Competing Forces: Centripetal In Here and Centrifugal Out There

There are two competing forces exerting pressure on me these days. Maybe you feel them, too.

Centripetal: Inward Toward Unity

Here’s a list of things in my life that tell me it’s possible — desirable! — to bring opposites together, to transcend beyond the duality of opposites.

competing forces in 2020
  • Yoga, which means the yoking of opposites. Such as inhale/exhale, inner/outer, masculine/feminine, upper/lower, right/left, front/back, root/rise, effort/ease, contraction/expansion.
    • I want to be both strong AND flexible, not one at the expense of the other.
  • DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a “philosophical dialectical process of hypothesis and antithesis, followed by synthesis.” Through metacognition (mindfulness), I expand my thinking/believing/feeling to cover both poles, both opposites. Being able to do so can make me feel more whole.
    • I aim to love all parts of me, including the ugly ones I try to hide even from myself.
  • Open-hearted adoption. Over and over again I see that a BothAnd view serves all parties better than an Either/Or view, which splits the baby. The BothAnd concept goes not only for “real” parents, but also for the range of emotions anyone in an adoption has about adoption.
    • When I honor my children’s connections to their original family, it adds to my children without taking away from me. Also, I acknowledge that open-hearted adoption is really hard at times — as well as rewarding.

Centrifugal: Spinning Out & Apart

Here’s a list of current subjects that are highly polarized and emotionally charged.

  • To mask or not to mask. One’s beliefs about masking can be a political signal, revealing whether you trust public officials or not.
  • Netflix’s Cuties. Does the film sexualize pre-adolescent girls? Or does it serve as a critique about how our culture sexualizes pre-adolescent girls? (Or both?)
  • Climate change, including wildfires and hurricanes. A political signal based on who (or what) you do and don’t trust.
  • Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter. A political signal, as well.
  • What to do about unplanned pregnancies. A political signal often tied in with religious beliefs.
  • GOP vs Dems in state and local races, including the US Senate and House of Representatives. In my state, it’s the crooked ex-governor vs the Trump-lapdog current senator. The ads against each are ridiculous, meant to appeal to those with zero critical thinking skills. These ads must work, though, because these types keep running, here and everywhere. Such ads shut down thinking and further polarize us.
  • Biden vs Trump. I’m secretly dismayed when people are super gung-ho about either guy. They both seem so terribly flawed, having decades of their lives on display (please let’s not argue about who is more flawed; no one is going to change anyone else’s mind). If a person LOVES one and HATES the other, there is a whole lot of confirmation bias going on. Not to mention oversimplification.

Do you also feel the push to polarize, to be on one side or the other, and classify others similarly?

Where Will This Lead?

No surprise to anyone, 2020 has a lot of opposing going on. The societal pulling apart, which has been amping up since at least the 2000 election, seems to be accelerating and crescendo-ing. What is its trajectory? Where will the current path of discord take us? What possible outcomes are there, and which one is most likely?

Scary thoughts.

We all come at things with a unique perspective. Things look different depending on a person’s experiences, wiring, and vantage point.

opposite views come from different perspectives
My Wife and My Mother-in-Law,” a famous optical illusion, via Wikimedia Commons

How might we allow for the BothAnd of these polarizing issues? How might we transcend beyond the duality?

Who Benefits from Polarization?

This ongoing trend of increasing polarization isn’t making anyone happy, but it is making purveyors of discord rich and powerful. Cable news networks have got to be making gobs of money with so many tuning in to their brand of echo chamber. Fomenting discord is in the interest of media organizations (as opposed to news organizations) that have the attention of masses of people they can sell advertising to. Polarizing is an excellent strategy to gain and keep that attention — and the revenue flowing.

Meanwhile, critical thinking suffers. Polarizing causes shortcuts in thought processes. Things boil down to Us = good. Them = bad.

There are regimes around the world that would benefit from United States crumbling from within, and are, perhaps, throwing apples of discord into our race. A bot campaign would be so much cheaper and easier than a military war. But it would require that we fall for the trick of polarization.

Is someone sowing the apple of discord?
Paris with Eris’ Golden Apple of Discord, which led to the Trojan War. By Rabax63 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Maybe I’m Wrong

This post itself may end up being polarizing. Maybe I have this all wrong. Perhaps it IS better to be very clear where you stand and not waver, and to consider those who disagree just plain wrong. I can see the appeal of living more in certainty than in complexity. It’s possible I am missing the boat here.

But the way I’m wired, the growing polarization feels like doom.

Maybe These are Not Competing Forces After All

Turns out physics brings in the missing piece. Andrew A. Ganse, a research physicist at the University of Washington, offers the transcendent unity between competing forces that I’m looking for.

“Centripetal force and centrifugal force are really the exact same force, just in opposite directions because they’re experienced from different frames of reference.” (LiveScience.com)

Centripetal and centrifugal — they seem like opposites but really they are “the exact same.” Just with differing frames of reference.

Maybe just like people who disagree.

I’ll be trying to figure this out long after the election — and all that follows the election.

What About You?

What do you think about practices and traditions that ask us to encompass all parts? Should we? Can we? If so, how?

Also this: Sometimes we do need to take a stand. What is the criteria to discern when, and can it be done in a non-polarizing way?

Along These Lines


Lori Holden's book cover

Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, writes from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life. Catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

Lori was honored as an Angel in Adoption® in 2018 by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute.

5 thoughts on “Competing Forces: Centripetal In Here and Centrifugal Out There”

  1. I try to consider all sides of an issue. I used to enjoy playing devil’s advocate. But I’ve learned lately that sometimes being the devil’s advocate is merely being hurtful to people who already aren’t being heard. Best encompassed by “Why does the devil need an advocate anyway?”

    It’s my view that our current state of entropy has been caused by loud, angry people who started getting their way because the quiet, reasonable people just wanted to get on with their lives and didn’t tell them to be quiet. Now, the quiet reasonable people have had to become the loud, angry people too, to avoid being stepped on. It does not make for a peaceful world.

    You can’t encompass *all* parts – some things are just incapable of existing together. Like sparks and kindling, to use a too-on-point metaphor. – sure, you can put them together, but the sparks will be transformed into something larger and the kindling will disappear. Great for the spark, not so great for the kindling. I guess that means you have to consider the potential for harm before you decide if all philosophies are welcome.

  2. I wonder if they can exist together, but not in close proximity.

    Hmmm…much to think about, especially this: “you have to consider the potential for harm before you decide if all philosophies are welcome.”

    After thinking about it further, I don’t advocate that all philosophies are welcome. Hate as a philosophy, for example (or part of one) — I would advocate for understanding the WHY & HOW of that, but not give it equivalence to other more humane philosophies. Admittedly, a slippery slope.

  3. I struggle with taking a stand without polarizing, because there are some issues where there isn’t room to be on the other side, like with respect to human/civil rights, fixing the way history is taught from one perspective, and whose lives are valued. I don’t think they’re are some things that can be “that’s my opinion” if it’s harmful to people who have been marginalized and persecuted. I do see a lot of generalization and misinformation that leads to that polarity, like that Black Lives Matter means Anti Police, a particular misconception that is impacting our schools and our kids’ desire to be heard and valued without being told what their experience actually is. I feel like lately EVERYTHING is a polarizing issue. I am so pissed that public health measures have become a political thing and to risk others’ health is a badge of “freedom.”

    I do like trying to encompass things though, like my love of good food and my life of Pilates, which means I am strong AND flexible AND chubby all at once. Accepting all the things about myself tends to be harder.

    This is a thoughtful post, lots to think about.

  4. I think it’s possible to love or hate something/someone, but do it in a thoughtful manner, always critiquing the facts, weighing them, deciding. I think the issue is when our feelings are static. When we stop taking in information so we can keep making a conscious decision vs. following what we decided back when we only had X amount of information. Life keeps moving forward. Our brain needs to move with it.

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