Thursday, August 11, 2011


In earlier posts on Transitional Thinking (Wed., April 20), I described the differences between Problems and Polarities. When an organization’s operational system does not distinguish between the two, anxiety heats up. In the frantic search for solution, finding someone to blame becomes crucial.

To review, a Problem can be solved. People involved in a tiff can be brought together and held accountable. (Gossips must also be held accountable.*)

A Polarity, however, requires management because “there are two complimentary dimensions, which are always in tension and need to be appropriately balanced for the context.” Sometimes we want hot water, sometimes cold, both appropriate desires.

Members of a family age and leave for their own households. But they carry with them the learned pattern of knee jerk reaction/shouting, or calm/quiet waiting for explanation: two system extremes. To qualify for the middle you react to anxiety-producing stimuli by going on alert, but ask “why” or “what is the matter here” before you respond.

An organization like a congregation is composed of individuals who learned how to handle anxiety from their families. Every group we have encountered contained individuals demonstrating both extremes and the middle. We have experienced congregations whose corporate character tilted from productive Problem solving and Polarity management toward reactive chaos.

Organizations with ineffective systems neither resolve the Problem nor explore the contrasting dimensions of a Polarity. They hover anxiously. Anxiety becomes the modus operandi; the organization deteriorates as it must. (The word dysfunction has been misused as the blameworthy cause.)

An anxious group may find temporary relief when new leadership demonstrates and demands behavior change. But when the leader departs, if the group does not own its new insights, the system may return to former patterns like a hard ball on a rubber band. If you’re the next leader, watch out! You’ll get the “icks.”

* Romans 1:28-32 “Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives.”

The Message

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