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  • Darlene Kuehn, PhD, R.P

Good People, Bad People?

A poetic exploration of division and polarization

It seems that there has been a lot of polarization and discord amongst people who are feeling pulled to one side or another of a heated discussion. Many of us find that we are having biting conversations with people that we care about around politics and values. These arguments are built around placing many issues and many people into one group or the other and then feeling that we must pick a side. This is causing division. The problem is created by false dichotomy and dualistic thinking. It sets up an either/or, us/them, conversation when really there doesn't have to be one.


People are very complex and there are many aspects to each person's story. When we take the time to hear a person's backstory we see a deeper context to their reasons. In her interview with Krista Tippett, Sociologist Arlie Hochschild spoke about being curious and hearing the 'deep stories' of those whom we may, at first glance, completely disagree with https://onbeing.org/programs/arlie-hochschild-the-deep-stories-of-our-time/ . Hochschild highlights the importance of regarding the emotional context and meaning of the issues in a person's story. Being compassionately curious is an important step toward developing understanding from a place of caring. In her book 'Braving the Wilderness' (2017), social researcher Brene Brown talks about 'leaning in' to hear and understand the other when we find ourselves on opposite ends of a dualistic argument. Like Hochschild, she looks at the emotional components that can fuel division when they are not given enough consideration and validation. By leaning in Brown encouraged that 'people are hard to hate close up'. While issues being discussed have emotional relevance and some things are definitely worth the debate, we can preserve relationship by seeing the one that we are debating with more generously, holistically and in context to their story.

Creative questing involves curiosity and exploration and deep wondering using the arts. I felt compelled to explore the recent phenomenon of social polarization that we are experiencing in a Dr. Seuss style poem in response to some of the vitriol flying around on social media. Dr Seuss explored similar polarizations in 'The Butter Battle Book' which, while silly in its presentation, actually looked at the seriousness of global politics and the arms race of the era. Placing conflict in a silly frame that springs from ridiculous unexplored allegiances drove home the point that argument that leaves out regard for the humanity of those involved is at the heart of troubling escalations. At the root of deep conflict is an unwillingness to at least consider the other's perspective from their point of view. For example, most of us can recall as children getting locked into a "Yes!!!" ... "No!!!" argument that was based on being right and outlasting the other's tenacity. The discussion is lost and the conflict takes over. The Butter Battle Book looks at how locking into a position with an unyielding need to be right can result in senseless escalations. The grave concern is that escalations can result in name calling. Name calling erodes vision of the other person's humanity. This is captured in Dr Seuss's very silly, very serious story. I highly recommend reading it! If you would like to see it in video animation, here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYQtyMcsf9c


In my poetic exploration of the same phenomenon of polarization I began with the question: 'Good People; Bad People?' Similar to Dr Seuss's inquiry, I wanted to explore the dichotomous thinking of recent years that has become accelerated through social media in that personal distance and instant publication make it easy to argue our own perspective without regard for what the other may really be trying to say and why. In so doing we risk losing sight of who they are. Understanding comes out of a caring relationship, not out of blind argument.


In this poem, I explored how active listening is a powerful peacemaker that we all possess if we exercise the discipline through kindness and curious interest. Active listening provides the ability to 'lean in' and hear the deeper stories. Here is the poem.


Good people, bad people

Right people, wrong people

Stay with them short and stay with them long people.

People now out, who once were all in,

People who hurt people, people who sin,

those who are ignorant, those who condemn,

We are all us, and they are all them.


Dumb people, mean people

arrogant too!

Those with too many, those with too few.

People who judge, people who lie

those who are crooked, and those who malign.

It is them over there with no morals or spine,

while we over here are the ones with a mind!


We sit in our chairs, our swings, and our beds

our cars and our bicycles, houses, and sheds

We work up our dander's,

We fluff up our prides

We feed on our passions and retreat to our sides.


Our place on our high ground all feathered with friends

Our perspectives we hold to, dig in, and defend!

We’ve all earned the right by knowing the way.

It is we are good, while they’ve gone astray!

We fire up our screens, our posts and our blame,

We have something to say, and people to shame!


But wait!!!


Good people, bad people?

People to shame … ?

… but where are the people who know we’re the same?

The people who listen, who sit there and see

That you are just you, and I am just me?


We are all good people with limited view

Who fumble and blunder while trying to be true.

We get some things wrong, and others quite right

We have part of the puzzle and just some of the light.


If I see from their story rather than mine

I may see their reasons, their hearts and their minds;

And that I am like them, and that they are like me

So, giving them credit gives credit to me!


Looking and seeing, and hearing again

To the stories of people who get under our skin

Sitting and thinking and stopping to care

Will teach us that they are just us … over there.


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