F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of many who have described this, but his articulation is the one widely quoted: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
It turns out that there are some cognitive studies that tend to validate this ability, whether related to ‘intelligence’ or not, as something of great importance in ‘cognitive power’ terms.
For me, the opposite is something we all are seeing everywhere: polarization. The extremes or the tendency to the extremes. In political ideas, in society, and also in positions of views and behaviours in organizations. This or that. You can’t have both, we are told. We have built an entire management system that is bipolar: cost or differentiation, quality or speed, leader or manager. It does not hold water in 2018.
Depolarizing people’s views is a key, transformative skill of leadership. Having a critical view of those poles, and being able to bring others to assess them in their own merits, is a gem of a skill. ‘The ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function’ may or may not be first rate intelligence, but sure it is first rate leadership, circa 2018 AT (Anno Trumpini)
The key, however, is not to default to the ‘half way fallacy’ either. The idea that, systematically, one has to agree that somehow the truth is somewhere in the middle. Most of the time it isn’t. Which is not a popular assertion.
Note that the sentence reads ‘ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function’, not ‘the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind and find a lower common denominator’.
Depolarizing is de-dramatizing. It’s cleaning up an emotionally charged idea confronting another emotionally charged idea about to reach a bland, plain vanilla common ground. Once uncritically landed in that common ground, you are stuck with its anxiolytic effect. ‘All is fine now, in fact we are saying the same with different words’. Most of the time this is not true. We are not saying the same at all, but our minds are crying for mercy.
Depolarizing is humanizing. It’s cleaning up the ‘ad hominem’ dust (character assassination) to bring the conversation to facts, truths and own merits.
Depolarizing is re-polarizing. It’s acknowledging the poles but finding a non-plain-vanilla-common-lower-denominator ground, perhaps higher purpose for both poles.
And yes, still retain ‘ability to function’, or perhaps going beyond that to a new, unknown common territory in which the poles don’t see that confrontational after all.