Unsolvable problems

PM Art enlarged


Polarity Management™ [cont.]

Last week we considered that Taoism offers a sublime narrative (and image) for how duality manifests underlying unity. In pragmatic terms, duality may be seen being manifested in various ways. Adding to our Western (Aristotelian) way of treating duality, Barry Johnson has made a helpful distinction between problems to solve and polarities to manage


Polarity Management
Polarity Management


YHWH – the tetragrammaton

In a previous post (Mysticism, so what?) I related that our breathing provides a reminder of the way to pronounce G-d’s Hebrew name [YHWY]. The Pentateuch begins with the proclamation that G-d’s “Spirit” [Rûaħ – wind; breath] orders creation [Genesis 1.1-2]. We all experience (and know) G-d’s Spirit immediately through our own breath. No wonder that (from East to West) ‘breath’ is an elemental feature of most mythological narratives.

Unpacking ‘breath’

So, let’s see why an Eastern approach to duality may have greater versatility than our  Western legacy. Our pedagogical programming (largely Aristotelian by default) seeks to make every duality an either/or (excluded middle) problem to solve. On Johnson’s view many problems are solvableas on the ‘technical’ side of technical/adaptive issues. Polarities, however, are a subset of adaptive issues. A true polarity is a perpetual motion dynamic, e.g., breathing is not a static problem that can be solved. Johnson writes [pg 22]:

The difficulty is not with inhaling or exhaling. Both are essential. The difficulty is the perception that they are dealing with a problem that can be solved by choosing one or the other. 

To help his readers distinguish between problems and polarities, Johnson invites us to contemplate our breath as an issue of duality. In Johnson’s own words [Polarity Management pg. 21-22]:

Breathing Is a Polarity Management Process

I would like you to try a guided experience. Inhale slowly and deeply for 10 seconds, then hold it! If breathing is a problem to be solved by choosing to either inhale or exhale, I have just provided you with a solution by telling you to inhale. Though inhaling is essential and feels good at first, you soon find yourself sinking into the downside of inhaling, filling up with too much carbon dioxide.

Now exhale slowly during the next 10 seconds, then hold it! Notice the relief as you clean out the carbon dioxide. Though exhaling is essential, you soon find yourself sinking into the downside of exhaling with a need for fresh oxygen. Now inhale again and breath naturally. 

You do not solve the exhale/inhale polarity by choosing to either inhale or exhale. You manage it by getting the benefits of each while appreciating the limits of each. It is not a static situation. It is a process, an ongoing flow of shifting emphasis from one to the other and back again. Managing this polarity requires choosing BOTH inhaling AND exhaling.

The model

With that important problems vs. polarities distinction, and Johnson’s excellent breathing-process polarity management illustration in place, we’re ready to appreciate his elegant way of imagining/visualizing polarities. So, let’s examine the artwork depicting the model on the front cover of the book’s latest edition:

PM Art enlarged

Polarities are relationships

Overall, the artwork (above) depicts an effectively managed polarity. So, let’s see how the model elegantly structures and assists in polarity management. First, in the breathing polarity, for example, the left-hand quadrants represent one pole (inhale) and the right-hand quadrants represent the opposite pole (exhale):


Polarity Management illustration 8 inhale exhale poles


The top quadrants and the bottom quadrants hold space to enumerate the positive and negative aspects of each pole, respectively. The natural correspondence of these aspects make this key relationship (top/bottom | +/- | upside/downside) simple and memorable:


Polarity Management illustration 2 upside downside

The two dark boxes aligned along the horizontal axis provide the fields for indicating the two poles of the particular polarity under inspection:


Polarity Management illustration 4 inhale exhale poles


Any polarity (e.g., freedom/equality; agency/communion; law/grace; quality/cost; individual/team; etc.) may be indicated in the two fields designed to hold the two poles. Here, we are cleanly and concisely indicating that we will be exploring and managing the breathing polarity:


PM w inhale exhale


A key upside (+) and downside (-) of each pole are included here:


PM w inhale exhale upsides downsides + -


Dynamic movement…

The infinity symbol in the model above tracks the movement of actual occasions in a well managed polarity. Note that while needing the energy of every quadrant to drive the dynamic, a well managed polarity spends the majority of its time manifesting within the upper quadrants (the ‘upside’ of both poles).

Obviously, failure to see the systemic process that encompasses polarity often produces pole-preferring partisans. So, “reformers” and “tradition keepers” are expressions seen within partisans who are still misguidedly seeing problems to solve instead of polarities to manage. We’ll begin next Sunday’s post by unpacking the internal dynamics of polarities a bit more fully. 

Next week…

We’ll pick up with Johnson’s Polarity Management™ again next time.

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?




Polarity Management cropped

4 thoughts on “Unsolvable problems

  1. I do not see the Calvinism/Arminianism conflict in our denomination as really a necessary polarity like breathing. I see it very differently. Calvinistictic mentality of “I’m right and you are wrong because I have the Bibleas I read it on my side”.excludes any integration of polarities. In fact, it is ultimately self-destructive because once they are separated from the Arminians, they turn that mentality on each other. Is there a model in which “God is love” overcomes the Calvinists’ tendencies besides catastrophe? Neither of those two options fits the breathing model. What other options are their to overcome or diminishes the polarities in which we find ourselves as a Church (and as a country)?


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