[Strategy] Playing Chess in Conflict

Playing chess is something that not everyone does.

In the film Training Day, Denzel Washington tells Ethan Hawke that his moves on the street—playing criminals and cops against each other—are “chess not checkers.”

The strategy and thought process, the impulse control and persistence, and the ability to tap into the emotional content of your opponent on the other side of the board, make chess a worthy game for comparison to people in conflict.

But what happens when one of the parties ceases to respond in the familiar ways of the familiar chess game, and instead kicks over the chess board?

And what happens when one party in the conflict is playing chess, but the other party is playing checkers? Or pinochle?

  • Not everyone has a brain for managing the emotions of conflict, the responses of the other party, or the emotional ability to dive in with grit and persistence when the outcome may be less than guaranteed.
  • Not everyone has the courage to care about outcomes in conflicts and disputes that involve them, or the people that they work with or love, and the personal willpower to act on that courage.
  • Not everyone has the ability to determine when it’s time to move from being a bystander to a situation that could lead to conflict toward being an active participant in attaining a positive outcome.

But, we contend, that everyone has the capacity to learn how to do all of these things. Even if, once they have learned how to do all of these things, they still refuse to act.

Because, sometimes it is easier to do nothing, and even that act of inaction, moves chess pieces around on a board.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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