Using the middle ground, chess, and rational problem solving to resolve disputes, and be happy together.

There are two options a person has in any given situation with another person. This encompasses every conceivable circumstance (these two options). The circumstance I’m thinking of, in particular, is the situation of … “conflict!”.

The two options are on two extreme ends of a spectrum. 1. Apologize profusely and supplicate … 2. Totally burn your bridge with the other person and get a taste of power in doing so. Obviously these aren’t the only two options, but they’re the options on two ends of a spectrum of options I will look at here.

There’s something to be said for the power we feel in choosing the option of … persecuting our (now) enemy, turning them to shreds with words (or whatever power you have over them…). This is the option that, of course, leads to burning your bridges with that person (knowingly or unknowingly). In the analogy of a chess match (I can’t help myself), if party X uses this technique, party Y has the ability to “capitalize” by using the other option.


Destroying someone, taking advantage of our close position to that person (friendship, business partnership, whatever), is an attractive idea to any human on some level – some humans more than others. On the extreme end, the psychopathic person probably sees this not only as the preferred option, but the only one.

Ever if you’re not a psychopath, though, taking the opportunity (when a conflict arises), to take the initiative and tempo (ah, chess analogies), and preemptively strike out at someone, is a (seemingly) logical option.

The alternative is … begging for forgiveness, or supplication.

Neither option is correct. Supplicating, begging for forgiveness and so forth, is also another intoxicating strategy to rely upon in conflict resolution. If you take a look at the people around you, you’ll see a girth of people who make use of this strategy (in one way or another).

Success can be found in that strategy of perpetual supplication … it surely can, and many people have moved up the ranks of power, socially and politically, using this strategy (until its phantom opposite, overt violence, becomes the choice). So, beware of the “overtly begging for forgiveness” person … they’re likely to use the other technique when the situation benefits them.

This is a dialectic situation – the two options are opposites, but they have such a bizarre set of commonalities that they may as well be the same. ab0cbacc0b4736c2ac47d9afed665bee.521x900x1

Passive aggression and the art of “begging for forgiveness” is just as intoxicating as being overtly hateful. I believe it stimulates the exact same region of the brain. Have you ever seen a binary cluster of individuals (two people in a relationship), who take on these polar opposite roles? That’s called a co-dependent relationship – it’s also called a failed one.

The interim between the two is “the middle ground”. As is typically the case, it’s the hardest position to conceptualize, practice and carry out on a regular basis. This “difficulty” … the difficulty of choosing the “middle” solution, and the subsequent difficulty, applies not only to relationships, it applies to all situations. It applies to our relationship to ourself, it applies to our relationship with a thought, feeling or belief even (see previous article). It’s much easier to take a belief we’ve got, and supplicate to it – it’s much more difficult to weigh things up rationally.

It’s hard not to think of the tightrope walker, and Thus Spake Zarathustra.


I think the inherent fear is the fear of “death”, the fear of uncertainty … in attempting the middle option. It’s HARD to think this way. We’re not even designed to think this way (see cognitive biases).

One way to ground this to reality a little bit is to think of the on going dispute between Tibet and China (and it’s fascinating to me how this dispute, the one at the epicenter of Buddhism, or “the middle way”, has become such permanent and relevant one).

The Tibetan people have two options, I suppose … and they’ve chosen them both at given points in time. The options of overt retaliation and violence, and the option of placation.

It would be tempting to thinking of “supplicating” to the great superpower, China, in this circumstance … to toady to them and achieve peace. An immediate and total end to hostility would be an intoxicating possibility … to use this path to peace … but as in the previous example (in our personal conflict), it wouldn’t really lead to peace.

Losing too much (language, culture, way of life, dignity) as a resolution has never worked, and if anyone can think of an instance in which it did (where the supplication didn’t result in festering anger that rose up later), I’d like to hear about it.


Ok, getting to the point, what’s the solution? It would be what the Dalai Lama is currently, actively pursuing … which is finding the middle ground of the conflict (the crux), and solving the dispute from that vantage point.

This is the hard way – it means seeing things from your perspective and then entirely from the opposing perspective as well. This isn’t a human forte.

Chess has given me an appreciation for the exercise of using prophylactic logic in resolving a conflict. It’s been said, as well, that the highest form of intellectual or inner wisdom is the ability to appreciate the position of the “other”.

In the example here, the Dalai Lama is attempting to totally incorporate the position of the people that, in his mind, have committed grievous injuries on his own people.

March 10 commemorates the Tibetan Uprising Day. The Tibetan people attempted the strategy of overt force to move their antagonists out. It failed, though. March 15th also commemorates “the ides of March”, and thus, the dramatic slaying of Julius Caesar on the floor of the Roman Senate. That was an instance of using passive aggression, or, conspiracy (why didn’t you just tell me to my face Brutus???), to solve a problem.

We, as pathetic mortals, can take solace in the fact that even the Dalai Lama has been prone to passive aggression, and has slipped into the role I mentioned earlier (the second end of the spectrum). One of the ways he’s leveraged power in the conflict (a conflict, mind you, in which he really has NO power) is through his title, and more importantly, what the title entails (reincarnation). By openly threatening either A. To be reborn outside the region of China or B. not be reborn at ALL, he has engaged in the conflict on some level.

Please don’t mistake what I’m saying for some sort of disrespect toward his holiness. I hold him in very high esteem. He is in the difficult position, though, of being caught between: Being a single human being … and bearing the responsibility of being the spiritual leader of an entire group of people.

Thus, on the stage of geopolitics, even the most astute … even the most practiced of mindfulness artists can fall into the trap of using “force” to achieve ends.

I’m not sure whether his holiness is correct in this strategy; perhaps he sees further than I do. Regardless, it’s the strategy he has chosen to deal with a massively powerful opponent (along with a myriad of other strategies that involve concessions, etc.).

Back to ourselves, though … how to we find the middle position? Well, we don’t “find” it, mystically. We practice the exercise of being in the middle, rather. That means being mindful of the fact that there are two (or more) parties (almost impossible for most people), and then using your knowledge of the other position to take their needs into consideration. Then, the act of subjugating the ego/pride … but not to the extreme of the “begging apologizer.”

The practice, then, is knowing what the “other side’s” needs are, and knowing what your own are. woman_chess_1247721c

This is the foundation of external and internal conflict resolution, to my understanding.

And even though it, admittedly, the more difficult of the two options … the key fact is this one: Once you’ve mastered being in the “middle” position, you’ve mastered the gains of BOTH sides, both tactics. You will win … every time. By winning I don’t mean defeating your opponent – I mean finding the permanent solution.

Even when we do find the solution in one situation, others will arise forever … in waves. They will challenge our will to be rational, and they will antagonize us into using a shortcut solution.

The more we can exercise our rational ability to solve a problem for both parties, the better we’ll get at it – the easier it will be to dismiss the next “conflict.”

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