Dialectical Crisis

Sarah Donnini Philbeck's picture

NEWSFLASH PEOPLE: we as a nation, a society, a culture are in the midst of a dialectical crisis. We blame instead of seeking to find solutions to our problems. We shame and label one another rather than asking ourselves what it might be like to walk in our neighbor’s shoes. And I’m not just talking about this election, although the last 600+ days (no, I’m not exaggerating…fact checkers- start your engines) really have been a shining example of this. Living in a world that values being “right” over understanding one another makes it challenging to even be willing to consider another person’s perspective, let alone find a middle path. This is a recipe for conflict without a resolution, crisis that just won’t let up and, and you guessed it, problems regulating our emotions.

Before I get too excited and start talking DBT skills, let’s back up. It makes sense that we often feel resistant to seeing the world through a different set of lenses. Its much easier, faster and less painful to navigate the world in our own, comfortable little bubble. If everyone would just do everything the way I think it should be done, we wouldn’t have any problems…am I right?! Too bad my husband doesn’t always agree with me on that one. What’s the problem with wanting to fill our home with as many tiny baby animals as it can hold? Alas, I must seek the ever-elusive middle path.

As we begin to embark on this journey, we must first understand the concept of dialectical thinking. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “dialectical” as “…the process of thought by which apparent contradictions are seen to be part of a higher truth.” Remember that disagreement you had with your grandmother about whether or not it is “socially acceptable” to empty the bowl of complimentary chocolates into her purse while exiting your favorite restaurant? How about when your younger sister took it upon herself to “borrow” your car (she really had a craving for a chicken biscuit and was getting one for you too…geeze) the morning you were supposed to get to school early to make up a test. And, not to be forgotten, the cringe-worthy political “debate” between your very liberal aunt and very conservative father that resulted in you giving them both the old shrug face in fear that if you voiced your opinion you’d be judged.

I hate to break it to you…no one human in the above mentioned examples is right! Grandma never wants to be chocolate-less (I hear ya, sister) AND you don’t particularly enjoy being stared at by other regulars while they shovel down chips and queso! Girlfriend wants a chicken biscuit AND you want to pass your math class! If you haven’t figured it out yet, the key word here is “and.” All of these perspectives are relevant because they are reflective of the experience of each individual. I’m certainly not suggesting that you should give your sister unlimited access to your car and forget about your academic goals. Or that your father and aunt should agree on all policy issues. That wouldn’t be effective! And, if our goals are to understand one another, decrease conflict, build more meaningful relationships, get our own needs met, communicate more effectively and ultimately solve problems, this skill is key.

How do we do this? To start, we can challenge ourselves to be deliberate about considering other points of view. When you notice the urge to argue or defend your point, remind yourself that there are often many sides to a story and seek to find the “kernel of truth” in another’s perspective. Ask yourself – “how does this behavior or opinion make sense for the person engaging in it?” “If I were in this person’s shoes, what would I do or think?” When we consider the opposite of something, it allows us to expand our understanding of the world around us and increase our empathy for the people in it. In a time like this, thoughtfulness and improved understanding are two things we could all benefit from. And no one can argue with that.