reverse my charge to start attracting.
What is polarization and what causes it?
To explain the phenomenon, Peter Kreeft, the philosophy professor at Boston College, gave the following illustration.
Imagine two people standing on top of two opposite hills, each at the farthest possible distance from each other. Even if they shout at the top of their lungs, they won’t hear much.
But the more each one descends into the valley, the closer they will get to each other. The closer they are to each other, the less they will need to “shout.” The closer they become, the less they will need to second-guess the meaning of each other’s words.
Eventually, they will reach the lowest point in the valley, where they won’t even need to whisper. Silence is more than enough for communication. The closer you are to God, the closer you are to the Other.
This does not mean that there are no more differences between them; it means they are above them. When we go down we go up. The differences are still there, but they are not all that important.
There, at the deepest depth, all differences are transcended, not eradicated. Overemphasizing differences is a symptom of superficiality – not going deep enough. There can be no mutuality or understanding on the surface. Only isolation and polarization.
What happens when we refuse to get polarized?
Is it possible to refuse to get polarized? I remember talking to my daughter a couple of years ago about a controversial political issue. I could see she had a different opinion.
But the more I tried to “talk her out of it,” “open her eyes,” the more she dug in the heels.
Eventually, the polarization in the home became so pronounced, that it dawned on me that something must be amiss. I could feel that trying to get her to change her mind made me “emotionally intoxicated.” It’s like being addicted to your own point of view.
I may not show my anger or frustration externally, but it’s still sizzling in me — if I am honest enough with myself. Kids are sharp. Whenever I open my mouth, the first thing they hear is my emotions — not my message.
And my emotions are all over the place. On the inside, I am puffing up because “I think I know.” This puffing up is my EGO at work.
The apostle Paul said,
“Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”
My ego is big and wants to be bigger. For it to grow, it needs to triumph over a perceived enemy, to win an argument. But by puffing up it only succeeds in strengthening the other ego.
I got my “wake-up call” when talking to a friend over the phone a few days later. We were discussing a movie we had recently watched together.
I mentioned what I really liked about it. Suddenly, his voice grew rigid, metallic, and tense, and I couldn’t help but hear anger sizzling behind what he was saying. Then, it hit me like a bolt of lightning — that’s how I sound when I stubbornly hold my ground.
My friend criticized the producer for putting too much emphasis on something he vehemently disagreed with. I caught myself thinking, “I have a hard time hearing his argument behind this avalanche of emotions.”
The next morning I took my daughter out for a coffee. I immediately noticed how cautious and tense she was around certain topics. So, I made a conscious effort to change my polarity.
Every time I felt an urge to correct her statements or make a point, I instead asked her questions and listened.
At first, it was obvious she wasn’t trusting me. She was expecting me to jump all over her for expressing her opinions. I didn’t. By the end of our walk, she relaxed, and we talked and laughed freely. And then, suddenly, without a warning, she dropped the bomb.
She said that what I had shared with her before suddenly made a lot of sense. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe my ears. How did it happen?
Apparently, I had changed my charge and started attracting what I used to repel.
What happens to Bilbo when he sees the Ring?
If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you probably remember Bilbo’s eyes when he was grasping for the Ring of Power. His eyes bulged out of the orbits as he bared his teeth and became a little beast.
This is how we look when we grasp for something we hold dear — our version of “good.”
“Don’t tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand Frodo, I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.” Gandalf
Even Gandalf knew that if he took the Ring for himself, he would end up forcing his version of “good” on everyone else, and in doing so would, eventually, turn into a dark lord. He had to let the Ring go.
We all have our Ring. Our version of good. And it’s not easy to let it go. But there is no other way.
Check out my new epic novel The New Exodus: Escaping Putin’s War