Thursday, January 26, 2012

Poles apart

The other day I was an observer at a training seminar for people who want to be life coaches. One of the activities dealt with polarities in the language we use and the way we think. It began with a little brainstorming. Participants suggested a range of polarities - day/night, life/death, right/wrong, good/bad, love/hate, open/closed - and so on. You get the picture.

It was an interesting exercise and and soon there was a whiteboard full of polarities. Two things grabbed my attention. There is no doubt that a lot of human thinking works in polarities and extremes. But this is an example of the ways in which human thought and perception are divorced from the reality of the world outside our heads.

Reality consists of spectrums of phenomena rather than simple polarities. Where does day end and night begin? Love and hate are often close bedfellows (apathy is the true opposite pole of both). Only very rarely is anything totally good or entirely bad. Truth usually lies in the confusing middle ground and our penchant for thinking in polarities often represents a dangerous simplification.

That said, there is one essential polarity that is central to human perception and thinking: that between "I" and "you", between the internal and external worlds. Curiously this polarity did not occur to anyone in the brainstorming I observed. This is particularly interesting because it is the primal polarity and imbalances here can be at the root of so many other psychological problems. When we confuse our perceptions with external realities disaster can be the result and when we fail to reach a healthy amalgam - somewhere on one of those spectrums - between our own existence and that of those around us we all too often fall into an empty world of simple polarities.

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