A picture of polarization today?

by | Mar 1, 2023 | Formation, Reflections

A picture can be worth a thousand words… and…  even arguments.

Many of us have seen the classic image sometimes known as the “Old Woman/Young Lady” Two people can look at it and see one… or the other.

Actually, there are two images, a “Wise Old Woman” and a “Beautiful Young Lady” merged into one picture.

In this Vincentian Mindwalk explore with me what this picture can teach about the deep polarization in our society and especially our religious communities.

It depends on where you start.

If I focus on the small curved line in the middle of the image on the left-hand side and the feather coming out of dark hair on the upper left-hand side, the “Young Lady” instantly emerges.

To see the “Old Woman,” try focusing on the two black dots in the middle of the picture, as if they were the eyes of the “Old Woman” with a big nose looking down.

If you are having difficulties seeing both images, here is a hint. Blink, then focus on the tip of the “Old Woman’s” nose to see the bottom of the “Young Lady’s” chin.)

Both are real! Both are present! It depends on what you where your focus falls at first. We need to look again to see the other picture.

Differing mindsets or starting points.

We can look at mindsets as patterns of how people make sense of their world.

We each have our default positions facing life. Some people tend to be optimistic, while others are pessimistic. Some like clear instructions while others don’t.

Today we see struggles with those who see the values in what they grew up with and those who see the shortcomings of previous generations. Both are convinced they have the complete truth.

The polarization is not new.

Jesus and his followers presented radically new ways of thinking for both Jewish persons and non-Jewish persons.

For a Jewish person Jesus saying “love your God and your neighbor as yourself” would make sense. But then Jesus said , “this is my commandment… wash one another’s feet!” Wasn’t that something servants did?

“We have always done it this way!” This Jesus was also telling them to forget the old way and celebrate a new Passover in memory of him. Think about that one. It was like a pastor telling Christians that Christmas is not about the birth of Jesus but about celebrating the memory of the pastor! Talk about disrespecting Moses!

On the other hand, pious Gentiles (they had many deities they believed in) were challenged by the Jewish beliefs of the early followers of Jesus.  They were hearing that Jewish strict dietary rules and other things were essential to discipleship.

The clash of these mindsets presented a formula for polarization. The Acts of the Apostles offers a window for these clashes.

Learning from the past

The big picture of the Acts of the Apostles is such a clash of mindsets. We tend to think all was resolved quickly. Far from it! It took the better part of two centuries of struggle to work it out.

Pope John XXIII set in motion a process not unlike what we see in the Acts of the Apostles.

In many ways, the stories in Acts of the Apostles offer keys to understanding the last century of our own history of a struggle for church renewal from Vatican II to Pope Francis.

What are the traditional values that need to be held on to and what needs to be rethought?

Contemporary clash of mindsets

  • What is my predominant mindset toward change?
  • Is there too much or too little?
  • What values do I need to appreciate more – change or stability?

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk