Cats and Dogs
I was in a team meeting the other morning when one of my colleagues appeared on the videoconference with her cat. Everyone began to comment about how adorable the cat was. One of my colleagues, who is a self-proclaimed dog lover, said playfully: “It looks like we’re turning into a cat company.” That prompted a good-natured discussion about whether you were a dog person or a cat person. I’d say our company is evenly divided. For the record, I identified as a dog person.
I began to think about that question some more, and how easily we divide ourselves into opposing camps. I wrote last week about competition and the tendency to see the world as a set of either/or choices. In reality, much of what shows up in life are natural and healthy tensions, or polarities, where there is no right answer. Rather, there is usually wisdom in the two opposing poles of the tension. My favorite example of this phenomenon is parenting where one parent is extremely permissive and the other is very controlling. These parents usually battle it out over which child-raising strategy is superior, not realizing that they are in the middle of a natural tension that can be leveraged. People who think at this level can see that there is tremendous value in both strategies and real downsides if either strategy is overly-preferenced. Extraordinary parenting, then, happens when two mature adults honor each other and find a way to leverage a healthy paradox.
So it was with the cats and dogs debate at my company meeting. Now, of course, it was light-hearted and wasn’t really a debate. But it is representative of the thinking that dominates our discourse. We only have to look to the current political environment to see how this thinking can permeate and divide an entire nation. Where are the leaders who have the courage and maturity to acknowledge that both parties have something good to offer and that the solution to our country’s problems is in finding ways to integrate the natural and healthy tensions that will always exist in a free society? Whoever runs for President that adopts that thinking will get my vote.
Where are you currently mistaking a polarity for an either/or choice? It may be in a decision you are struggling to make. Or it may be in your own behavior. For example, I have a strong preference for challenging others, and, if I’m not careful, I tend to neglect celebrating them. I made huge progress in my own leadership when I recognized this as a polarity and took active steps to integrate the tension. Whatever your struggle, being able to distinguish between problems to be solved (that require an either/or approach) and healthy tensions or polarities (that require both/and thinking) will be a game-changer.