A Better Way

“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.

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13 Responses to A Better Way

  1. Kelli Lorentzen says:

    Your application of horse training to living a life centered in truth is so kinetic. Very helpful! I am looking forward to feeling out this principle of balance today.

  2. Flow says:

    Wow. This is awesome, Gregg! Great example of the process of leadership. Thanks.

  3. Kolya says:

    Great analogy!

  4. Colin says:

    I appreciate you mentioning that life is not a zero sum game. I think that this can be forgotten very quickly, especially by people with ambition. Shortcuts are not needed to have success. You might gain the appearance of success with them, but when the pressure is on your shortcut-filled building will fall apart. I assume it is the same with horsemanship. There are probably ways to make the horse appear to have straightness without actually building the foundation of straightness. But, as in all things, you have to put in the work to get the results. You have to build the foundation if you want something that can be relied upon.

  5. MMc says:

    When “sides” are becoming apparent I ask myself is it necessary to take one? More often then not I don’t have to. As a situation starts to gel and it’s my business to assist to find some resolution, diffusing the intensity of opinion, by not adding to it, can help while the balance or resolution is found. As you said “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.” Even if this isn’t the outcome my efforts to this end will not add to the disproportion and over time the picture could become obvious to all.

  6. Joy says:

    This IS a great analogy Gregg, what struck me was that it appears that subtle, gentle force in both directions is what is most needed, and that it is a process. The necessary change is not going to happen overnight, but the willingness and initial implementation of the change is something that cannot remain in theory, in order for the rider to be lifted up “in straightness” there has to be some very specific and deliberate action. I recognize here the need for keen alertness; this is not something that will happen just by happenstance.

    • Gregg Hake says:

      It definitely wont come about unassisted. The question is: can you remain focused long enough and make the subtle corrections consistently enough to bring order out of chaos.

  7. David R says:

    There are so many forces that oppose each other quite naturally, not necessarily producing conflict and not negating each other. These forces do require management, however, and your riding analogy is excellent in that regard. So often the fear of conflict or imbalance causes knee-jerk reactions that bring on the very thing feard! Mastery works confidently and deftly with opposing forces.

  8. Steve Ventola says:

    Great post and applicable in so many ways. Today I will be giving a presentation to a group of business professionals. Your words about working both sides toward the middle will be kept in mind. Obviously it is good also to keep in mind how not to excite one side over another by presenting strong opinions, rather to allow for all to come to a meeting place in that which is sensible, balanced and characteristic of what is true.

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