By Russ Osmond
Russ Osmond has a Ph.D. from Syracuse University and is the founder of Change Strategies International in Atlanta. He is a retired USAF chaplain and an internationally published authority on conflict resolution communication.
In the fall of 1963, I was wearing my ROTC uniform as I helped burn a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln on a university campus. It was an act of political protest, and now that I look back on it, it wasn’t a very constructive act. I realize that I was mostly just following a crowd that shared my preferred brain quadrant.
When we are in the midst of an emotionally or politically charged event, how can we act well? How can we avoid doing things we regret later?
As you probably remember from my previous Sunstone columns, the brain interacts with the world through four quadrants (see Chart 1):
- The contextual (yellow) quadrant of the brain asks “Why?” It wants to see the reasons an organization or solution is even needed.
- The logical (green) quadrant asks “What?” It is interested in the structure of a solution or organization.
- The action-oriented (blue) quadrant asks “How?” It wants to see the way in which the goals of the concept or organization will be achieved.
- The emotional (red) quadrant asks “Who?” It is oriented toward relationships and connection.
In late November 2015, as I watched the initial reactions to the updates to Handbook of Instructions 1 (mandating a disciplinary council for anyone in a same-sex marriage and barring children of same-sex couples from saving ordinances), I noticed that the most passionate reactions came from the Who quadrant—in other words, from people who had friends and family that would be affected.
It was heartening to see so many people immediately rush to the emotional aid of those affected by the new policy. After all, Alma told his converts that they should “mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”
However, I also noticed a strong tendency toward blame. When the announcement hit, my social media erupted with phrases like “insensitive church,” “judgmental old men,” “out-of-touch bureaucracy” and the like.
Though it feels good to pin blame on others, blame is an escape hatch that keeps us from dealing constructively with the situation at hand. It relieves us from taking personal responsibility for what we do. It tempts us to follow whatever crowd shares our preferred quadrant.
To make a constructive difference in a charged situation, it’s essential that we foster discussion among all our brain’s quadrants. Diagonal cross-quadrant conversations are the most fruitful: between What and Who, and Why and How. These quadrants are the most diametrically opposed and therefore give us the best context in which to think and act well.
So if your preferred quadrant is Who, it will be helpful for you to start thinking in the What quadrant. For example, Julie Smith’s post on Times and Seasons “Consequences, Intended or Otherwise, in Light of the Update” is an excellent place for Who people to start thinking about the What of the new policy. And some of the questions Smith posed seem to have affected the policy’s official interpretation. For example, the Church later clarified that the policy only applied to children whose primary residence is with the same-sex couple.
On the other hand, those who start in the What quadrant may not be thinking about how actual people are being affected, so they would need to start reading posts from those who are personally affected by the policy, as well as those of their friends and family.
Similarly, a conversation between Why and How is productive. Why is certainly a huge question for this new policy as, from an organizational perspective, it seems to have many pros and cons (most of the pros being legal and most of the cons being its blow to the diversity of Church membership). And eventually we need to start talking about how to implement the policy, especially considering its human and public relations cost.
A discussion between Why and How is also very productive on the ground level. Is there a way to implement the policy locally in a Christ-like way? It may sound like an absurd question to those in the Who quadrant, but it forces us to do creative thinking that we would not have done otherwise—and it will help us to make the best of a difficult situation instead of denying or running away from it. In fact, this may be the most productive place for Who-quadrant people to work. It may help them find ways to turn the policy to more constructive ends—or at least mitigate its damage.
Generally, if you find yourself in a charged situation and you want to avoid being taken over by one quadrant as you respond, I suggest that you start your thinking in the Why quadrant (to understand why you feel the way you do), move to the What quadrant (to separate facts from assumptions), then to the How quadrant (to identify the steps you personally want to take), and lastly to the Who quadrant (to bring your actions into conversation with their effect on real people).
If blame and righteous indignation are the only things directing our actions, we will likely act in ways we later regret. In order to act constructively—in order to interact with the reality of a situation—it is essential that we bring all the quadrants of our brain into conversation.