It is counterintuitive, but conflict is actually something that can unite us when we share its consequences in a story. Stories about conflict intrigue us because we all face struggle in our personal, business or community lives. This relates to our element ANTAGONIST. In a great story, a strong Antagonist is an enormous positive. Without a good Antagonist a story loses its relevance and remains “a fluff piece.” What about in real life? How can we turn our problems, conundrums or even enemies into positives there?
In his book The Art of the Advantage, Kaihan Krippendorff applies the wisdom found in the classic Chinese manual on warfare “The 36 Strategies” to the modern business world. Each strategy is illustrated with a story from Chinese history.
My favorite is titled “To Catch Something, First Let It Go.” In it, a General must subdue a rebellion caused by southern tribes. The General’s army is much bigger and better equipped than the rebels. He could easily kill their leader along with most of his men. Instead the General captures and releases the rebel leader, not once or twice, but seven times. And each time the rebel leader is captured he is well treated - even pampered - before being released. The General’s men demand to know why he is pursuing this unconventional strategy.
He replies that a more violent approach would cause trouble down the road. He might be able kill most of the rebels, but some would inevitably escape and plan future rebellions. The General’s way takes time but has a happy ending. Eventually the rebel leader becomes loyal and his people never rise in rebellion again. The General knew that great leaders do more than win submission. By not trying to crush the conflict immediately, he had the time to win his opponents hearts and minds as well.