In Community


Beacon Hill Resident – Barry Johnson – Discusses His New Book About Leveraging Conflict

Often, especially in recent years, it’s recounted as an unpleasant memory or an uneasy anticipation of what may happen this year – it’s Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s when the immediate family and extended family gather for a holiday that focuses on food and gratitude but often descends into bitter arguments revealing great chasms between and among those gathered.

It’s a strange time right now when the country seems never to have been so dismally divided and unable to even view, let alone discuss, what’s causing the divisions. This occurs not just between political parties but more painfully within families. No wonder Thanksgiving sometimes gives more angst than joy.

STRATEGIES TO BRIDGE THE GAPBarry Johnson and his wife Dana will observe their fourth year as Beacon Hill residents this Thanksgiving 2020. He has devoted his life’s work and his new book to addressing polarities and how to “make a positive difference by respecting different points of view.” What better time to learn more about how we all can better understand one another’s beliefs, values, worries and actions without agreeing with them. As Barry says, “understanding can provide a more helpful starting point for building a relationship even if we prefer different sides of the issue.”

Barry starts off with this premise: “All of us are loved unconditionally, without exception. AND, we are all accountable for our actions and inactions, without exception.” The first part is wonderful and easily accepted but the second part – accountability – how do we do that?

One thing we can do is to recognize not all issues are a choice between “either this or that.” Sometimes it is “both this and that.” It allows us to recognize that two seemingly contradictory things can be true at the same time.

Barry just published his book, AND – Making a difference by Leveraging Polarity, Paradox or Dilemma. Barry states in the book’s introduction that it is a “resource for people who want to make a positive difference by overcoming two obstacles: resistance to change and polarization.” What Barry gives us in his book and his years of experience is, to quote a reviewer, “opportunities to experience deeper levels of understanding and knowledge about complex issues.” It’s a way to move our own world to a better place and to use real, practical ways to address the issues that often divide us.

Barry’s concentration on bringing disparate points of view together, amicably, started early. He grew up in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Clair with a degree in psychology. While working in East Harlem-New York City, he viewed inequities and injustices and the damage they wrought. He often protested those wrongs. But Barry realized protesting was not enough. He wanted to go deeper; he wanted to understand how to engage communities, organizations and countries, even, to function better, more humanely, with respect, tolerance and understanding.

His career, which is still active even though Barry claims that he is “semi-retired,” is illustrious. He has, indeed, worked with countries – the most recent being Brazil and India – virtually presenting to thousands who have gathered to learn more about leveraging polarities. He has worked with the United States Navy and Department of Defense, with colleges and universities including Boston College and the University of Notre Dame and countless organizations and think tanks. His work is lauded by renown thought leaders and influencers and has helped them all to work together with mutual respect and greater understanding by using his real-world application — polarity mapping.

One wonders, given his accomplishments and continued engagement, how Barry fuses his professional life with his personal one with Dana, their five children and 11 grandchildren. “It takes work and commitment,” Barry says. He tells of how they sat down, after a particular bruising work engagement of Barry’s that had him over-stretched and over-stressed, to look at how to come together to make sure Barry continued this work while also paying attention to her, their kids and their friends. It led to a chapter in his book about the polarity of “Making a difference And Enjoying Life.”

“We actually created a polarity map,” Barry said.  “We are committed to spending time together doing the things we both enjoy.” Those include daily walks around Reeds Lake plus designated weeks during the year – eight to be exact – for travel (although not so much now due to the pandemic) and other fun activities such as kayaking.

When asked what types of polarities he has witnessed while living at Beacon Hill that might be instructive to the residents who live here, Barry came up with a few. One is the polarity that sometimes exists between the well-being of the Beacon Hill community and the well-being of individual residents. “Both have unique needs and responsibilities that sometimes bubble up as a potential conflict.” Another is between residents and their adult children. “We, of course, want our children to be attentive to us and they must leverage that with their own lives and the lives of their children who have different interests and responsibilities.”

The third example is one we all are living – COVID-19. Barry suggests that we pay attention to two polarities that have emerged with the virus: 1) the dual focus on health and the economy; 2) the dual focus on individual freedom and the common good. “It is not,” he claims, “individual freedom vs. the common good but rather individual freedom and the common good. Not adhering to or abusing the guidelines created to protect our health leads first to poor health outcomes with more people dying from COVID-19. It soon also leads to poor economic outcomes with more people unemployed.”   With each of these polarities, we need to use “And” rather than “Or” to connect the two concerns. His book explains how we can work together to create high quality health and a rigorous economy – support individual freedom and care for the common good.

Want to read AND – Making a difference by Leveraging Polarity, Paradox or Dilemma? Two copies will be available in the Beacon Hill library, and if you’d like your very own, please contact Barry.

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