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Opposites and Attraction

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Opposites and Attraction
(click for podcast) (8:59 min.)

They say “opposites attract,” and yet they also annoy, frustrate, and confuse us. That's not the happiest situation, so let’s look at this a little differently. First of all, getting annoyed is only one way of reacting. This is where choice and freedom live; that fleeting moment where we either mindlessly react according to old scripts, or consciously interrupt the knee-jerk, and drive our own lives. Freedom is more about opening doors than closing them, and questions are like opening doors, so that’s where we find our path.


Let’s re-examine that moment where things went wrong. Our partner or someone does or says something that triggers us. How are we going to deal with it? This is the moment we either react or catch ourselves. This is when we need to pump the brakes; when we feel that rush in our body; before we react and say or do something we’ll regret. This is a moment of magic. It’s an opportunity to learn from a new perspective, learn something about our partners, and grow from the situation.

In that space we can ask ourselves questions. What if their different way of being in the world offered us tools, resources or perspectives that would serve and benefit us? What if they’re able to do things that we haven't done (yet?) What if they have ideas we’ve never thought of? What if, instead of focusing on getting them to see things our way, we took the opportunity to listen to them? In the natural world, genetic diversity drives growth and evolution. Homogeneous input is kind of boring, and like genetic inbreeding; we get negative results.

It’s tricky to remain mindful enough to insert that pause, and yet we must train ourselves to ask these questions, if we’re to grow and evolve. It’s far easier to pump the brakes than to climb out of a deep hole of conflict after we’ve driven into it. We might think that sharing values solves everything, but perspectives can still be wildly different. We can “feel the same way about things,” then witness a car crash, and have different accounts of what happened. Then we typically figure the other person is wrong or crazy, and start trying to “make them see it our way.”

There’s the rub. When our processing styles collide is exactly when we need to stay in a questioning state, rather than a reactive one. To avoid them getting defensive, we want to maintain a kind of innocent curiosity, keeping things positive and moving forward.

By holding on to that questioning attitude, we’re still in the “realm of possibilities.” Until we’ve collapsed them down, there are options. Being willing to not have to have answers also takes a lot of juice out of having to be “right.” They’re very closely related. Once we jettison the illusion that being “right” somehow protects us and keeps us safe and whole (not the best logic) we’re freed from the constraints and habits that illusion puts on us. Three words: “I don’t know,” open the door to learning.

We can believe we’re right, and not have to assert it, while we hear them out. In reality, asserting being “right” only serves that illusion of safety. It separates and detaches us, placing us on a pretend higher step. Our egos are all about creating a narrative about being separate and differentiated. It all started as toddlers striving for a sense of autonomy. The first thing we figure out is how to say “no” to everything to separate us. It grows into “I’m right; you’re wrong,” and all of its variants. We try to create a sense of safety by being “above” the other person. This probably made more sense when we were three years old.

So looking at opposites attracting, going back to 17th century nursery rhymes, we have Jack Spratt and his wife as an example. Ironically, few of us remember the second two lines, which illustrate the point I’m making here. In case a reminder helps:

Jack Spratt could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.

Better together. We have plenty of examples of being drawn to our opposites, but what factors are we looking at when we decide that they are opposites, and why is it a problem? And if it’s a problem, what’s the solution?

The Bigger Picture

Even when everything else seems in agreement, that pesky processing style shows up with enormous differences: head, heart, intuition, fast, slow, internal, external, assertive, compliant, withdrawing, visual, kinesthetic, and so on. Each person is experiencing such a different world. This is where our greatest opportunities live. Rather than narcissistically assuming our way is the way, we can look at our opposites as having an important perspective that we might be missing. Each of us likely sees what’s in the others’ blind spot. We can look at them as having access to tools we’ve missed. We can see them as having solved problems we’ve never even thought about. In short, we can offer one another vast insights, resources, tools, and strategies. First we let go of the delusion that our way is the way, and then we get to grow and learn. How cool is that?!

The more impatient we get with someone, the more likely they can teach us about patience. The more activity-oriented someone is, the more likely they can teach us about taking action, and the more we can teach them about Being. When someone is so detail-oriented, they make us want to scream, the more they can teach us about crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s, and the more we can teach them to have fun and relax. The more someone seems too detached, the more we can teach them about connection, and the more they can teach us about objectivity. The pushier someone is, the more they can teach us about assertiveness, and the more we can teach them about letting people be who they are without judgment.

Turning the conflict into curiosity and an opportunity to learn and grow is wildly successful in any relationship. Everybody wins. We discover larger, more inclusive perspectives that nourish and support us. Enlightened self interest; seeking growth for yourself; can reduce the conflict with your partner and others. It bears extremely sweet fruit, including one of the most powerful tools of movement on Earth: compassion.

Want to learn more about how to become the best you possible? How your communication can hold you back or catapult you forward?
Come visit the web site, or better yet, contact me and see how we can design a program to fit your needs and desired outcomes.

     - Ian J. Blei


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