Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Marshmallow Art of War

This past Saturday we had a Marshmallow War with the youth group.  Unlike some other similar events, I have done in the past this one did not have a higher purpose.  It was a fellowship event that existed for the simple reason of getting the teens together for some good clean fun. 

We got soaked, mosquito bitten, and there was an accident that led to a black eye but all seventeen people who participated had a blast.  One of the things I noticed is how something as silly as shooting marshmallows at each other with PVC pipe can teach some of the basic strategms of warfare. Here are some of the things that I observed.

Perhaps the most obvious one is that posistioning is important. Any advantage that can be gained by terrain should be exploited. We played in an area that was mostly brush and it did not take long for everyone to hug close to the path edge hoping to get a smal advantage from the brush cover. Along the same lines, flanking and avoiding being flanked is huge, but I think that is obvious. The other strategy learned is that defense is always safer than offense. The burden is truly on the attacker and this gives the defender more options.

Even more important than positioning is morale. Morale is what really wins battles. Now it seems kind of odd that morale would actually factor in to a game of capture the flag with fourteen people but it really did. Here are three experiences that illustrate this. First, I was engaged in a fire fight. We were both shooting at each other. I called for help from a team mate and soon as he started moving our way my opponent ran away and we were able to really press the attack. This also illustrates the importance of numbers. If possible a side always wants to amass more numbers at the point of attack than the defender. Again this is common sense, but it is important. We purposely played so that part of our team floated between attacking and defending. These floaters were not suppose to engage but only back up the people engaged, son that we would have superior numbers.

Another example of the importance of morale is a time when I was holding a path cross roads, and we were outnumber 4-2. If we retreated then the other side would have most likely achieved a breakthrough. The other person on my team wanted to retreat but I ordered him to hold the line ( yeah, I think I may have really said that). He did hold, took one of the other team out and then got himself. I was now outnumbered three to one, but I held and ended up taking out two making it one on one. We shot each other, ending the engagement. I did not retreat because I knew if I did we would lose. If invested in the cause, then the very real possibility of defeat is a big morale booster.

The final morale example comes from a time in a game when both sides had broken down in cohesion, and because everyone was split up, everyone was on their own. I ended up in a one on one encounter. Given how inaccurate the marshmallow shooters were, it was an even fight. I charged at him anyway. Despite, now having the defensive position, his morale faltered and he retreated. The appearance of strength was actually more important than actual strength.

The final war strategy revealed from the marshmallow war was the importance of leadership. Myself and another youth leader functioned as the default leaders, and when we were actively leading the teens on our side, things went better.

So I have written all of this while at a RIM conference where the topic is conflict management and I doing so I realized these general strategies of warfare really apply to all interpersonal conflict. In an argument we do not usually think about flanking but that is what we do. We look for arguments that might catch others by surprise.

In our interactions with others, winning at all cost should not be the goal. When we have conflict in relationship, we shouldn't view it as a battle to be won. When we start viewing our conflicts as battles and using tactics of war, then the only real casualty will be relationships.

Sadly we as people are usually quick to escalate an argument to the level of a battle. When we do we stop looking at the other person as a person. They are now an enemy. We start looking for ways to take the superior defensive position, look for flanking opportunities, and find ways to demoralize.

They have not talked about people using these strategies at this conference, these are dots that I connected. It can be helpful to know the tactics that people may use in s disagreement. However, what I need to learn is how to disarm these situations, instead of fighting back.

By the way I typed this on an iPad, so I am sorry for any mistakes.


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