How can ontological coaching help reduce polarization?

Eli Szein
25 February 2022

Has it ever happened to you not to be able to attend a family gathering, get involved with someone romantically, keep friendships, or have friendly conversations with someone out of fear of having a political row or because of other people’s stands in politics?  

What I ask myself when thinking about this is: what are we missing out when we cannot talk or interact with one another? How can it be possible to reach agreements -at work, in the family, in politics- when we cannot even “stand the sight of” the person in front of us? 

Polarization can be seen in everyday life when it is hard for us to interact with people with opposite partisan identities. When coexistence with people that we consider “from the other side” becomes very difficult. We generate these partisan identities through language, by what we say (to others and ourselves) about ourselves and about each other.

Ontological coaching proposes -and it’s not the first to do so- that we create our own worlds by means of the words we use, through language. Basically, much of what we say or think is prejudice: opinions we have about reality and about ourselves, based on past experience, our personal stories, our current context, and also, on the ideas of our communities and families.

Sometimes, we even form those opinions based on previous ideas, and we end up reaching conclusions that are not backed up by any facts. But, is it wrong to have opinions? Of course not. It’s also not wrong to have different points of view.

The problem is when the opinions we have are joined together creating social and partisan identities, and those identities appropriate the rights over “patriotism” and “morality”. And this happens even when there isn’t any conceptual or historical relation between the concepts beings used: If you are “X” then you are obviously “Y”, and “Z” and so forth, a chain of adjectives that the reader will know how to fill in.

We are ourselves creating a world where there are two sides identifying with those (sometimes unrelated) adjectives, and thinking that our side is superior. What is at stake sometimes is “the truth”, “morality”, and “real patriotism”, just to give some examples.

So, what can we do? From ontological coaching practice, we always propose to ask ourselves questions.

Ask ourselves, for example, what are the facts behind our opinions.

If that which our opinions are based on are actually facts or other opinions that also need backing up.

If being “X” definitely entails that you’re also “Y”, or if the relation between both is arbitrary.

What are we missing out when we are not open to talk to others.

What possibilities are created for us and our communities when we are open to speak and listen to someone “from the other side”.

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