International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Existential Psychology for Social Healing: From the Polarized Mind to the Awakening of Awe

Kirk J. Schneider, Ph.D.

Saybrook University


This address considers recent developments in existential applications to social conflicts– the “polarized mind” and “awakening to awe.” The polarized mind is the fixation on a single point of view to the utter exclusion of competing points of view and continues to be one of the chief scourges of humanity. The polarized mind has many forms of expression, from authoritarianism and fascism on the political front, to racism, xenophobia, and religious zealotry. The concept also applies to individual disturbances from depression and obsessive-compulsiveness to narcissism and substance abuse. The cultivation of the sense of awe–or humility and wonder, sense of adventure toward living, also has many individual and social forms, and can serve as a potent antidote to the polarized mind. In this address, I summarize the nature of these emerging conceptions, consider their implications for both human destructiveness and vitality respectively, and show how they play out in one of the critical challenges for our times–conflict mediation. In particular, I describe my approach to conflict resolution called the “Experiential Democracy Dialogue” (EDD). The EDD is a hybrid of my experience as a trained moderator for the grass-roots citizens movement– Braver Angels–which promotes supportive, highly structured dialogues between self identified liberals and conservatives and my own cultivation of the EDD beginning in 2003. The EDD is a particularly intimate conflict mediation model that attempts to address and help people start on the road to a deeper and more present capacity to co-exist with “otherness” in oneself as well as the “otherness” of the other, and thus provide one particularly salient alternative to the polarized mind.

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