Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Jack Adam Weber, author of the new Climate Cure.
In the section of Climate Cure titled, “Navigating the Doom and Denial of Climate Crisis,” I discuss the polarization that occurs in perceiving climate change. It’s a similar polarization that occurs in relation to Covid-19.
This section hinges on a realization, a possibility that we tend to polarize to extremes not because the evidence merits, but because we are uncomfortable with the anxiety of not-knowing. So we jump to doom (“we’re completely screwed”) or denial (“climate crisis is a hoax, no need to worry about it”) and then defend our all-knowing with confirmation bias and logical fallacies (putting on blinders). We can also apply this reasoning to mask-wearing and many other dynamics of Covid-19.
It takes emotional and cognitive resilience to hang out in shades of grey orientations, and more so the greater the threat. Hand in hand with this polarization is black OR white thinking, a true curse of our day (that also contributes to racism, in my opinion).
Notice in your daily life and in your social media news feeds how prevalent black or white thinking is (especially in memes: it’s not “this” but “that,” when in truth, it’s usually some of both). Notice it in yourself, too! Underneath polarized thinking, notice if you sense a lurking urge to mitigate the anxiety of not-knowing that drives your position.
Extreme positions encourage and exacerbate this thinking; it is anti-science and incites violence due to its warring stance of opposites coupled with unregulated emotion, especially without emotional intelligence to mitigate the fuel for this binary path. Fear is the primary emotion that drives polarized thinking because it triggers our flight or flight reaction, which propels us to extreme conclusions, unless we learn to be skillful with fear (a whole chapter in Climate Cure is devoted to working with fear and another to working with anxiety).
Practicing tolerating the anxiety of not-knowing certain aspects of climate change and Covid, while being more certain of others (especially in light of good science), is both good, critical thinking and resisting the knee-jerk to polarize.
THIS IS RESILIENCE IN ACTION.
The gist as it applies to climate is this: we are in crisis, but we may not be total goners. We cannot avert climate chaos, yet we can make it less severe. Notice the shades of grey here, the non-polarizing and tension of opposites.
The gist (or at least one example) as it applies to Covid is that we can be relatively certain that mask-wearing is helpful. Regardless, the inconvenience of wearing a mask is minimal compared to the risk of going without.
I like to view practicing inconvenience as a resilience practice: adjusting my mindset to tolerate minor inconvenience in the midst of outer crisis, which is itself a tension of opposites. Could it be that the extreme push-back against masks is, among several other reasons, an inability to hold a tension of opposites?
I maintain that practicing this tension of opposites, holding shades of grey positioning, black AND white thinking, and being flexible to change in light of evidence and epiphany, is a pillar of resilience for every aspect of our lives.
Non-Polarizing and Yin-Yang
This tension of opposites is captured in the Yin-Yang symbol, with each position along its circumference representing a unique blend of black AND white—a shade of grey. Even when we are in total darkness (Yin) at 6 PM position, Yin-Yang wisdom reminds that “within Yin is Yang,” depicted by the sun in the dark swish below. This means that when things look bleakest (Yin), there is light (Yang) waiting in hiding (i.e. spring buds from frozen winter).
Yin-Yang is therefore an image for transmutation, for real hope, and what keeps us fluid and transforming from rigid, unmerited extremes. Note: some extremes are valid as long as we are genuinely still open to seeing otherwise by way of what the great scientist Carl Sagan termed “extraordinary evidence.”
I keep the Yin-Yang symbol etched into the networks of my heart-mind as a reminder to not polarize unless supported unequivocally with evidence, and even then, there is still chaos (Yin) in order (Yang). What this means for Covid and for climate crisis is that the more we can mitigate overwhelm, the more skillfully and effectively we will be able to show up. (I discuss more of these dynamics in this video presentation I did for the Ecopsychology Network of Canada.
Viewing the world in shades of grey requires that we work skillfully and patiently with our emotions, to prevent emotional reasoning (coming to logical conclusions based on the intensity of emotion). This doesn’t mean our feelings are wrong or bad; quite the contrary. It means that we must reflect on, sit with, work with, and apply reason to our reactions in order to act wisely.
Our thanks to Jack for his guest post! For more from Jack Adam Weber, read his article, “8 Creative Ways to Cope and Thrive Through Coronavirus and Beyond.”