Creativity Thaws Polar Thinking

On a morning walk, I noticed two similar bumper stickers. The bumper sticker on the top appeared just four parked cars ahead of the bumper sticker on the bottom. The fact that both bumper stickers were black, gold and white was not, in my opinion, a coincidence.

One bumper sticker is overtly pro-military while the second bumper sticker is subtly anti-military. Here’s why I say that: a) the Army is part of the military and an Army bumper sticker would be pro-military; b) the National Society of High School Scholars was founded and is chaired by Claes Nobel, the grand nephew of Alfred Nobel, the gentleman who established the Nobel Peace Prize.

According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Peace Prize is to be awarded to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Since Claes has publicly stated “For more than 100 years my family name has been recognized as a hallmark of peace and excellence,” I am assuming his position, and hence that of the National Society of High School Scholars, to be anti-military.

Here’s the question: could both bumper stickers appear on the same car? Could they both honor and celebrate the same child? Can we simultaneously be pro-military and anti-military?

Pro-military and anti-military are viewed as polar opposites. They appear to be at cross purposes with one another. In our own lives we often times find ourselves on one side of an issue only to discover there are people who hold an opposite point of view. It’s easy to feel at cross purposes with them and their beliefs.

The hard work begins when we attempt to move beyond polar thinking, the “I’m right, you’re wrong”/”this” or “that” mode of thinking, a mode of thinking that forces us to choose between absolutes. Instead of polar thinking we could ask:

  • what other choices or options are there?
  • is there a different position we could take?
  • can we combine the opposites?
  • can we extract values from each of the opposites that we could use to build other options?
  • does a choice or resolution need to be made?

Polar thinking locks us in. It closes down our options and our choices. It invites defending what is rather than searching for what could be. To move beyond polar thinking we need to uncork our creativity and activate our brilliance.

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One Comment

  1. Jerry Knoll says:

    I’m thinkin’ your Nobel-was-against-armies, so-scholars-are-against-armies thinking is polarizing where there is no pole. Pole-lessly polarized. A more polar bumper sticker – differing from the academic one – would be the joke one that says “My german shepherd could beat up your honor role kid”.
    Just saying.

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