The end of
I am right. You are wrong.
The role of coaching in broadening perspectives and ending gridlock
Recently, I witnessed my son get into a discussion about video games with a fellow third-grader in a Sunday school class, and the discussion quickly turned into a hot debate. The other child — and his father — said that a particular video game had improved the boy’s math abilities, and they felt quite correct in their choice to play the game almost daily at their house.
My son took a much different position. He said too many visits to friends’ houses got boring because those boys only wanted to play video games. They didn’t want to do other things, and they didn’t want to go outside.
Video games fry your brains and turn you into a lump, my son said.
Because I felt like the father of the other child had piled into the argument and created an unfair advantage, I was ready to jump into the fray to defend my son’s position. I was ready to pounce with points about obesity and loneliness among socially awkward teens who hide behind the games rather than learn how to get along with people.
With my coaching research fresh in my mind, I paused, seeing first hand just how quickly people take sides and go all out in a debate. It was yet another example of the ways I and my children seem steeped in a culture that is ready for an argument. In this instance, it was just video games and not even close to the hot topics of religion, politics, or child-rearing. If third-graders and their parents in a church setting could so quickly get on the brink of a charged discussion, what are we doing? What kind of world are we creating? One fraught with conflict, I fear.
Then I put on my coaching hat. I said, “Maybe both of you are right.” Later in the safety and privacy of home, I invited my son to consider this new perspective. I asked him if it was possible for both boys to be right. Could a child improve his math skills with a video game while also recognizing that too much time gaming could have negative health and social consequences? This was a new idea to my son that people could hold differing perspectives and both be right. It was new to him to consider that those who disagreed with him weren’t necessarily completely wrong. There was something of merit in their perspective. They were making different choices based on different needs, priorities, and information.
Cultivating the ability to consider broad and sometimes competing perspectives is an essential skill — and it’s a skill we can’t develop too quickly. There is too much at stake if we don’t. One doesn’t have to look too deeply into politics, current events, homes or workplaces to see what we have created with narrow perspective thinking. I call this thinking the compartments of right and wrong that keep us closed off from one another. They keep us boxed in too tightly to live peacefully amid differences.
Consider what right-wrong thinking has created in the United States:
Winning at all costs/losing is failure:
In the business, athletic, and academic realms, it can create competition to the point where winning at all costs matters to the exclusion of compassion, health, or honesty. At the very least it creates cognitive dissonance within participants as they wonder if they are doing the right thing. At its worst, it leads to intesnse stress, illness, guilt and burnout.
Those who are the losers in this either-or mindset feel failure rather than the satisfaction of learning. The fear of failure creates stress and isolation, as is seen among stressed teenagers and the illusions of perfectionism they hold. “
We have to do everything and be perfect for colleges and we have a big workload,
an 11th-grader from Ohio told USA Today for a story on the 2013 Stress in American survey by the American Psychological Association.
Most of the time we talk about how stressed we are.
The stress survey found that teenagers feel higher levels of stress than the already high levels of stress reported by one-third of the adults in the study.
Because the right-wrong paradigm creates winners and losers, it reflects the perspective that power and resources are limited. There is only so much to go around. Either you have it or you don’t. Those who have power work very hard to keep it. Those who don’t have power blame those who have power. They blame them for keeping it all to themselves. To avoid having to share power, those who have power blame those without it for their situation. They suggest that those without power only have to work harder to get it for themselves. They also accuse those without power of trying to take what isn’t theirs every time a social program to aid the underprivileged is proposed. In the end, nothing changes on a large scale, and people only seem to dig themselves deeper into the blame game.
Vulnerability is suspect:
Tight right-wrong thinking values toughness to the exclusion of emotion and tenderness because it is not safe to show any vulnerability. People who are afraid to lose and feel will undervalue emotions and dismiss tenderness. They turn off their feelings to protect their need to be right; but in the end they create isolation because tenderness and feelings are at the heart of connection, and
connection is what life is all about. (Brene Brown)
Partisanship is not simply the raw material for political spectacle and late-night parody in the United States. At its worst it becomes divided communities, extremism, catastrophizing, and the willingness to do harm for political ideals, as was the case with budget showdowns that shut down the U.S. government in 2013 and put it on the brink not paying its bills to other nations and to its own citizens.
On the right, any member of Congress who works with President Barack Obama becomes an outcast within the GOP. Republicans who are willing to compromise to end gridlock are criticized as “soft.” Hence, moderate Republicans are either leaving office or they are facing tough primary challenges from a vocal minority with deep pockets. On the left, stridency over environmental issues leads to rigidity that is unworkable and economically unfeasible. Any concessions to moderates and conservatives are cast as weakness and “caving in.” When compromise and incremental progress are viewed as losing, giving up, or going soft, the only likely outcome is gridlock.
How did things get this way?
Edward DeBono, a researcher and trainer on improved thinking skills, says the roots of our challenges today go back to Socrates, whose emphasis on argument laid the foundation for Western thinking. Socrates saw his role in pointing out what was “wrong.” He wanted the correct usage of terms like justice by pointing out incorrect usage. Aristotle added to this Western approach of argument by systemizing categorization. So when we in the West come across something, we decide which box to put it in, and something is either in one box or in another. It can’t be in both. These two influenced created an emphasis in Western thinking on analysis, judgment, and argument. It inspired admiration for being right.
The Socratic and Aristotelian approaches to thinking have their usefulness. We have benefited greatly from Socratic approaches as a way to sharpen minds and build broad understanding of deep concepts. The Socratic act of turning a statement into a question is invaluable for challenging assumptions, and it can create great comfort and confidence to know what is and what is not true. It can even be a great coaching tool. Also, the compartmentalizing of Aristotle created the structure for science and medicine to study illness and make diagnoses. Socratic and Aristotelian strategies work particularly well in a world that is stable.
But what if the situation is constantly changing? Instability and change reveal that
there is another whole aspect of thinking that is concerned with ‘what can be,’ which involves … ‘designing a way forward,’
DeBono writes. Designing a way forward and considering what can be is coaching. As coaches, we support clients as they design the way forward through three main kinds of perspective expansions:
- Expanding perspectives to solve immediate problems.
- Dislodging thoughts that leave clients stuck with a limiting view of the present.
- Transformational shifts in priorities and new perspectives on power that set clients on a new path.
Coaches are in a unique position to support clients through these shifts, and it begins with the first step of coaching: To create safe spaces for battle-weary clients to lay down their weapons. Many clients need safe spaces where they face no risks. Clients won’t try on new perspectives until they feel safe. They need a safe space to admit they don’t know the answer. Clients need the safety of the coaching space to finally say what they really think about a situation without fear of repercussions or judgment. And other clients will need the safety of knowing the coach does not have a vested interest in the outcome other than the clients’ increased progress and happiness.