*This post has been edited since initially published in 2012.
The political rhetoric we endure daily, along with the current atmosphere of political and ideological division are concerns we all share.
I was struck by a comment a friend made; it really got me thinking. In response to an article I had shared with her (which, in my defense, contained only a slightly political comment), she thanked me for the entire article, and then commented on the political portion: “you know I tend to lean in that direction.” How refreshing, I thought! It has been a long time since I’ve thought of anyone simply having a political leaning. I tend to think of everyone—including myself, admittedly—has being REALLY on the far side of the various “sides”. The concept of “leaning” implies, at least to me, that one has the option of actually leaning the other way, if so inspired. I might, for example, lean one way on one issue, and “sway” the other direction on another topic. We don’t have to get stuck in a corner or in a single track.
This, in my wee brain, is analogous to a model I worked on for nonprofit leadership and organizational structure. I envisioned a circular illustration and used a bicycle wheel to present that symbolically. In this model, the leadership team is housed at the very center of the wheel. These leaders connect to the “tire” (the programmatic impact upon community or society) via the “spokes” (processes, team, staff, volunteers and supporters), and they provide stability along with a centered source of energy and momentum, driving the vehicle (organization) forward. I illustrated rings of values, philosophy, culture and mission functioning around the core center in similar ways to a gear mechanism. These structures provide control for the momentum and direction of the entity. A stretch, perhaps, but I think it is good to occasionally think beyond the typical top/down hierarchical model and our common linear patterns.
What does that have to do with political leanings? Well, there are politics in organizations, too, and if you think of being at that center point of the bicycle wheel, with others, and then leaning (having differing opinions, perspectives, disagreement etc)…well, it is possible to do that and not throw the wheel out of balance. As long as you have some diversity in your leadership team and everyone is leaning with the somewhat equal intensity. Now, from time to time, the wheel might wobble a bit, but generally, the wheel turns, the vehicle moves forward and momentum is maintained. (yes, I do assume here that decisions do get made, so not everyone is happy all the time)
Contrast that image to say, the teeter totter, where you have folks with wildly diverse and opposing views sitting on opposite ends of the device; well what progress is every achieved? Leaning wouldn’t provide the impetus needed, the effort/force needs to be more pronounced. And what kind of movement results in the normal see-saw? First I’m up and you’re down; now they’re down and those guys are up…..so what? Nothing changes, nothing really goes anywhere, it is just an ongoing pattern. Does this at all remind you of anything ?
That last image is how I view our national political culture right now. Right and left are sitting at opposite ends of the giant teeter totter and there is an empty wasteland in the center. By moving towards center, the apparatus might stabilize long enough for us all to climb off and maybe we could then stand around for a minute or two just talking to one another. What an idea!
Do you think my image is correct, or are we less polarized than that? Is it just the extreme views that we hear about? Maybe because those of us with extreme views (yes, I can be strongly entrenched at times too) are the ones talking the loudest? Perhaps there is more Centrist thinking than we realize?
I know we can’t completely eliminate hierarchy, but I think the circle/wheel model holds some possibility, at least for some organizations. I doubt it has a chance in terms of our political/governmental arena, but getting off the teeter totter would be a good step I think.