Beyond Binary World Views: How embracing polarities helps leaders deal more effectively with complexity - Part 2

Published on October 6, 2022

Last month I wrote about how humans try to organize complexity into nice little boxes. Dealing with challenges, maltreatment, conflict, the pandemic, increasing scrutiny and low levels of trust requires a quality of leadership that embraces the murky waters sport is swimming in. And I am also bearing witness to courage, openness, kindness and empathy by working alongside coaches, athletes and leaders who are willing to work towards a better way. When we hold a binary stance, we tend to dismiss others, engage in partial listening (or completely stop listening), become defensive, look to blame and shame others, or try to avoid the problem altogether by hoping it will go away … none of these strategies are sustainable or reflect the values of compassion, stewardship, and belonging. Beyond a binary way of thinking, how we might we work better together towards a shared vision of healthy, human sport?

In my last blog, I shared how leaders are being called to expand beyond binary ways of holding truth towards embracing polarities. What is a seemingly opposite way of seeing is in fact complimentary. Stated differently, what I so easily dismiss as being counter to my belief will enrich and expand my worldview … giving me the gift of wholeness.

This level of clarity requires moral courage and sport needs brave leaders to lead the way through this deep transition we are currently navigating.

Part of our current binary way of holding sport is the great divide between winning and staying healthy. This false division has pitted athletes against coaches, the media against leaders, and the public against a fractured system. To help us re-imagine a healthier and holistic system that is integrated and values-driven, I wonder how we might use the practice I offered in Part 1 of this blog to help us expand our consciousness. I’m reading Power v Force by Dr. David Hawkins, a beautiful if not challenging read, that explores how we as individuals can move towards our ultimate potential through understanding human behaviour and enhancing our level of consciousness. In it, Dr. Hawkins puts forward that every act, thought and choice affects the lives of everyone. While we might be under the illusion that we live by forces we control, in reality, we are governed by power from unrevealed sources, power over which we have no control.

Confused? I know I am still trying to make sense of this seemingly binary construct. And yet, I’m not seeing them as mutually exclusive but holding them as mutually enriching. We need force to help us find the courage to work through difficult situations. And yet, that same level of force is not what is needed to get us to where we long to go. That is where the transformative power of ‘power with’ emerges. What I love about his teachings is that he invites us to be kind. It’s that simple. And that is complicated.

He shares that “without compassion, little of significance is ever accomplished in human endeavour. We may generalize to the greater social context from individual therapies, wherein the patient can’t be truly cured or fundamentally healed until he invokes the power of compassion, both for himself and for others. At that point, the healed may become a healer.” I was struck by his words as it relates to the deep divide we are experiencing in sport. In what ways might compassion be the way through which we navigate our current complexity? In his book, Hawkins shares Gandhi’s ability to communicate in a manner that galvanized the populace, and the result was the withdrawal of the British army. It wasn’t force that won the battle. It was love. While we might be conditioned to think that force is power by controlling others … true power comes from the spirit and is attained through personal development and spiritual practice. The challenge for many of us is this form of development is not encouraged or rewarded. If we want more enlightened leaders, we must reward more than money and medals.

This graph represents the states of consciousness as conceived by Dr. Hawkins.

While force is needed, in small doses, to create the momentum to change, it needs to then dissipate to allow the power of higher levels of consciousness to emerge. Levels that draw on love, joy, courage, peace and enlightenment. There is a reason we are moved when we feel empowered and shrink when we are forced into something.

It’s an embodied experience that accesses a higher level of wisdom. We are hard-wired to commune with others and to feel each other’s pain. When we access higher levels of consciousness, our differences dissipate, and we look for common ground … through shared values to stay in the conversation. As Helen Keller invites us to consider … the only way through, is through.

I recently trained under world-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Harvey Chochinov who specializes in palliative care. His life’s work is about bringing more dignity to the dying and educating the helping professionals on the importance of personhood over patienthood. What happens when we pause to consider how we might first treat the human before attending to the disease? To do so, Dr. Chochinov speaks to the Platinum Rule. Rather than treating people the way we would want to be treated as shared in the Golden Rule, he invites us to treat others the way they would want to be treated. A beautiful invitation that requires heightened levels of compassion.

Let’s make this practical, shall we? If we play with the polarities of succeeding and staying healthy, how might we expand our consciousness and heed the advice of Dr. Hawkins to access our power v force states? Here’s how I played with it, and I’ll set the context first.

I have just finished writing my second book which is now with the publisher. It was a labour of love, taking several years to complete. The topic is a personal journey through grief and loss following the death of my younger sister. As I was playing with my experience of completing the book, I noticed that being successful mattered to me. It mattered deeply because I am an advocate for greater grief and loss literacy and I have a belief that this book will be of service to the bereaved. In this experience, I also noted that when I became too focused on the outcome (being successful) I lost some of the joy of being in this project and of honouring myself, my sister Tracy, and the bereaved. What I longed to access more of was compassion for myself first. When I accessed higher states of compassion, the energy that flowed through me was gentler and I was better able to complete the project at a rhythm that did not come at all cost. Succeeding and being whole. Polarities that nurture each other. Not binaries that compete against each other.

Here's the practice that I engaged in and that is provided in more detail here:

Step 1: Name of value/strength: Succeeding

Step 2: What I valued about this quality, and what I gain…
Satisfaction of accomplishing something that matters to me
Helping and inspiring others
Being of service
Step 4: When I become excessive with this value, I would like to be more…
Step 3: When I do too much of the above, I am…
Overly focused
Obsessed with completion
Step 5: What I fear – if I do too much of the above…
Seen as weak
Not accomplishing what I set out to accomplish
Taken advantage of

Notice how Steps 2 and 4 allow me to play with polarities in a healthier way. What I need more to succeed is in fact to be more relaxed, compassionate and open. When focused too much on the outcome, I became constricted and was compromised by lower state levels of fear, guilt and pride. The tipping point according to Dr. Hawkins is the state of consciousness that accesses courage. When we are courageous enough to explore our inner world, more becomes possible. We pause. We become still. We listen. We breathe. We allow.

So how does all of this relate to the state of sport in this moment? My sense is that as we continue to navigate the turbulent waters of change, we can better support self and each other if we gain clarity on what we want more of (healthy, human sport) and how we expand our ways of measuring success (money, medals, morals, people, passion, planet). A new bottom line that feels more holistic and sustainable.

We can win medals but not at the expense of healthy, human sport. Both are mission-critical.

We move in the direction that we are being measured. Let’s commit to moving away from forceful maneuvers that feed off blame, guilt, anger, and fear and towards healthier states that require courage, neutrality, acceptance, love and peace as our essential ingredients. As we do so, we might start to shift from binary worldviews towards holding, nay embracing, the gift of polarities.

That is my hope.

Recent Posts

Advocating for a quality sport environment

The Olympic Esports Series: Esports have come a long way, but there's much further to go

The "F" Word...

Towards Sport 2.0 - A Renaissance for Canadian Sport: Part 2

Special Meetings - How it Works and Common Issues


Sign up to our newsletter.
Newsletter signup
Let's resolve your challenges and realize your vision