The Creative Energy of Difference

When systems fall apart suddenly our challenge is to act from a place of wisdom and clarity rather than from fear.  Reactive solutions based on fear or greed tend to bring forth polarized approaches each with inherent flaws.  On one extreme protectors of old paradigms push for a return to the harshest of their principles such as fundamentalism in religious institutions or increased militarism the world over.  On the other extreme are those whose solutions are born out of pure reactivity and judgment of the former paradigms, limiting their vision as well.  It is important to remember that differences can be a source of creative energy and innovative solutions.

In the natural world biological diversity has been long understood to be an indicator of the health of an ecosystem.  The broader the range of flora and fauna, the more stable the system; not stable in a static way but stable in the dynamic way that the ebbs and flows of natural variations in rainfall, climate, feast and famine are gracefully accommodated.  Yet our human systems have tended to be by comparison rigid and static; far less adaptive and responsive to change.  Nature also hedges her odds by providing a variety of DNA within species, offering a breadth of potential adaptations if needed for survival. 

Just as a variety of species provides the diversity needed for survival during changing times in the natural world, diverse perspectives, analytical styles, and human talent is what is needed to provide the innovations that can help us survive or thrive in a time of global change.  But to utilize the capacities inherent in diversity we need to be comfortable with those who act and think and see the world differently than we do and we need to know how to harness the energy inherent in those differences.    

Clues to how to do that are inherent in our experience of sexual energy.  What draws us to each other is difference.  In the biological world of attraction, when we enter a room of strangers, our pheromones draw us to the side of one whose DNA is pleasingly different from our own.  While personal preferences, vows of fidelity, class differences, personality and unmet needs from our family of origin might contribute to whether we give that party the time of day, biology draws us to each other.  Chemistry is also helped by the contrast of anima and animus, masculinity and feminity.   As writer on the art of passion David Deida observes, “Feminine and masculine attract each other, creating a whole. ” 

At its best the sexual crucible, the tension of opposites, excites us and provides fodder for creativity.  The compliments inherent in love and freedom, embracing and letting go, radiance and presence, help each gender to balance and mature energetically and spiritually.   It is not until we can stand naked in our own truth that we can experience the joy of being fully seen.  Hiding our differences and melding into a homogenized amorphous state diminishes our creative potential and sacrifices self.  Differences damped down or denied provide temporary homosasious, but there is a seed of destruction when any aspect of true self is denied.  Sooner or later that self emerges but by then too often in the dark shadow form of its manifestation.

What doesn’t fly apart expands human experience and potential.   Deep sex has the potential to transport both lovers to a sacred space.  Yet sex that violates has the potential to fragment our soul.  The challenge in the bedroom or the board room is to master being present and fully engaged within the context of difference.  As a therapist it is always been an honor to witness the sacred space created when two people figure out how to have the courage to show up in their uniqueness, greet one another with the spaciousness that allows the other to be themselves, and to have their truth be witnessed without projections muddying the clarity of the experience.

Angeles Arrien observes in her book The Four Fold Way, “Indigenous peoples have long recognized that the only constant is change, and that the principle of interdependence is essential for survival.”  To devise interdependent solutions we need to be comfortable with difference.  To be comfortable with difference we need to be at ease with ourselves.  To be at ease with ourselves we need to acknowledge and own our internal diversity; when we have been the hero and when we have been the coward, where we lead and where we rebel, what we nurture, what we deny. From the spaciousness created by owning our light and our shadow selves we are less threatened by people who are different us and can collaborate more effectively with them.

Creative collaboration requires from us the willingness to express ourselves impeccably:  with clarity but with respect to others who may not share our view.  It also requires us to be curious and open to someone else’s truth.  To give birth to a new era…to become the change we want in the world…we need to honor both ourselves and each other.


Change Masters:  Harnessing the energy of difference


A glimpse at headlines provides enough of a reminder that our economic, political, social and security systems are not serving us well.  In times of crisis and flux what is needed is not more of the same, but innovative solutions.  New ideas are not generated by people who think alike or who have personal or economic investments in maintaining the status quo.  More heads are better than one and to find a way out of the mess we are in I think we need to tap into a wide array of perspectives and talents.

Harnessed, the energy of difference is synergy:  creative, transformative, inclusive and mutually beneficial.  But without wisdom differences can lead well meaning people down a path to chaos, misunderstanding and enduring conflict, which may be why less dynamic systems have prevailed to date.   To find solutions for the mess we are in we need creative collaborations but to collaborate at the highest level we need certain competencies. 

One prerequisite to harnessing the energy of difference is healthy self esteem.   Each party needs to know and value themselves. The first piece of advice on the temple at Delphi was “Know Yourself”. This means knowing your strengths and weaknesses; being aware of your bias and blindsides.  In North America, it usually requires resolving your issues with shame or pride or they will get in the way.

Another requirement is passion. Each party needs to be passionate about the mission of the team and see its relevance.  This provides intrinsic motivation for everyone to contribute their best.  Caring deeply about something encourages us to put our heart into it.

A shared vision of the desired outcome focuses intent and action.  Concrete, multi-sensory descriptors of the desired outcome can facilitate reaching the goal.  Agreeing on the method for getting there is not as important as continuing to hold the outcome in mind.  Trial and error will find the most effective path.

 The different gifts that people bring to the table provide the fodder for innovation through cross fertilization of ideas.  Varied talent and perspective offer more alternatives.  Mutual respect and goodwill encourage each person to bring their best to the task at hand for the benefit of the common good.

Synergy thrives in a context of adaptive leadership.  Leadership is not fixed but dynamic and adaptive throughout the process.  The party with the most relevant skill, or leadership style, takes the lead during phases and fades to follower during other phases.

Perhaps the most important skill that synergy requires is self-regulation.  All parties share responsibility for harmony of the group.  The second piece of advice at Delphi was “Nothing in Excess.”  One talking head that dominates the conversation can derail the creative process.   One bad apple can spoil the whole basket and a sour, negative, or high-maintenance person can drain the creative potential of a group.   All parties need to be attuned to each other; aware of and responsive to each other and take responsibility for information exchange. 

There are masters of synergy around us already, people who are already expert at harnessing the energy of difference to reach a higher potential.  I once took a class in musical improvisation with saxophonist Paul Winter.  I attended because I admired the hauntingly beautiful music that he and his consort created.  But as I watched him artfully open non-musicians such as me to the creative potential within and at the same time gracefully guide the musically accomplished to create space for others less accomplished than themselves, I realized that it was ultimately his humility that allowed creativity to flourish, and that as best as he could, he was guiding us to do the same.

Skiing in Colorado on a slope shared by service men in training I overheard a leader comment about a young man skiing down a precarious slope below the lift I was riding.  The leader referenced the younger soldier as a “wonder boy” and from the context and tone I gathered that the leader understood that what risked this young man’s life was not the slope, nor the missions that might await him on the other side of the world, but his own inflated sense of self.  Self-esteem and courage are essential traits in a warrior but bravado can compromise a team rather than complement it. 

Healthy attached families, lovers that honor their differences, masters of improvisational theatre and awesome sports teams also exemplify the capacity to harness differences for the common good.   We already have the potential; we just need to do it.

Radical Roots

Radical Roots

Roots reaching deep drawing up nourishment
This world needs all minds
Mines of understanding

Succulent ideas below the surface of consciousness
To feed a world starving for sustenance
Meaning that is more fulfilling than the bottom line
Hope that is an antidote to addition

Roots spreading, holding soil to hills,
Creating something out of nothing but earth and sun
A riparian buffer of good sense,

One clear brook running into another,
Tumbling together to the sea,
Weaving the clarity of many sources,
Clearing the channels

The river flows where it flowed
Before the mountains rose
Water finds a way around stone
Persistence matters

A river of discourse is powerful enough
To create soil from bedrock
The archeology of fertile minds
From which all can thrive