Seeing Both Sides Now


Fitzerald and Mitchell

“The test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

While I love this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, it is Joni Mitchell in her song,”Both Sides Now,” who moves beyond this important aspiration to capture a critical essence I need to do a better job of living by in the coming year.

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from win and lose, and still somehow it’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”
Joni Mitchell

In an environment that seems ever more polarized, centered around ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ my way or the highway, red state or blue state, 99 percent or one percent, Christian, Muslim…what can we learn and how much can we improve and optimize by studying and even embracing alternative perspectives and belief systems, even ones we disagree with vehemently? And look at that last word, ‘vehemently,’ which I inserted intentionally. Even when we do have opposing ideas, how can we remove some of the emotional acidity from them in order to better manage our self control?

It surprises me that more newspapers don’t follow the lead of USA Today, which regularly takes something akin to this approach in its editorial pages. For example on November 29th the paper ran an editorial with the subtitle, “Our View,” calling Donald Trump’s campaign “indecent.” Right next to this article appeared an “Opposing View” stating that Trump stands for “what’s right.” Six days ago the topic centered around lifting the ban on U.S.oil exports.

What if more corporations simultaneously embraced seemingly opposing perspectives? Let’s just look at the technology industry. Would there be fewer graveyards filled with former companies most millennials have never heard of simply because their leaders refused to recognize the times they were a changin’? What if they behaved with less hubris and acknowledged the market always moves onto more advanced yet simpler, and in some cases opposing ways of capturing value from enterprise computer systems, word processors, and CRM software? I’m thinking Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang, and Siebel Systems, to name a very few. Oh, you’ll hear the sob stories from employees of select companies about how their senior executives intentionally set up warring product groups that compete with each other. I mean, what’s wrong with them? Isn’t the competition outside of Redwood Shores or the Financial District of San Francisco? And yet those companies are still around, employing hundreds of thousands of employees and generating shareholder value. Yes, I know Clayton Christensen is far more eloquent than me on this topic…

And heck, since it’s Election Season and you’re about to spend a whole heap of time with family, let’s make this topic more timely for you and me.

Last week, NPR’s Morning Edition cited research in stating that “arguing with passion,” or what I’d translate to angrily telling someone they are an idiot, is not the best way to convincingly make a point. Instead, stopping and thinking what someone else’s moral framework might be, and then making your points based on that construct, is likely a better way of getting your idea across. You may regard this as manipulative. I think it’s a powerful display of empathy. Instead of  bulldozing my opinions based on what I deem important to me, I take the time to contemplate differing values and logically map to those convictions.

Because at the end of the day, and getting back to Joni Mitchell, how much of what we produce in our heads is simply an illusion anyway, much like the notion there is one objective reality? Therefore, breathe very deeply grasshopper, move beyond right and wrong, agree and disagree. Feel more comfortable not knowing or better yet not expressing opinions.

In short, enjoy your holiday.

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