With so much going on….it may be helpful to remain flexible

Dialectical thinking has a long-standing tradition in philosophy and psychology; however, most people and many behaviors simply don’t fit in neatly defined categories. Despite this, with today’s technology, remaining open-minded is a challenge.  Polarizing ideas create instant traction on today’s social media world, which serves to reinforce binary thinking.  Algorithms  create feeds “of more of the same.” 

Both international and national events are contributing to an America that continues to become increasingly divided and polarized. People are finding themselves on opposite ends of ideas and values with their friends and family. Our natural tendency to use heuristics, mental shortcuts that allow people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently, may present a challenge. Researchers suggest that using these shortcuts can lead to stereotypes and cognitive bias. Moreover, our desire for familiarity and sameness makes it easy to distant ourselves from people who have a different opinion. Increasingly, it is becoming challenging to consider different opinions, values, and beliefs. So, what can be done, to help people be more open-minded and flexible in the way they approach each other and possibly seemingly divisive topics? 

5 tips to nurture flexible thinking:
Here are some approaches that might help to get you more comfortable with not knowing.

  • Start with an intention: Cultivate a practice of curiosity and self-reflection and set an intention to tolerate discomfort and to consider multiple perspectives. 
  • Consider timing: While some situations call for quick, decisive judgement, many do not. Taking some time to ponder the issue is one way that perspective can be fostered. Equally, it’s worth to check if the need for certainty is internally or externally motivated. 
  • Be a role model and advocate: Due to the unique values of our fieldcounseling psychologists are uniquely positioned to advocate for exploration and modelling what it’s like to hold conflicting ideas in mind. 
  • Connect with “the other.” As practitioners, we practice empathy and empowering our clients in our work. Think about how you can make an effort to understand “the other side.” Can you walk in someone else’s shoes for a day? Your thinking is likely to change once you immerse yourself in different communities and explore different cultures. 
  • Self-care practice. In times of stress, it is easy to fall back on old ways of thinking. Make time to do what helps you to take care of you, what is good for you. This could be some yoga asanas, creating art, writing in a journal, listening to music, or going out to enjoy nature, depending on your preferences. 

This article may also be helpful in understanding how to have polarizing conversations and this article may be helpful to understand polarizing political views. 

Closing thoughts

There are many ways of experiencing the world and our viewpoint is only one way of looking at the world. It is important to acknowledge that arriving at “both yes…and” instead of an “either…or” takes intentionality, deliberate effort, and repeated practice. The more we consciously hold conflicting ideas in mind, the more we go the long road, and not take the shortcut, the better we become at sitting with uncertainty.

A person in a white blouse and glasses smilingDescription automatically generatedMarianne Lagutaine, MHC-P, holds a BA from Goldsmiths’ College University of London, a Masters in Art Therapy from Lasalle Singapore, and a Masters in Counseling from Monash University, Australia. She is a second-year PhD student in Counseling Psychology at the University of Buffalo. Marianne’s research interests are considering the therapeutic relationship under the impact of race and culture and embodiment and integrated approaches.


Published: January 31, 2024