What’s this? It’s my system map of our current social situation. Looking at the relationship between elements often brings clarity because you see a system, a set of relationships, rather than just isolated parts.
Your system map might be different and either of ours might change with time, but here’s how it looks today.
The Purple and Green figures facing each other are the unchecked feelings of polarization we see around us. They’re the antipathy between the vaccinated and the not, Trump and Biden, CNN and Fox News, vaccine passport enthusiasts and those who want nothing to do with it. These two are facing off, at odds with each other. Although many polarizations can come in here, for simplicity’s sake I’ll choose what for me is the current and strongest one: the rift between the vaccinated and the not.
A polarization tends to form in the social field when people feel unsafe and threatened and don’t see an easy way out. It’s stronger when it’s been going on a long time and the parties are stressed. Then there’s pressure to push back against the offending other.
If Purple and Green representatives were side by side or facing in opposite directions, they would suggest a different meaning. But here their positionality is not neutral with respect to each other. I read into this tableau that the two polarized parts, facing each other as they are, have strong feelings. Each projects onto each other a sense of “I’m right and you’re wrong”, or “I belong and you don’t”. This is the same tendency that carried to extreme leads countries to go to war. It can lead parts of society to scapegoat others too. We’re clearly not there yet but, lest we become complacent and forget, we’ve not outgrown scapegoating . Germany in the 40s, Rwanda, Cambodia, the Rohingyas and Uyghurs, the Roma all show us that.
The Yellow square is observing the face-off from outside. It’s involved as a witness but it doesn’t take the side of either of the others. It’s able to resist the tendency to lose itself in the blame game. Because it’s not lost in the polarization it’s able to see more and know more.
The Yellow representative is an adult perspective. It doesn’t become embroiled in blaming the others. By contrast, the Purple and Green are relatively immature. Like all polarized parts they feel pressure to resort to unresolved dynamics from the past in order to justify their rejection of the other. Because they haven’t
Here’s what may be the most dynamic and valuable part of all this: The three colors represent positions or stations, not immutable characteristics. People can be in one position, then another, then the third. We can shift between one position and another – and we often do over time. We can intentionally move to another place to check it out too. In fact in a system that feels stuck or uncomfortable it really helps to intentionally try out the other positions.
In this case you’d put pieces of paper or some other placeholders on the floor and stand in each of the positions. See how it is to be there with the others. You can start and end in your preferred position and return to it to see if anything changed.
Taking multiple perspectives tends to shift each one of the parts, bringing insight and clarity as to what’s happening. This work can also be done in a group in which individuals stand in to represent the different positions and report on what they’re experiencing. I’ll be starting such a group shortly and will tell you what I have in mind next week.