Jung’s articulation of polarity theory in psychology has been an inspiration to many social scientists in the intervening years. A useful development in the context of this study has been applied in the business world and other conflict management settings. A conflict resulting from differences of perspective based upon important values that are in a polar relationship cannot be “solved,” it must be “managed.” (Polarity Management __)
Each pole has both positive qualities and, in its extreme form, qualities considered unattractive. In a situation where people are holding tightly to one pole to the neglect of the other, chances are that they fear the “down” side of the opposite polarity, not its “up” side. What most people in such a situation do not realize, however, is that clinging to one pole not only results in the “down” side of that pole, it ultimately (in reaction) brings about the down side of the opposite pole – the very situation that was feared.
A good example is the polarity of “stability” and “change,” which appears in any number of situations. People holding on to stability value continuity, familiarity, relationship, predictability, knowing the rules. They fear the “down” side of change, which could result in chaos, broken relationships, undue risk. Those who are promoting change see its positive values – energy, sense of accomplishment, movement, growth, new people to get to know. They tend to fear the downside of stability – stagnation, low energy, rigidity, boredom (when I did this exercise with a church Board, they unanimously mentioned boredom!)
I think of my daughter at not quite two years old, in the Thieves’ Market in Mexico City. Bored with her parents’ preoccupations, she looked around, and spied a musician a few stalls away. Before we knew it, she had disappeared in pursuit of her new fascination. We missed her almost immediately, and hit the downside of “change” running – literally. Even we knew the Thieves’ Market was no place for a child to stray! Before we had time to fully panic, though, we came across a huddle of colourfully dressed Mexican women, and discovered that their focus was our child. They turned on us as one, and we got an earful in several languages about how negligent we were before they dispersed their protective circle, returning her to our care. Cosseted by friendly strangers, our daughter didn’t react as many children who have been lost do – by becoming overly cautious and clinging to the “security” pole for some time to come.
The protectiveness of those women, who were strangers to us, had grown out of their own fear of the downside of change in an environment where the unknown was more likely to be dangerous that not. This can be a realistic adaptation, yet like any adaptive behaviour, it can be carried over into situations where it is counterproductive or life-limiting. We, on the other hand, young and confident and enjoying giving rein to our sense of adventure, were more casual about security than the situation warranted. Thanks to the solidarity of mothers across cultures in looking out for children, no harm resulted.
All the polarities to be reflected upon in later chapters lend themselves to the model of polarity management. Each pole has positive qualities, all of which contribute to what it means to be human and engaged fully with life. Each also has a downside that embodies the fears of those who favour the opposite polarity. So the dance of polarities is not simply a partnership, but an infinity sign, for encountering, or fearing to encounter, the downside of one polarity leads us to reach for the upside of its opposite, but if we cling to that side too long or too hard, we find ourselves experiencing its downside, which may make the “upside” of the first polarity look quite appealing! If we keep clinging to one side, we are likely to end up experiencing the downsides of both qualities. Much harm can come as a result.