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The impossibility of taking a position

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Lately, I’ve found myself in a conundrum.

I find myself wanting to find positions to take, assertions to make and defend and add to the public conversation. In such a turbulent, divisive time, it feels important to be clear on where I stand, rather than hand out platitudes and equivocations. Not to mention that strong opinions get more clicks.

But the deeper I look at the issues of our time and the more I attempt to expand my consciousness and awareness, the more I see that for every position worth making there is an equal, opposite, and conflicting truth.

It is important that we as a society choose to care for all of our fellow citizens and advance the common good. It is also important that individuals take care of themselves and practice self-reliance.

We must preserve the presumption of innocence in our justice system in order to protect civil liberties. It is also important that we believe victims even when they don’t have hard evidence.

Money shouldn’t determine whether people have access to healthcare, good food, clean water, education, and equal opportunity. And it is healthy and useful to have systems of reward within our society, motivations to spur hard work, innovation, and self-reliance.

Prisons should rehabilitate, not punish. Prisons should also be unsavory enough to be a strong deterrent for criminal action.

Love is the most important part of life. Fear protects us from danger and is also essential to life.

The list goes on and on.

Nearly every truth imaginable is just one side of a greater whole. Nearly every position worth taking has valid and compelling counterpositions. In fact, this is the tenth of the 15 Commitments of Conscious Leaders:

I commit to seeing that the opposite of my story is as true or truer than my original story. I recognize that I interpret the world around me and give my stories meaning.

In some ways, “being the change” is in holding our beliefs less tightly, acknowledging that the “other side” has its own truths which are valid and of value. But in other ways, “being the change” is standing strong in our beliefs and speaking truth to power.

Can we speak truth to power while at the same time acknowledging the inherent incompleteness and flaws of our truth? How?


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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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  1. Daniel Shaw-Cosman

    Wonderful!

    My spiritual explorations have led to me to a concept: ‘positionalism’, which is basically where we lay claim to our position within the landscape that is ideology. We defend our position, encourage others to join our position, and, generally, speak negatively of those whose position does not align with ours.

    What I’ve learned is that position is just another way for us to suffer. In Buddhism, we’d call this attachment, but I think position is a stronger way to say the same thing. By locating ourselves within the ideological spectrum, we are automatically creating an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ conflict and this will always lead to suffering for both parties.

    I continue to work very hard to avoid positionalism and instead, pick and choose what I like from this camp and that camp, never taking any of it too seriously (after all, they’re just ideas…) and realizing that I have NO power over others, so don’t bother. I still stand up for myself, but no longer is my intent to invite them into my camp in an active manner. Should they be interested, they’ll let me know.

    A truly evolved species will forgo such silliness as fighting over ideas. It’s coming, too.

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