Imagine a society where most everyone believed the same thing. The same values. The same religious culture. The same beliefs about the economy and politics. Everyone clustered in the “middle.”
It’d be a nightmare! It’d be the absolute opposite of the ideal of diversity – that we are stronger when we have a wide range of ideas, beliefs, approaches, and expectations.
When competing, conflicting forces come together and comingle, we have to sort through the dissonance. We have to reckon with what we truly want and need. When we have more perspectives, there are more ideas and possibilities for us all. But when conflicting forces are minimized, we get lazy, lulled into complacency. Very little positive change occurs.
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It’s become a part of our daily lives to decry polarization. No one wants to move from their positions, but we can agree polarization is bad. With the way people talked about it, you’d figured polarization was the plague. Why?
All polarization is at heart is a society splitting into clusters based around different values. Think about it. This necessarily must happen if our society’s core values are to grow and evolve. In fact, you could frame polarization generally as society splitting between those who want society’s values to change and those who want to preserve what is.
If you’re in the former (as I am), isn’t polarization a sign of progress? Isn’t it a sign that more and more of us are ready for change? Do you really want us to stay the same? Or did you just expect everyone’s minds to change exactly when yours did?
Polarization is a necessary and healthy aspect of a society. Polarization allows us to grow and evolve into something new. America was deeply polarized at the time of the American Revolution, Civil War, civil rights movement, and other similar moments. That was a good thing. It was messy, difficult, and painful. But ultimately these moments of polarization have been incredibly positive force for good and justice.
This is not to say that deep entrenchment, a complete unwillingness to question your beliefs, and dehumanizing condemnation of the “other” side are helpful. They’re not. But they’re also not inherent to polarization.
Polarization does not necessitate that we get ugly and demeaning to one another. It does not necessitate that we can’t talk with one another. It doesn’t mean we have to tear apart our relationships. It simply means that we are aware of a growing divide in our core values. This can be done with grace, kindness, and sensitivity.
What if we foster more polarization, but also do so with respect, compassion, and positive regard for the “other” side? Would polarization be so bad then?