Eye of the Storm Leadership
150 Ideas, Stories, Quotes, and Excercises On The
Art and Politics of Managing Human Conflicts
by Peter Adler, Ph.D.
THE BOOK & VIDEO > 15. Beyond Gridlock 

XV. Beyond Gridlock

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Starting Point / The Samurai’s Quest

People everywhere are hungry for new leadership. They think they want a champion, a liberator, a Superman. History shows that when self-proclaimed saviors show up, few of them sustain. Leaders come, leaders go. What people can’t seem to understand is that they themselves are the heroes, the ones who have always risen up and done the hard work. Your job is much simpler: to blaze a small trail and pave possibilities, to help people grapple with difficult brambles and storm-fallen tree limbs along the way, and finally, to move through and beyond momentary stalemates to the highest and best collective destination.

In Japan, there is a story about a great Samurai who had attained near perfection in his swordsmanship. He was known far and wide as a brilliant tactician with blades and a most ferocious and fearsome fighter in close fights. However, the Samurai was troubled. All his life he had heard references from teachers to something called “heaven� and “hell,� but he never understood precisely what those terms meant. He yearned to know the truth of these things.

Image:Samurai.jpgSamurai in Armor. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The Samurai traveled around Japan engaging in skirmishes and battles and asking everyone he met about this perplexing business of heaven and hell. And everyone he spoke with told him to go and see a certain retired swordsman who lived in a sheltered mountain valley that was inexplicably green, even in winter. The Samurai came to that mountain, climbed it, and found the master happily drinking tea and arranging small flowers in a vase.

He said, “Master, tell me what is the difference between heaven and hell.� The old man said nothing. After a while, the Samurai asked again, and then a third time. Still, the master said nothing and continued to arrange his flowers. Finally, the Samurai said, “Old man, I am the greatest and most fearsome Samurai in all of Japan. If you do not tell me the difference between heaven and hell this very moment, I am going to take out my sword and slice you in two.�

The master paid no attention to his question, but softly asked if the gentleman would like tea. Hearing this, the Samurai went into a rage, pulled his sword out, and lifted it high over his head in one of the many killing positions he knew. Suddenly, the master stopped his tea-pouring, looked him in the eye, and said: “That, noble Samurai is hell...�

Startled, the Samurai looked at the old man, lowered his sword, and slowly began to place it back in its scabbard. Then the master said: “…and that, Sir is heaven.� 

Image:Sanctuary.jpgYellow Lilies. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Leadership, politics, and governance are a hard business, not for the faint of heart. Issues change, pendulums swing, and political fashions rotate. Of the participants in the 2005 symposium where this handbook was conceived, Senator Larry Craig was pushed out of the Senate by his colleagues after a sex scandal in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Ed Case gave up his seat in the House of Representatives to challenge Senator Daniel Akaka, then lost to him in the 2006 Hawaii primary. Nancy Johnson also conceded her long-held House seat in the general election several months later. The circumstance of Senator Wyden also changed. The Democrats took control of both houses of the Congress and powerful committee chairmanships changed hands. The “ins� became “outs� and the “outs� became “ins.�

All of this is as it should be. In the public sector, no less than the private and civic sectors, leadership takes place only if others consent. The understanding and respect of those you might hope to lead is a contract but the terms aren’t always explicit. Working with people to punch through momentary conflicts and accomplish bigger things is a supreme act of faith that the right course must prevail in the long run. Above all, it is inherently conflictual. Like the weather, conflict is all around us, all the time, everywhere. Politics IS conflict. Conflict IS politics. It is neither good nor bad except in the balancing act of intents and their execution.

And the future? The storms of conflict are intensifying. Learn the winds, clouds, and tides. Embrace the coming outbursts. They are filled with hope and light. There is no other choice anyway.


141    Creativity

“I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it.�  Terry Pratchett

Image:Camel portrait.jpgThe Eighteenth Camel. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
There is a story about an old Bedouin who willed half of his flock of camels to his eldest son, one-third to his middle son, and one-ninth to the youngest. On the day he died, the flock numbered seventeen.  A fight ensued and soon the sons would no longer talk with each other. As so often happens, others began to take sides and soon everyone was bickering and arguing. Finally, the wisest woman in the village was asked to help heal the rift. She did this by adding an extra camel to the herd making it eighteen instead of seventeen. To the eldest son, she said: “One half of eighteen is nine. Will you accept that as reasonable solution?� The oldest son agreed. To the middle son she said:  “One third of eighteen is six. Will you accept that as a fair solution?  The middle son agreed. And to the youngest son, she said: “One ninth of eighteen is two. Will you also accept that as a good solution? And the youngest also agreed. She called them all back together and announced the solution. But what of the extra camel, asked one son? “Ah yes,� she said, “that one is my husband’s.� The woman returned the camel to her husband and the squabbling ended. Many creative thinkers have pointed out that there is no box to think outside of. The sides and edges of the box are our own blinders.[i]


142    Bonds

“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.�   William Shakespeare

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