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  • Writer's pictureDarlene Kuehn, PhD

Good People; Bad People?

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 in this is the false dichotomy of 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 (On Being), Sociologist Arlie Hochschild spoke about being curious and hearing the 'deep stories' of those whom we may, at first glance, completely disagree with. She 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. Social researcher Brene Brown talks about 'leaning in' when we find ourselves on opposite ends of a dualistic argument. As she puts it: 'people are hard to hate close up'.

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 in its era. Placing conflict in a silly frame that spring from ridiculous unexplored allegiances drives 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. Surely we can all recall from childhood an inclination toward getting locked in a "Yes!!!" ... "No!!!" argument that was based on being right and outlasting the other's tenacity. The Butter Battle Book looks at how locking in to a position and an unyielding need to be right can result in senseless escalations. I highly recommend reading it! If you would like to see it in video animation, here is the link

In my poetic exploration of the same phenomenon 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 instant publication makes us vulnerable to arguing our own perspective without regard for what the other may really be trying to say. Understanding comes out of a caring relationship, not out of argument.

This poem explores how active listening is a powerful peacemaker that we all possess if we exercise the discipline. 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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