Polarities are a natural part of how life sustains itself. Magnetizing forces—paired ideas that interact with each other—present in various ways. As Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, “Polarity, or action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature: in darkness and light, in heat and cold, in the ebb and flow of waters, in male and female, in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals.” While these poles each carry distinctive qualities, they are also fundamentally reflective of each other. Their vitally interdependent relationship upholds the fabric of existence both visibly and invisibly.
We’ve all heard the argument of nature vs. nurture, that an individual’s identity is a combination of what that person is born with and what external circumstances influence them to become who they are. We’ve come to understand, as a society, that individuality is not entirely socially constructed, just as it’s not entirely based on a person’s genetic makeup, innate temperament, and personality.
The polarities of personality often present as victim and oppressor, the haves and the have nots, rights and wrongs, and other seemingly persistent divisions in our society. These polarities are not the source of this tension, but when we relate with the polarities through a reactionary state of operation, we can easily divide ourselves along those lines—us and them, the familiar and the other. When we don’t own our own wholeness, when we identify too much with something other than our core worth, we collapse into one pole, as in being with or against others.
This othering process is myopic in that it doesn’t take into account that our own wholeness is dependent on reclaiming the alternate pole— the person we think we are not, the other within us. When we are able to relate with each pole from a place of responsiveness, where we stand in recognition of our own innate wholeness, the experience of polarity can be one of expansion, flow, contrast, and generative transformation rather than division. Once we reckon with the paradox of how the perceived other is both distinct and a direct reflection of us, then we see ourselves in that mirror. We see everyone and everything as reflecting an aspect of ourself that we get to reclaim. Those we might have judged become guideposts for our own liberation. Our triggers become welcomed signs that we have rejected something inside us.
The idea that you are either with us or against us is a limiting lens that perpetuates humanity’s suffering. The recognition that you are us, that everyone is us, allows our self-love to humanize others into belonging. This radical inclusion allows victim, oppressor, shadow, light, wholeness, part, distinction, and universality to coexist. In this embrace, we experience the world as a continual unfolding of awe, wonder, connection, and expansion, all the while sparking inspiration in others as we shift from judgment to reflection and suffering to connection.
Leaders who embrace this approach and do the work of learning to operate from such a self-realizing state can effectively build bridges within their communities, families, and workplaces in which polarization might otherwise result in division. This bridge-building capacity comes from these leaders having first built bridges in their inner worlds by integrating their shadow parts and resolving their traumas so they can see, feel, and relate with others through their own wholeness. When leaders show up in wholeness, they can celebrate the polarizing forces as dialectical challenges and optimize the fertility of diverse ecosystems with centeredness and connection.
About the Author
Gareth Gwyn is the founder of Let’s See Labs, a think tank that is the leading advocate for the radical notion that polarity is a creative engine in organizations. Gareth brings together culture leaders who have embarked on a self-realization journey and serves as a conduit for shining light upon their stories. She is fascinated by how the work process itself offers a mirror for her own growth in learning how to more deeply love.