At the 2011 convention, Barry Johnson took us on a deep dive into polarities. In 2012, we built on that talk. Beena Sharma and I gave a keynote talk and a seminar on polarities and how managing them well is critical for Unity to live our vision.
A polarity is a pair of interdependent positive opposites—both being essential for some desired outcome. An example is the polarity of inhaling and exhaling. If the desired outcome is staying alive, we need to pulse between these two positive opposites. Inhaling gives you oxygen. But if you only inhale and never exhale, you will suffer carbon dioxide buildup. So we exhale and release the CO2. If we only exhale and forget to inhale, we will suffer oxygen deprivation. There is no perfect static point of finding a place where your lungs are halfway full and you can quit breathing! This is an endless dance. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale.
Polarities are like that. They flow. If you get stuck on either side of a polarity you start to experience the negative of “too much.” The ideal is graceful movement between the two. This is quite difficult, however, when dealing with polarities where we have strong (and sometimes unconscious) preferences.
There are hundreds of polarities experienced in our individual lives. Caring for Self and Caring for Others is one. Most people attracted to spiritual work, especially ministers, are interested in caring for others. Sometimes we care for others so much that we forget to care for ourselves. When we overdo the Others pole, we burn out and are no longer able to help. This brings us to the second key point: any pole used to excess undermines the very pole we most love. So in order to successfully care for others, over the longer term, we must also care for ourselves.
In organizations there are polarities as well. Standardization and Flexibility is one key polarity for Unity. Should ministries share some things in common? Should we all teach some core messages? Should we use the same branding? The advantage of standardization is that it does create a stronger brand for the spiritual seeker. People know what they are getting, at least to some degree, when they seek out a Unity ministry. This increases trust—and, if we only standardize and fail to allow for flexibility for the local community, we risk being seen as rigid or bureaucratic. Similarly, we need to honor our past (i.e., the Fillmores and the Bible) and allow for a focus on what is new and visionary. New tools and techniques and new scientific findings are all important if Unity is to be both grounded in our history and on the cutting edge of evolutionary consciousness. I imagine Charles today would be entranced by the latest science!
It is a sign of wisdom when we can see the truth in both poles. And it is a beautiful way to soften our ego-attachments. Often we have such a strong preference for the positive side of one pole (e.g., standardization) that we cannot see the upside of the other pole (e.g., flexibility). In such a case we’ll argue for the benefits of standardization while pointing out the downside of too much flexibility. We will talk in “either/or” language. We will not be able to absorb the perspective of people advocating for the value of flexibility—or to listen to what they fear about too much standardization. If they have a strong preference, they won’t hear what we value and what we fear either. Both sides end up angry and issues escalate. Such polarization can create unneeded heartache and can break down communities.
This is why Beena and I value Barry Johnson’s approach so much. It helps us soften our judgments and see our blind spots. When I draw the 4 quadrant view (see figure at top of page) of a polarity, it begins to widen my view. My heart and mind relax just enough to allow Spirit to speak. The “north pole” of the polarity then comes into play. Here I can articulate the goal. Why is it important to manage this polarity well? In our example for Unity I could say that the goal might be: “We are a magnetic attractor–radiating Christ Consciousness.” If we are too tied to one pole (either one) we will eventually undermine the thing we most love (Unity), thereby creating the “south pole” outcome or the undesired outcome. In this case it might be “Unity becomes irrelevant.”
I believe the world needs a progressive, open-minded Christian denomination at the leading edge of spiritual thinking. I have faith that Unity can be that denomination. And I believe that embracing polarities will be a crucial tool to help us do this.
For more information and related articles, email [email protected] Cindy Wigglesworth’s new book, SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, is available via Amazon.com, BN.com and in major bookstores.