Monocultures are Fragile

DECEMBER 1 / Donna Kennedy-Glans

IN A POLARIZED WORLD, people either champion causes—like a “just" energy transition, LGBTQIA+ rights, or reconciliation with Indigenous peoples—or they fervently oppose these positions and stare down anyone who dares to think differently. You are either with me or you are against me! You either believe in man-made climate change or you are a climate change denier. People draw others who think the same way into their echo chambers, and social media amplifies the voices.  

What enterprise doesn’t face pressure to pick a side? Campaigns like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #Occupy, to name but a few, target public figures and organizations. Elected politicians and leaders of all stripes are being publicly shamed for unwise choices they made decades ago. For-profit companies that don’t speak up on sensitive issues like abortion laws and voting rules are blacklisted. Opposing forces decry these shaming campaigns as “political correctness” run amok.  

How does your enterprise respond to pressure to pick a side and take a position? Some organizations murmur meek apologies and offer up gushing promises to change; others fight back and deepen the polarity. Neither of these strategies is recommended. It’s useless to pretend that flowery language can magically transform your organization’s values. And feeding a polarity can sap your energy, and dampen the curiosity needed to find solutions.

It’s a Precarious Time

We all feel the pressure to do things differently; to fix what’s unjust and rebuild more equitably. And yet, the dominant culture being sensitive and silent and self-censoring isn’t exactly working either. We risk replacing one monoculture with another and remaining stuck in polarized thinking.  

Given this reality, what can your enterprise do to understand different perspectives (including dissenting opinions) yet avoid either-or thinking? There are strategies that work:  

First, you can accept that there are people in the world who want you on their side of an issue, and you can simply refuse to be co-opted. Be clear: Our organization is not going to wade into every polarizing issue that crosses our path. 

Second, you can think about how to allow for differences of opinion and diversity within your organization, and in your relationships with others.  Anywhere you have differences, there’s more opportunity to break out of either-or positions rather than become stuck in them.  

Third, you can accept that living beyond duality means living with paradox. Humans may be predisposed to see the world in dichotomies, but our brains are capable of handling contradictory value systems and contradictory points of view.

Chapter 3: Move Beyond Polarity, Teaching the Dinosaur to Dance: Moving beyond Business as Usual

Beyond Polarity blog hosted by Donna Kennedy-Glans and Don Hill