Donna Zajonc, pronounced as SAY-JOHN, served for three consecutive terms (1978-1984) as Oregon State Representative. She has authored the book “The politics of hope: Reviving the dream of democracy” and has been recognized as one of Ten Outstanding Women of America.
She’s now a political leadership coach and is committed to changing the political culture and renewing the nobility of public service. As a leadership coach, Donna prepares elected public officials, political candidates and even business leaders.
In her November 2011 newsletter, Donna delved on a topic that should be of interest to many Filipinos because it provides valuable insights in resolving conflicts. With Donna’s kind permission and that of the Bainbridge Leadership Center, let me share her article with you.
Leveraging conflict and polarizing differences By Donna Zajonc
“Everyone is so polarized!” is a universal statement these days. Whether it is Congressional battles between the Republicans and Democrats, fights between the NBA owners and players or blame over the world-wide financial collapse, almost all of America (and the world) seems stuck in polarizing conflicts.
The puzzling question of why there is so much conflict in the world seems to cause even more conflict. The more we focus on all the chaos, the more stress and conflict we feel.
Over the years as a leadership development coach, I have observed that beliefs about conflict can limit us. If we see conflict as bad and believe that the chaos is going to derail what we want, then that surely will happen.
This viewpoint can limit the effectiveness of our leaders and initiatives. If we can learn how to leverage different perspectives, we can successfully learn to work together.
All of life is based upon polarity — male and female, night and day, love and hate, life and death. From the beginning of time, philosophers, poets, sages, religious teachers and even songwriters refer to the eternal dance between opposites.
The attraction between opposite forces delicately binds us together in dynamic tension similar to how a high sailing kite uses the brisk wind to soar. How do you, as a leader learn to leverage the natural law of polarity so that it is like the wind that flies your purpose?
Consider three strategies that can help you leverage the differences between polarizing points of view and be a more effective person and leader:
1. Shift your viewpoint that polarization is bad and understand the creative forces that are available within opposing energies;
2. Let go of resisting what you don’t want and focus on what you do want and
3. Take a long term view.
Shift Your Viewpoint About Polarization: Polarization allows us to see contrasts. From the contrasts we can distinguish between what we want and what we don’t want. This is progress.
By celebrating the state of our differences, we see more clearly and are able to choose our direction. As citizens, when we leverage our political polarization, we often end up with better options and discover new directions!
It may be a stretch to ask you to see the beauty in conflict yet that is what I am suggesting. Conflict magnifies what you don’t want and don’t like so you are able to consciously turn your attention and actions toward what you do want.
Focus on What You DO Want: Gandhi’s famous quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” is based upon this principle. Yet, many citizens believe they must confront what they believe is wrong in the world with the same anger and tactics that created what they don’t want.
Going on the offensive against the “dark” forces we oppose will turn us into a mirror image of that which we oppose and wind up creating more polarizing energy. What we resist persists, and if we continue to focus on what we resist, we will attract more of it.
Many political activists have spent their lives marching against war. While ending conflict and suffering is a worthy goal, their energy is still focused on what they don’t want: WAR. If they were to focus on what they do want, peace, they would create more peace in their lives.
Our political parties are classic examples of demonizing what the other party stands for rather than being clear about what their vision and programs are. Using these tactics the leaders of political parties cause an equal and opposite reaction, which results in more polarization.
If we lose the opportunity to learn from the contrasts that differences bring to the surface, nothing will be gained and the opportunity will be lost. Building upon what we learn from the conflict turns what we don’t want into a forgotten memory.
Take The Long Term View: Veteran Hawaii State Senator Les Ihara says he acts based upon a personal 40 year plan. That’s an eternity compared to most leaders, but pales in comparison to the Native American approach of leading based upon the needs of seven generations.
Thinking and acting based upon a far-reaching view allows us to remove ourselves from the polarizing details of the moment. Bogged down in emotions and reactionary attitudes, we sometimes forget about the progress that has been made over the long run.
When you feel overwhelmed with details or are attached to your point of view, take a walk in nature. Notice a rock that is thousands of years old, or a nearby mountain that may be millions of years old. Then think again about whatever has you upset and angry. A new perspective settles in very quickly.
Challenging times presents a choice to us: do we want to act and lead from the human characteristics of judgment, fear and hate, or, do we want the best of human nature to prevail based upon wisdom, vision, inspiration and love?
Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams, wrote this letter to her young son and challenged him to see that polarizing times can be a blessing:
“These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great character is formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”
Abigail knew that leveraging the polarizing perspectives of the Revolutionary era formed a vigorous mind and nurtured the qualities of great leaders. Shift your viewpoint. Let go of resisting, as you take a long-term view. Consider these strategies while you leverage conflicts, embrace differences and become a more effective leader, citizen and person. (End of article)
In a conflict-plagued country like ours, we should try these tips.
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