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Dialectical Failure 1

Updated: May 15, 2021

What would dialectical failure look like in real life? 1

Let's say someone asked you which of the pairs (A or B) below is right.

  1. A: Cheese is good for your health because it is dairy. B: Cheese could be high in calories.

  2. A: Village life is boring. B: Village life is peaceful.

  3. A: We should eat healthy to keep us fit. B: We should not be obsessed about what we eat because it could lead to perfectionist anxiety.

  4. A: I love snow because I love skiing. B: I hate snow because going to school on snowy days is a pain.

I really want you to pose here and reflect on what you said to yourself as you read the sentences above.

Done? Now I want you to read following passages. Again, I would like you to pose and think what you think.

Imagine that you are a parent of teens. You tell your teens to stop being on their tablet all the time. “Ride a bike outside, or do something useful,” you say. Your teens reply that they are doing something very useful and important with their friends online. Which one is right?

Imagine a couple situation. Your partner says to you in the heat of a conflict "damned if I do damned if I don't," and you scream back, "that's not fair!" Which one is right?

Imagine yourself feeling that you really failed in something and someone tells you that you did OK. Which one is right?

Did you reflect?

I suspect that in the first set of questions, most of you said something in line with "well, they are both right," or "well, it depends," or even "well, they are both opinions so there is no right or wrong." I would probably say one of these, too. When we can step back from the situation or when the situation does not hold high stake for us, we can usually find a kernel of truth in both sides of arguments.

When we are very into the situation and the issue is very important to us like the examples in the second set of questions, however, this human wisdom of finding a kernel of truth in both sides gets thrown out of window. We get an urge to be right, an urge to persuade the other person, an urge to win the argument, an urge to prove that the other person is wrong, or even un urge to distance ourselves from the other person. It's a dialectical failure because we refuse to see that opposing forces can both be true and that there is wisdom in contradictions.

Have you ever been polarized into one direction of the reality and refused to accept that the other perspectives? In times of conflict, especially if the situation is already heated up, there is no mediation or reconciliation unless we are willing to consider the perspectives of other person, or find a truth on other sides. DBT skills teach us to find a middle path to embrace both perspectives, and find solutions that would address issues on both ends of the spectrum.

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