Managing polarities like divergence / convergence in a wise democracy

Polarities are seeming opposites that actually depend on each other.  Their interactions generate a lot of the energy and evolution that goes on in a system.  If we want to be wise, we don’t try to get rid of polarities; we try to help them dance together creatively and to manifest in their most healthy, life-supporting forms.  This essay points out a number of polarities that would influence how a wiser democracy would function and explores more closely some of the healthy and unhealthy manifestations of the divergence/convergence polarity.

While working on the wise democracy pattern language, I stumbled on what seem to be meta-patterns, polarities whose wise management would greatly facilitate the healthy functioning of a wise democratic culture. For the time being, I’ve stated them collectively as a single pattern, as follows:

Polarities are interdependent realities, not problems to solve. So we seek healthy manifestations of – and the co-existence, synergy, dynamic balance and evolutionary vitality between – polarities like
divergence / convergence,
self / other,
individual / collective,
material / spiritual,
subjective / objective,
immediate / long-term,
gravity / levity,
depths / surfaces,
safety / challenge,
order / chaos,

There are many approaches to dealing creatively with polarities, ways to usefully integrate seeming opposites. Consider Taoism and its yin-yang symbol that embodies the insight that true opposites define, require, contain, and dance with each other.

Or consider Hegel’s dialectic, which suggests that a proposition – a thesis – conflicts with its opposite or negation – its antithesis – to call forth a new idea – a synthesis – that resolves and takes us beyond that now-obsolete conflict.

Or consider Polarity Management which points out that when one side of a polarity starts to dominate, it triggers forces favoring the other side, and suggests that we can manage that intrinsic interdependence to minimize the dangers represented by the polarized extremes.

I found it fascinating to apply these insights to the polarities named in the pattern given above. I realized also that each side of each of these polarities has healthy manifestations and unhealthy manifestations, as well as dynamics that can manifest in either healthy or unhealthy ways, depending on how we apply and engage with them.

Finally, I realized that intelligence and wisdom can and should operate at a trans-polarity level, monitoring all this, noting when imbalances and unhealthy manifestations show up and reinforcing healthy manifestations and the feedback dynamics that can maintain greater systemic health among all polarities.

The polarity through which I entered this particular inquiry was divergence and convergence. Divergence presents us with the prospect of both creativity and chaos, whereas convergence presents us with the prospect of both harmony and stagnation. I realized that a good measure of wisdom, in a general sense, was our ability to engage such polarities in health ways – for example, serving both immediate and longterm needs, both the wellbeing of individuals and the wellbeing of communities, providing both safety and challenge, and so on.

I wanted to share this flash of useful insight, and (below) my more detailed exploration of the initial polarity that triggered this inquiry.

Blessings on the Journey we’re all on together.



>>> DIVERGENCE (opening into diversity, novelty, and/or irresolution)

Healthy – creativity, freedom, liberation, rich diversity (generating vibrancy, interest, resilience, resources), adventure, tolerance

Unhealthy – divisiveness, fragmentation, polarization, violence, chaos, disorientation, abandonment, ruthlessness, intolerance

Neutral potential (healthy or unhealthy depending on how they are handled) – decentralization, competition, self-interest, messiness, differences, inequality, uncertainty, doubt, conflict, questions, passion, emergence

>>> CONVERGENCE (closure into oneness, order and/or resolution)

Healthy – inclusion, love, harmony, deep insight and wisdom, commons, common good, common ground, compassion

Unhealthy – conformity, fanaticism, domination, oppression or elimination of the Other

Neutral potential (healthy or unhealthy depending on how they are handled) – coherence, centralization, order, unity, equality, tradition, certainty, orientation, solutions, answers, agreement, control, discipline, habit

>>> COMBINATIONS (usually manifesting as rhythms of divergence and convergence)

Dialogue and conversation, intelligence and learning, science, developmental dynamics, self-organization, evolution


CII Summer 2016 Fundraiser report: We succeeded in achieving the $10,000 needed to qualify for the Kailo Fund’s $10,000 challenge grant, so we ended our fundraiser with $21,735. Thank you so much for all who have sent your support during this effort. We are formally closing our general fundraiser but keeping our crowdfunding site open for further donations to our wise democracy pattern language project during the month of September. We encourage you to take a look at it (and its perks!) and to support that particular effort if it appeals to you.

Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
Calling forth the wisdom of the whole for the wellbeing of the whole




Please support our work. Your donations are fully tax-deductible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.