Polarity Thinking: Critical Guidance for Family Trusts - Part 1 of 5

Polarity Thinking: Critical Guidance for Family Trusts - Part 1 of 5

A Brief Introduction to Polarity Thinking
Article posted in Values-Based on 27 May 2015| comments
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Summary

Contributing author Dan Felix broaches the new topic of Polarity Thinking and applies it to the trust environment. As you'll see, it will certainly open the eyes of charitable trustees as well.

By Daniel P. Felix, JD – © all rights reserved 2015

This five-part article introduces the reader to Polarity Thinking in the trustscape, including consideration of trusts’ core polarity: Honoring the wishes of the trust creator while simultaneously empowering the beneficiary.

Consider this typical scenario:

Tom, the trustee, felt challenged in handling the distribution request from Betty, the beneficiary. While the trust allowed his discretion in supporting Betty’s education, Betty’s request was for classes in developing her “heart-felt intuition”. Tom knew that Betty’s father, Calvin, in creating this trust would have never allowed for her pursuit of a subject so far from the straight and narrow, so he felt the conflict between what Betty wanted to receive and what Calvin intended to give in the trust. What should Tom do? What should he decide and how should he decide it?

This apparent conflict is actually a polarity, that is, the appearance of an interdependent pair. For trustees, polarity, an expression of duality, is nothing new. In fact, various authorities in the trustscape have long acknowledged the trustee’s need to manage seemingly opposing forces. The apparent conflict between honoring the wishes of the trust creator on the one hand, and in empowering the beneficiary on the other, is but one example of many of such polarities for the trustee.

A trustee necessarily addresses the interdependent pair of the trust creator’s wishes and the needs of the beneficiary. Each component of the pair is essential to successful trust administration, and neither is sufficient on its own.

It’s no wonder that the trustee’s job has been likened to the Roman god Janus – whose two faces could gaze on opposite perspectives simultaneously.

Today, however, trustees have a new tool to balance these inherent polarities. Called Polarity Thinking, this powerful methodology is a systematic approach for dealing with the polarities inherent in the job of trust administration.

This article introduces the reader to Polarity Thinking in the trustscape, including consideration of trusts’ core polarity: honoring the wishes of the trust creator while simultaneously empowering the beneficiary.

The article consists of five parts:

First: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO POLARITY THINKING 

Second: THE CORE POLARITY IN THE TRUSTSCAPE: BALANCING THE TRUST CREATOR’S WISHES AND THE NEEDS OF THE BENEFICIARIES

Third: MAPPING THE CORE POLARITY IN THE TRUSTSCAPE

Fourth: A FEW OTHER REGULARLY APPEARING POLARITIES IN THE TRUSTSCAPE

Fifth: CLOSING THOUGHTS ON THE PRACTICE OF POLARITY THINKING IN THE TRUSTSCAPE

PART 1: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO POLARITY THINKING

Polarity is an essential trait of all things. Tension, contrast, and contradiction characterize all of reality. … To ignore the paradox is to miss the truth.  – Abraham Joshua Heschel

The gist of Polarity Thinking is to manifest the best of interdependent pairs. It entails “both/and” thinking, given that both the polarity parts (also known as “poles”) are good and essential, and neither is sufficient on its own. In fact, it’s the mistaken belief that one pole must be chosen over the other that often leads to the result which everyone wanted to avoid. So, in our example, if Tom simply decides that the trust language is the trust language, he’s alienated Betty, the person who he’s supposed to care for and protect. Polarity Thinking provides the framework for opposing forces to be harnessed in a smoothly flowing, oscillating system.

Polarity Thinking helps in the choosing of which of the competing values should be followed in any particular moment, and so also supports the application of Practical Wisdom.

The synergy of interdependent pairs has it roots in nature. The system of healthy human breathing, for one example of an interdependent pair, smoothly oscillates between the poles of inhalation and exhalation, that is, going completely onto one pole then smoothly into the other extreme. What makes the oscillation smooth is the comfortable switch over from inhalation to exhalation and back again. Healthy breathing is a dynamically balanced, smoothly flowing system.

A key tenet of Polarity Thinking is that the preferred result is never to rely exclusively on one pole as opposed to the other. A closely related insight is that maintaining the dead middle between the poles is never the ideal -- or even possible. After all, one cannot hold their breath -- or inhale to the exclusion of exhaling -- for very long! Instead, it’s about a smooth oscillation or flow of energy, determined by the specifics of the system and elements involved. Polarity Thinking recognizes that many situations are not problems to solve, but are interdependent pairs that should be leveraged.

In Part 2 of this article, we’ll consider THE CORE POLARITY IN THE TRUSTSCAPE: BALANCING THE TRUST CREATOR’S WISHES AND THE NEEDS OF THE BENEFICIARIES

___

I gratefully acknowledge the generous and gracious support and help of Barry Johnson, founder and principal of Polarity Partnerships, LLC, and his colleague, Susan Dupre. See www.PolarityPartnerships.com. I also gratefully acknowledge the editing help of collaborator, Neesa Sweet, Braided River Group, www.braidedrivergroup.com

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