“Help us!” says one of the sisters to my friend Penny following the 2016 election.
“The conflictual division that has occurred since the elections has devastated our family emotionally,” says one of eight sisters in a family where there is a gap in the middle; four sisters voted for Hillary Clinton, and four sisters voted for Donald Trump.
When Penny tells me that she will go and help them, I say to her:“You know Penny, I feel that I was born to do just that!” Indeed I feel that I was born in the middle of a World War with a calling to assist people in bridging the gap.
As a result of that election the gap was everywhere. The February 12th issue of the Washington Post printed an interview by Joe Heim with Kellyanne Conway.
A week later, the February 19th issue printed two letters starkly illustrating the need to bridge the gap:
- One letter was by Hilary S. Bronder, from Ridgewood MD. It said: “I enjoyed this article about Kellyanne Conway, and have agreed with much of what she said, especially the news media’s [poor] handling of this president.”
- The other letter was by Mike Phillips, from San Antonio, TX. It said: “You make this evil woman sound like Mother Theresa. Shame on her, the Trump regime and those who, through their writing encourage her kind of despicable behavior.”
I look at both letters and I know what automatically occurs within me. I reflexively want to “vote” and to choose the opinion that most nourishes my own point of view. Strangely this habitual, automatic reactive “voting process” only feeds the polarization, and ultimately grows the size of the gap, and separates us further.
In her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and the Art of Living, Krista Tippet says: “I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity of each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinion will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.”
And so, what is possible between us?
What is possible between us is what my wonderful father, Leo Muszkal, called the “Third Option”. He used to say: “When there are two options….pick the third.”
The Third Option reveals itself only through the committed journey of being in connection. It is a provocative, creative, innovative, inspired, ingenious and productive idea born out of the soil that the 13th Century mystic poet Rumi calls the “field.” He wrote: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing and ideas of wrong-doing there is a field. I will meet you there.”
Rumi’s “field” invites us to forge new life from the rich soil of conflict. I always teach couples: “Conflict is your friend. It is growth trying to happen. It is maturation knocking at your door. It is pointing you in the direction of your next steps in becoming an adult.”
It’s important to point out the distinction between a “grown-up” and an “adult.” A “grown-up” is a big person with a little child inside.
“The adult” is a person whose inner child has grown and the person is integrated, balanced, individuated, and relationally mature. I define committed, engaged and productive relationships as a “living laboratory” for the creation of adults.
In this “living laboratory” people can boldly take on the challenges of solving complex problems which have no easy solutions, and arrive together at new, creative and provocative Third Options. A compromise in which both sides win, but also both sides lose, is not a Third Option. A Third Option is where everybody gains.
Here are two examples of “Third Options”:
A Third Option called The European Union:
France and Germany were enemies and fought each other for many centuries. At the end of WWII, Charles de Gaulle wanted France to occupy parts of Germany in perpetuity. There were many French who supported him and many who opposed the idea.
The Congress of Europe that convened in 1948 under the chairmanship of Churchill by the European unification movement, exposed a deep split between pro and anti unification supporters. The establishment in 1949 of the Council of Europe, which consisted of both pro and anti unionists, provided Robert Shuman, the Foreign Minister of France, with the framework for coming up with the idea of integrating the French and German Steel and Coal industries into an organization, which eventually resulted in the European Union.
An Economic Third Option for the new South Africa:
The Mont Fleur scenarios exercise undertaken in South Africa during 1991-92 was innovative and important because, in the midst of deep conflict it brought people together from across regions to think creatively about the future of their country.
So how do we “bridge the gap”?
We need to connect with each other, as did the family of the eight sisters, by visiting each other on both sides of the bridge. It is vital for us to embrace “three invisible connectors”:
- the sacred quality of the Relational Space between us
- the Bridge that connects us all
- the Encounter – the domain of deep connection
When we embrace these “three invisible connectors” the experience of our deep connection as human beings supersedes our opinions, beliefs and convictions. We get to see the full humanity in ourselves and in everyone else.