Imagine a cylinder.

From one vantage point, it looks like a circle. From another, a rectangle.

We have, all around us, the equivalent of people shouting:

“No! Rectangle!”
“No it’s a circle you idiot!”
“Look at these morons over there, talking about circles, anyone with any sense can see it’s a rectangle!”

We have competing media outlets that are devoted to circles and rectangles.

Our relationships with friends and family wither or sour over circle-rectangle feuds.

It would actually be funny if the consequences of these misunderstandings weren’t so tragic.

The power of dialectical thinking is that we learn to bring two “true but partial” perspectives into dialogue and it results in a richer, more complex sense of reality.

Why should one have to choose between personal responsibility and a nurturing environment that supports people? Politics, and much of our conventional narratives, are full of these false dichotomies that arise out of a failure to see the higher-order, more complex reality of a given phenomena (i.e. the cylinder).

If we see this clearly, the appropriate response to a conflicting perspective is humility.

A humble person is not meek. They can be confident in the truth of their perspective, but rather than insist that all other truths are wrong, they are open to integrating other’s perspectives into their own.

This is not a post-modern nihilism which says all truths are equal. Rather it says we will get closer to seeing truth in this life if we ask, “In what ways is this perspective true?” before we ask, “In what ways is this perspective false?”. All perspectives will contain some truth, no matter how distorted and ill-conceived, or how malevolent the person putting the perspective forward is.

A hallmark of wisdom is humility. This is driven largely by the fact that the known-unknowns in life grow at a faster rate than the known-knowns do. So we simultaneously increase our knowledge while feeling like we know less than we used to. [1]


[1] Both the cylinder example and the description of the different growth rates of known-unknowns and known-knowns are things I've heard Daniel Schmachtenberger discuss.