I realized I’d actually said the Yogi Berra quote “it’s déjà vu all over again” out loud after reading an article by E.J. Dionne Jr. — and there was nobody else in the room…

Quick backstory: Awhile back my failure to keep track of my keys resulted in the installation of a key holder, together with a commitment to use it. It was a small victory that significantly reduced what had been increasingly frequent episodes of frantic, last-minute, stress-inducing emergencies while trying to get out the door.

E.J.’s article discussed the political and social divides in our country and a search for the “magic key” …. a “Big Idea that will explain why we disagree so passionately — on gun control, abortion, taxes and lots of other things — and also why we seem to loathe those whose beliefs diverge from our own.” Now I’m not the sharpest tool in the deck and I talk to myself in the kitchen. But… it seems like the big idea for the magic key is a key holder that’s already installed, called DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES — DEMOCRACY.

Another quick backstory: About the same time I was installing the key holder I was forming a non-profit organization for democratic values together with Dr. Bill Benet and Dr. Barry Johnson. Between them, there’s a century of work first developing polarity theory (Dr. Johnson) and then the application of Barry’s work related to Dr. Benet’s “Polarities of Democracy” theory. The three of us formed the Institute for Polarities of Democracy (IPD) to make the beauty of democratic principles easier to see and apply in practice. The ten elements are laid out in five interdependent *polarity pairs:
Freedom AND Authority;

Justice AND Due Process;
Diversity AND Equality;
Human Rights AND Communal Obligations; and,
Participation AND Representation

By seeing how each polarity pair works for democracy and how each in the set of five pairs supports and enhances others — perhaps we won’t lose our keys? At the very least, this key holder can serve as a reminder that some of the polarization and dysfunction comes from seeing and experiencing the tensions exclusively as “Either/Or” problems to solve. When we think about (or allow others to lead us to think about) each one of those tensions exclusively as “Either/Or” – it’s easy to see how we get so polarized. What’s needed is holding ourselves and our leaders accountable for the “AND.” Sometimes democracy requires us to think in “Either/Or” (election time, for example), and other times democracy requires us to think in “Both/And.” The founders of our country designed an elegant system for both types of thinking and provided a wonderful experiment for we the people to step into.

A grave threat to the experiment of democracy is “Either/Or” thinking alone. When success is tied to one pole of a polarity (or one pole in a set of polarities), we guarantee failure.

E.J.’s article concluded by saying,
(polarities of democracy emphasis added parenthetically in bold italics):
“…we need to pass laws (Freedom AND Authority) because we know that men and women are not angels (Justice AND Due Process). But this also means that we should be wary of placing too much power in government, since it is run by flawed human beings who can be guilty of overreach (Participation AND Representation). Many of our arguments involve not irreconcilable values but different assessments of where this balance should tilt at a given time on a given issue (Human Rights AND Communal Obligations; Diversity AND Equality)…ponder the possibility that our convictions about humanity and our flaws may not be as different as they might imagine.”

Democracy helps people navigate the “OR’s” and “AND’s” for what matters to we the people — be it gun control, abortion, taxes, and Lives Black, Blue, and All. If walking our democracy talk requires magic keys and a big idea hopefully the IPD key holder will support opening all of the doors to democracy that “Either/Or” thinking alone can’t. (www.InstituteforPOD.org)