“Playing both ends against the middle” is an old saying that means trying to get opposing people or groups to fight or disagree so that you will get an advantage from them. It is a way of distracting the attention of others so that the one playing the ends can swoop in and take what he or she wants from the situation. Though this tactic is frequently employed, there is as is so often the case, a better way.
Life is not a zero-sum game. Despite popular opinion, you can live impeccably, free from the social traps that are set by such approaches as “playing both ends against the middle” so that life becomes a win-win situation more often than not.
One such way is opened when you learn to work both sides toward the middle. This is an easy concept once you get the hang of it, one that I have had thrown in my face time and time again while training my horse, Galileo’s Star, or as he is called by those who know him, “Leo.”
Straightness is one of the goals in various disciplines of horseback riding and achieving straightness is harder than you might imagine. Horses, like humans, tend to be stronger on one side or prefer one side over another. Horses move beautifully and efficiently on their own, but adding the weight of a rider to their backs alters their balances significantly. To complicate things even further, the horse’s natural balances don’t tend to provide the smoothest and most controllable ride for the rider.
So one of the keys to good horsemanship is learning to work both sides toward the middle. When moving in a turn or a circle, one flank of the horse is considered the inside and the other, the outside. When turning to the left, it might seem that inputs to the inside would yield the most control but ironically, the outside is more often than not the most “important” or perhaps most frequently overlooked side.
When both sides are worked with effectively, the rider gradually encourages his horse to straightness. When the balances are correct and the horse is no longer leaning or twisted in various ways and directions, the rider is lifted higher and the ride becomes smoother. And to top it off, the horse relaxes in the new and balanced movement, even though it is likely not how he would move had he his druthers!
So it is in life.
The situations you encounter will likely be polarized and both sides will tend to work against the middle, rather than toward it. As you may have found, the truth is typically found somewhere in the middle. Knowing that it is there is the easy part, leading others there can be the hard part.
More often than not, getting there requires a deliberate, gentle and sensitive shift in the rider’s attention from one side of the horse to the other. Care must be taken not to intensify or exacerbate the opposing forces, for the horse’s superior size and strength are best cooperated with and not competed against. The goal of all of this is the reduction of tension, an increase in flexibility and a general and specific agreement on the balance point in truth.