It’s the most polarised era ever. Can we fix that?
Ok, I have enough self-awareness to know that if I knock back a couple of ouzo’s and whip up some b.s on the laptop, I’m probably not going to come up with gold every time.
That said, I think I’ve really nailed it this time. THIS IS IT. This is my roadmap to global peace. If you’re looking for an address to use in the Nobel Peace Price nomination, just use the Ivanhoe one at the bottom.
(Obviously I’m still ironing out some of the bugs, so hit me up. How can I make my grand solution for world peace more workable?)
Ok, where do we start?
The problem I’m rolling around my mind is about how polarised we’ve become. You hear people say it all the time: politics has never been more polarised.
But I also think that we all agree that we need to come together somehow, and that the great challenges of our age are going to have the better of us unless we can figure out how to all pull in the same direction.
So how do we bring these polarities together?
I have the answer.
First up, I think it’s worth recognising that our polarities are a result of a polarising system. At some point, probably around the time of Darwin, we decided that competition created good outcomes (competition between cheetahs and gazelles created faster cheetahs and faster gazelles), and so we should have competition in politics, competition in legal courts (prosecutors vs defence) etc.
So we created a system that is purpose built to host polarities.
The polarities that came to dominate the framework initially were Left vs Right. Social vs individual markets. Communism vs Capitalism.
However, no one really thinks this is the game anymore. Trump supports aren’t calling for free-market globalism, no more than Clinton supporters were calling for more state ownership of the factors of production.
At some point the polarity evolved into something connected, but different.
I was reading something interesting the other day that the polarity is now based around values. For the old Right, the dominant value is the “law of the harvest” – if you put in the work, you get to reap the reward. You get nothing for nothing and if we don’t keep working hard as a society, we’ll get swallowed up.
Its hero is the can-do cowboy. The rugged individualist, asking nothing from no one. (Think me, in suede pants.)
For the old Left, the dominant value is now ‘acceptance’. Everyone has a place, no matter how they started off in life, or how they decide to live their life. There is room for everybody. As a society we are ‘stronger together’.
Its hero is the ever-loving mother, who loves her children no matter what they do.
So I was looking at this and thinking, in what sense are these two values “poles”. They’re not necessarily incompatible. You can believe in hard work and practice acceptance can’t you?
But then I realised that these two values are always in competition.
Within the individual.
I see this conflict time and time again with the people I mentor.
The law of the harvest shapes our work ethic, and pushes us on. We believe that if we’re not slaving away, then we don’t deserve anything. At the same time your ‘acceptance’ says that’s rubbish. You’re ok. You’re perfect just the way you are.
I see people swing between these poles all time. If they’re not doing much then their work ethic starts beating them up. Why aren’t you working hard? If you don’t work hard you’ll get nothing!
This gives them the momentum to launch into a few projects. But then it starts to get hard, they have a couple of rough nights, and their acceptance gets the upper hand. Hey, it’s ok. You’ve been working hard. Take a break. We haven’t achieved anything, but that’s ok. Things are actually pretty good already.
And round and round they go.
So I feel like it’s true. The law of the harvest (think Abbott’s ‘leaners vs lifters’) and acceptance (think the progressive fixation on gay marriage) have become the dominant poles in our polarised political system.
So how do we heal these polarities in society? I think that is really the same as asking, how do we heal these polarities within the individual?
And I think this a challenge we all have to face. How do we practice self-compassion without giving ourselves permission to be a sloth? How do we inspire ourselves and drive ourselves forward, without becoming our own tyrant?
Balance, grasshopper, balance.
And to achieve balance, I think it is worth recognising the beautiful and ugly side of each pole.
For example, the beautiful side or our work ethic is that we get to live in a constantly new and exciting world, where we get to express our creativity, by reshaping ourselves and the world, over and over. Yes, this is hard work, but it is also fun, and it fills our lives with meaning. At it’s most beautiful it is pure service.
The ugly side is that work for work’s sake is boring, and too often we’ve attached our sense of self-worth to how ‘hard’ we’re working and how much we’re ‘achieving’, keeping our noses senselessly to the grindstone – too busy to smell the roses.
The beautiful side of acceptance is that we have an opportunity to find peace with ourselves. We can embrace our strengths and our faults, and just stop beating ourselves up all the time. We can banish the demons of judgement.
The ugly side is that it actually is a vicious kind of world, and you do have to fight for who you are and what you stand for. If you can’t be strong with yourself, the world will walk all over you.
So, I guess I have a vision for a world where we help each other keep these drives in check and in balance. A beautiful work ethic can be applied to acceptance when it starts tipping into its ugly side. A beautiful acceptance can be applied to our work ethic when it starts tipping towards tyranny.
If we can all be honest with this (and yes, that’s a big if) then I think we can see these drives not in competition, but as vital pillars of support for each other. One needs the other.
If we can do that, then, perhaps, we can move away from the competitive paradigm we’ve inherited, to something more supportive – something more unified.
Where we have complementary strengths rather than conflicting weaknesses.
If we can do this within ourselves, then perhaps the world will naturally follow.
And a golden age of ever-lasting peace will be born.
That’s it. Boo-ya. What do you think?
(I’m going to start booking my flights to Sweden.)
Seriously though, just playing with some ideas here. What do you think?