President Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigration and travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries and the lawsuits from multiple state attorneys general to block it bring into bold relief an apparent stark choice between security for our nation and freedom for our people. This is a dangerous and false dichotomy.
Achieving security for our nation is an important and laudable goal. The problem is there is no such thing as complete security.
Protecting freedom for our people, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is also an important and laudable goal. Again, there is no such thing as complete freedom.
It turns out security and freedom are deeply interconnected. According to Barry Johnson, developer of an insightful, immensely helpful framework known as Polarity ManagementTM, security and freedom are best approached as interdependent opposites. One cannot exist without the other. Barry refers to this kind of interplay of two “poles” that depend on each other for their very existence as a “polarity.” Polarities cannot be solved; they can only be managed.
There is no “solution” for our nation’s security that doesn’t involve trading off some of our dearly held freedoms. And there is no “solution” for preserving our cherished freedoms that doesn’t involve trading off some degree of security.
If you have ever raised a teenager, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When my oldest son turned 16 and asked for the keys to the car, I wanted to put him in a bubble until he was 23 to keep him safe. (More experienced parents have told me that’s not long enough!) From that day forward he bristled and rebelled against my well intentioned efforts to keep him safe, always pushing for greater freedom. That battle went on for years. There was no solving it, only managing it day to day and issue by issue.
In raising a teenager, there is no solution for how “best” to balance safety and freedom. The same holds true for our nation. We must vigilantly manage this balance day to day and issue by issue.
There are individuals and groups who want to harm the United States and its citizens. We need to take appropriate, effective actions to protect ourselves from these threats. Since 9/11, our Homeland Security and intelligence communities have been aggressively and diligently doing just that. As a result, we have had to trade off some of our freedoms. We now accept being scanned and searched at airports. We accept government monitoring of our electronic communications and financial transactions (often to a degree we do not fully appreciate). In return, we have not had a major terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. (Sadly, we have experienced isolated individuals committing tragic acts of mass shootings, but these overwhelmingly have not been committed by people tied to the kinds of terrorist groups or causes Trump’s executive order targets.)
Rather than playing out the current furor as a political wrestling match, our nation would be better served by raising the level of dialogue to ask the right question:
In managing the dynamic interplay of security and freedom, does President Trump’s recent executive order go too far in sacrificing more of our freedom than we should to achieve a degree of additional security that is not worth this sacrifice.
Polarity Management teaches that if we over value one pole in a polarity to the neglect of the other pole, bad things happen. I find wisdom in applying this insight to our current debate over security and freedom. Trump’s executive order undermines some of our most deeply held values, such as not discriminating based upon religion and keeping our borders open to the types of immigrants who for more than 400 years have been the lifeblood of our nation’s vitality and success.
Yes, we live in dangerous times. Yes, we need to sacrifice some of our freedoms to protect our security. But we are at risk of overvaluing security and undervaluing our freedoms. This is not the path of wisdom. We need to elevate our national dialogue into a thoughtful public discourse about how much uncertainty in our security we are willing to live with in order to protect our freedoms and how much of our freedoms we are willing to sacrifice to achieve a degree of security. This discourse can’t be effectively conducted in sound bites or tweets. It is too important for all of us.
If you are interested in more information about Barry Johnson’s Polarity Management approach and tools, visit http://www.polaritypartnerships.com.