What is Polarity and Why Should I Care

In this blog Polarity is defined as the ongoing tension between two opposing imperatives. These two imperatives are oftentimes seen as opposites, but this is at best unhelpful if not totally incorrect. From a Hindu perspective, Polarities are an artifact of our dualistic worldview. As such our world is rife with polarities. They particularly abound in the spiritual realm.  The only problem is that Polarity is not an easy concept to explain or comprehend fully.

I’ve often said that all models are wrong but some models are useful. For rich concepts like polarity, that means it takes more than one model to  provide an adequate picture. None of the models completely describe polarity, but all of them provide insight into one or more key aspects of the concept.

polarityModel 1:

In this drawing, the two stick figures represent the opposing imperatives. What makes a Polarity unique is that, as shown by the drawing, if either side wins both sides end up in the mud.

Model 2:

Another key aspect of Polarity is the importance of perspective. As it turns out for polarities, people tend to line up on different sides of the tug of war depending upon their worldview.

This tendency can be illustrated by another simple diagram, a simple box drawn in perspective like this.

boxThe thing about this box is that some people will immediately see a box whose front is down and to the left of the back. Others will see a box whose front is up and to the right of the back. With a little practice it’s fairly easy for most people to flip the box in their mind seeing it first one way and then the other.

But it can become much harder when we put labels on the faces.  Labels like this:


As soon as we add the labels people begin to care which is the front and which is the back. Some people see Security as critical, and yes Freedom is important too but sometimes it needs to take a back seat. Other people see the reverse. For them Freedom is critical, it’s always critical. Life without freedom isn’t worth living.

The fact is we need both and if either becomes too dominant, too powerful both are lost. That is what Polarity is about and what makes it so critical that we recognize when we are dealing with a Polarity. Whenever we are we need to recognize that a complete victory by either side represents a defeat for both. Can anybody say Red state, Blue state…?

Model 3:

This model comes from mathematics and is called a Moebius strip. A Moebius strip is a surface that has only one side and one edge.  As shown in the figure on the left, the strip has been joined into a loop with a twist that connects the original two sides into one. For clarity I’ve shown the inside of the loop as purple and the outside of the loop as blue; the two colors  merge at the twist.

So what might the Moebius strip have to tell us about polarity? If you cover the right half of the figure, you see two independent sides or poles represented by the Back and the Front of the strip. It’s only when you see the twist on the right side of the sketch that you can recognize the connection. From that perspective the two sides of a  are merely different views of the whole.

This implies that the interdependence between the poles of a polarity results from a deep connection between them.  The two poles are actually aspects of a single entity, an entity which we have not named. Returning to the sketch, this connection exists whether or not we can actually see the twist connecting the poles. This means that choosing one pole invariably carries the other pole along as an unacknowledged aspect of our choice.

To review, I believe that three models are required to provide a clear picture of Polarity.  The first model explains Polarity in terms of a tug of war such that if either side wins, both sides lose. The second model is a three dimensional cube drawn in two dimensions. People tend to see one of the sides as clearly in the front while the other is clearly in the back. That is people tend to attach more significance to one pole that the other. Both of those models presented the poles of a polarity as two entirely distinct entities. The third model shows that the two poles are intimately connected at some level whether or not that connection is immediately visible. This implies that independently selecting one of the poles is in fact impossible.

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