Polarity Thinking: Critical Guidance for Family Trusts and Trustees - Part 3 of 5

Polarity Thinking: Critical Guidance for Family Trusts and Trustees - Part 3 of 5

Mapping the Core Polarity in the Trustscape
Article posted in Values-Based on 23 June 2015| comments
audience: National Publication, Daniel P Felix - The Professional Trustee | last updated: 23 June 2015


Dan Felix continues his exploration of Polarity Thinking in trust matters.

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


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 methodology of Polarity Thinking centers on the use of a Polarity Map®. The Map makes key aspects of the dilemma apparent to the stakeholders involved, and facilitates a shift in focus by revealing the energetic system involved. This energetic flow is simply and marvelously apparent as an infinity loop, a flow that oscillates from one pole to another.

Just as breathing necessarily involves the oscillation from inhaling to exhaling, so does every interdependent pair require the shift back from one to the other. In different words: we really don’t fully appreciate the benefits of inhaling unless we also partake in the benefits of exhaling. This interdependency in breathing is utterly obvious: most of us don’t need to turn blue before we switch to the other pole. In contrast, however, many other systems of interdependent pairs require the use of a Map to reveal the existence of an interdependent part, and that the solution lies in flowing to the upside of that other pole.

The Map displays the oscillation of the infinity loop and reveals where the energy is and where the energy is flowing or stuck. In a well-flowing system, the flow will be towards (but not deeply into) the “downside” of one pole to the “upside” of the other, back towards the “downside” of the other, then returning to the “upside” of the first pole and repeating. The goal is to maximize the time spent in the upsides while minimizing the time in the downsides – to minimize anyone having to turn even a light blue! The physical actions manifesting the energetic oscillation are listed in the Action Steps and Early Warnings.

In contrast, a poorly flowing system should Map out to show a viscous circle heading toward the feared result. Part of the gift of the Polarity Map is the expression of the downsides of the focus of one pole to the exclusion of the other. This expression is often a deep, core fear. Only in acknowledging these fears can the system thrive. This is why merely trying to get the best of both sides, without dealing with those real fears, so often results in at best, temporary success.

The Map, then, is simply a space to capture the present articulation of the flow of energy in the system of the interdependent pair at hand. So, here’s an expression of the interdependent pair of inhalation and exhalation for demonstration:

So a frequent first step in filling out a Polarity Map® is identification of the two equally important poles and puts them in the ovals on both sides of the map, in this case, breathing out and breathing in.

The other map elements include:

  • A Greater Purpose Statement at the top of the map—in this case staying alive, and the Deepest Fear at the bottom—in this case, death.
  • Upper quadrants for each pole that will include the “upsides” of that pole, specifically, the positive results and values which are available from this pole.
  • Lower quadrants for each pole that contain fears and bad results, that is, the “downsides” of that pole when it is focused on to the exclusion of the other pole.

The Map allows the generation of further and most practical insights, which appear on the left and right margins, specifically: “Action Steps” which hope to accomplish what’s detailed in the adjacent upper quadrant, and “Early Warnings” which hope to signal the onset of the feared results detailed in the adjacent lower quadrant. Notice that a certain type of “discomfort” is an early warning of both over focus on inhaling as well as exhaling!

The upward arrow on the Map reflects the fact that accomplishing the positives of both of the upper quadrants creates a virtuous energy cycle that leads to the greater purpose; while the downward arrows indicate a vicious energy cycle from which the deepest fear will be the result of dwelling in the negatives of one or more of the poles.

So, let’s distinguish the limits of the benefits of inhaling. As we inhale, we experience the benefits of inhaling, and then, increasingly, we feel the limits of inhaling in disregard to exhaling! The longer we inhale, the more powerful the drive to exhale. Though the distinctions may be over-obvious here, it will be important to remember in the more complicated context of the trustscape.

With that background, consider this Polarity Map® detailing one expression of the core trust polarity: the wishes or gifts of the trust creator AND their receipt by the beneficiary:

This Map identifies the two poles in the ovals as the polarity of Giving and Receiving to achieve the Greater Purpose of a successfully functioning trust.

See immediately the contrasting nature of these two. As illustrated in our opening story of Tom Trustee and Betty Beneficiary, focus on the Trust Creator’s wishes forms a polarity with the impact on the Beneficiaries, just as inhaling does with exhaling.

The Map details the values in the two positive upper quadrants for each pole. Specifically, for our purposes, I’ve posited four separate positive values that focusing on the Trust Creator’s Gifting might be said to include. For our purposes in this article, let’s just look at the first one, namely: Honoring the trust creator’s directions for handling his affairs & estate. This value reflects our culture’s high esteem for the principles of freedom and self-determination, specifically, that individuals should be able to do what they want with their assets and their life.

Change focus to the other pole. First, let’s acknowledge again the polarity: one cannot contemplate an effective gift, without considering an effective receipt. This is an interdependent pair as much as inhaling and exhaling.

In the upside of the Beneficiaries’ Receipt of the Trust Creator’s Gift, I’ve imagined four possible values and positive results. Again, for our discussion here, let’s look only at the first of those: Improving the life of the beneficiaries. Consider how this also resonates with the values of self-determination and freedom – although from the viewpoint of the beneficiaries! This is an illustration of the power of a Polarity Map® to force the consideration of the values and results flowing from recognition of interdependent pairing. The counter-intuitive result: achieving the upside of one pole is dependent on going to the upside of the other! In other words, the only way to achieve the trust creator’s vision is to also consider how the trust will improve the life of the beneficiaries.

In addition to detailing the positive values of the poles, the expression of the downsides of these values is equally as important. This Map displays the fears and negative results in the two lower quadrants and the deeper fear, a dysfunctional, destructive trust, at the bottom. For over-focus on the gift of the trust creator to the neglect of how the beneficiaries may receive it, I’ve posited four distinct possible fears of the beneficiaries. Let’s just acknowledge the first one: Holding the beneficiaries hostage to the past. This fear is likely common, given the stereotypical pull of the trust creator as the gravitational force of the family system. The strong force of the trust-creator, even after his physical removal from the system, often limits the beneficiaries to the pull of the trust creator’s past brilliance.

On the other pole, the over-focus on the receiving by the beneficiaries to the exclusion of the wishes of the trust creator, I’ve posited four fears and negative results that the trust creator likely may hold. Let’s look at the first of those four only: Violating the trust creator’s directions for handling his affairs & estate. That is to say that a trust creator may reasonably fear that an over-focus on his beneficiaries may lead to a disregard of his directions.

The stronger one values one side, the greater the fear in being caught in the downside of the other pole. Recognition of the fears and possible downsides is essential for successfully leveraging polarities.

Moving to the outer margins of this Polarity Map, note at the top of the left and right side a list of Action Steps that are reasonably calculated to accomplish what’s detailed in the adjacent upper positive quadrants. So, consider the first of the Action Steps imagined in this example for the trustee to accomplish the gift of the trust creator, namely: The Trust Creator articulating and the Trustee manifesting his trust purpose/mission/vision. Note in this Map, the trust creator’s act of expressing his purpose, mission and vision for his trust is a logical, practical step to accomplish all four of the positive results contemplated in the pole of the Trust Creator’s Gifting.

In addition, this Action Step of expressing the trust creator’s purpose is logically a step to avoid the fear of the trust creator of over-focus on the beneficiaries, which are expressed in the downside of Beneficiaries Receipt pole.

On the other pole, I’ve listed four Action Steps, which might reasonably help the trustee to accomplish the values and positive results of Receipt by the Beneficiaries. For our discussion, let’s look for a moment just at the first Action Step on this side of the Map: The Trustee and Beneficiaries co-creating and implementing or adopting the trust’s mission/vision for them.

Consider how the action of the beneficiaries adopting their own purpose, mission or vision for the trust is reasonably calculated to the positive result of having the trust improve their lives. Consider how this action step is also reasonably calculated to address the first listed fear of the beneficiaries: being held hostage to the past.

This Action Step of the beneficiaries creating a purpose for the trust is not often considered in the practice of trust administration. This illustrates again the power of a Polarity Map®: revealing previously unknown solutions.

Further, as may be fitting to the situation, including if the trust creator is available and willing, he can engage the beneficiaries on purpose, mission and vision. In this way, the family may gain additional traction because the family may more consciously and more collaboratively create Action Steps, which benefit the entire family. This is family work that can be done even before the Trustee is hired. And, of course, easier said than done.

Moving to the last of the element of this Map, I’ve detailed four possible Early Warnings for both sets of the feared results. Starting on the left side of the Map, the four Early Warnings express possible manifestations of the beneficiaries’ fears of an over-focus on the trust creator to their exclusion. Let’s again consider the first one in this list: “no consideration of the impact of the gift by the trust creator.” In other words, the trust creator’s lack of willingness to sufficiently consider the impact of his gift on the beneficiaries may logically be a red flag that the trust hold the beneficiaries hostage to the past, and not help improve their lives.

We move to the right side of the Map to sample an Early Warning of the appearance of any of the five possible fears of the trust creator, which I’ve posited in the event of over focusing on the beneficiaries to his exclusion. The first possible Warning is “No consideration of the opportunity of the gift by the beneficiaries”. In other words, the failure of the beneficiaries to consider how the trust might benefit them may reasonably indicate the trust creator’s fears may come to pass. So, for example, beneficiaries who see no gift may be more prone to violate the trust creator’s vision, because they simply don’t recognize a value in doing so.

And so, the appearance of one or more of the Warnings may be an indication of a hyper focus on one of the poles to the exclusion of the other. The trustee should investigate further to see where the breakdown may be. That investigation could be an investigation of the quality of the execution of the Actions Steps for the other pole. If those Action Steps are being performed, the trustee may look to other steps, such as adopting other Action Steps, which may more reasonably accomplish the upside of that pole.

Of course, all the content inside the Map -- the intentions, the values, the fears, the results, the action steps and the early warnings -- may be expressed differently depending on the trustee and the stakeholders involved. That includes the expression of the polarity itself. However, a Polarity Map® dealing with this particular duality will likely have some resemblance to this sample.

In fact, ALL of the language appearing on the Polarity Map® may be best written by the trustee and applicable stakeholders in the moment. In this way, the Map may become a dynamic reflection of reality and not just an academic exercise.

In Part 4 of this article we’ll touch briefly on A FEW OTHER REGULARLY APPEARING POLARITIES IN THE TRUSTSCAPE.


The author gratefully acknowledges 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. The author also gratefully acknowledges the editing help of collaborator, Neesa Sweet, Braided River Group, www.braidedrivergroup.com.








Add comment

Login or register to post comments


Group details



This group offers an RSS feed.
7520 Rates: June 3.4% May 3.2% April 3.2%

Already a member?

Learn, Share, Gain Insight, Connect, Advance

Join Today For Free!

Join the PGDC community and…

  • Learn through thousands of pages of content, newsletters and forums
  • Share by commenting on and rating content, answering questions in the forums, and writing
  • Gain insight into other disciplines in the field
  • Connect – Interact – Grow
  • Opt-in to Include your profile in our searchable national directory. By default, your identity is protected

…Market yourself to a growing industry