Opposites and Complements

contrast of complementary colors, including red-green, purple-yellow, and orange-blue

Opposites and Complements

Over the decades I have been working as an advocate in the disability community, I have been struck by the use we make of opposites:

  • Freedom vs. Protection
  • Inclusion vs. Segregation
  • Support vs. Treatment
  • Choice vs. Best Interest

Of course, we use these opposites tactically, to create a contrast in the mind mostly about the deficits of the default values and actions of the target, and the possibilities of autonomy and self-determination. But we are not thereby using the concepts as absolutes. Rather we are using them more like the Principles of Agile Development, in which the ones on the left of the opposition are valued more than those on the right.

As the original Agile Manifesto said, “That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

This notion of non-absoluteness is, in the first place, practical. Whatever the immediate use of the contrast in our current change advocacy, there is a huge world beyond us that includes a continuum of variation on those so-called opposites which our immediate advocacy can’t alter.

This notion of opposites also provides an arrow of direction to our advocacy. We move from the right to the left in our change efforts. The opposites provide a guide for our advocacy, a way of judging what exists now (right this moment) and what might exist if we can orchestrate change.

Finally, the opposition (turned into a frame of the actual process of change from right to left) reminds us of where we came from, as well as where we are going, like constantly looking at the scenery on a canoe trip on a river.

The Age of Aquarius has also brought a group of suggestions as to how to frame the relationship of A vs. B that are OK but don’t really constitute a solution.

Choosing “and/or” or “both/and” instead of “vs.” seems to me to create another kind of opposition rather than truly eliminating the implied required choice in vs.

The best framework for thinking about these issues in advocacy that I have found is the ingenious ideas of Scott Kelso and David Engstrom called “The Complementary Nature”. They view the so-called contraries as related in a dynamic process, like our change efforts with a target. Sometimes the complements (opposites) are truly opposed, sometimes they reinforce one another and sometimes they have a complicated mesh of support and opposition very much like advocacy with a target.

During my time at MPAS, I came up with an idea I called “bounded collaboration”. All this meant was that there was a boundary in my advocacy with a target within which I would behave collaboratively. If the actions of the target went beyond the boundary, I would behave adversarially.  I used the idea as a meta advocacy technique to get the target to think more about their choices.

I suspect that thinking about advocacy for change in a target as a dynamic process where we too interact and change would produce other useful ideas to make our advocacy more productive.

For a much shorter if more technical discussion of “The Complementary Nature”, see  COORDINATION DYNAMICS OF THE COMPLEMENTARY NATURE

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Author: disabilitynorm

hubby2jill, advocate50+yrs, change strategist, trainer, geezer, Tom and Pepper the wundermutts

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