• Pushing And Pulling

    CAC SDL coach Ruben Alvarado blogs from Iringa, Tanzania about draughts and freedom of expression.

    November 19th 2015. “You have to understand the game, you cannot just play like that.” Since I don’t have to do anything, the command wasn’t becoming, but the (quite hidden) wisdom behind it did stick.

    I’d just lost my first official game of Draughts (Checkers or Damas Chinas in America) on an improvised table, outside of a market where they have mountains of little fish for sale, in Tanzania. I lost in about 47 seconds. Around the 31st second, one of the 4 guys surrounding the rout started making unconventional mouth noises after my last move. “You made a great play, which he acknowledges, keep it up” I thought. Wrong suspicion, he foresaw my defeat. In the next move, my opponent ate 3 of my pieces (in one play!) and won the game.

    Of course, in order to enjoy and engage in a game (whatever intention you hold when playing), you must (not as a command but as an inherent requirement for composition as in in order to vote in an official election for a president in México you must be a Mexican national) master, in a sufficient level, the technique that will allow you to. They gave me a second chance to play. I decided to focus and take as much time needed for every play. My hopes lived on, for 2 minutes, in the dance with my opponent. Breathing before moving, guarding my pieces, envisioning next moves, it all seemed brighter. Suddenly, my self-declared “helper” (because I see a big difference in giving and forcing to receive), the wise man of the original advice, started moving the pieces for me, without asking. I did not say anything, complain or request him to stop, because it felt like if I let it happen, it would lead me to a deeper understanding of the game, not Draughts, but the game of control.


    The FIFA Football for Hope Center in Iringa hosted our second week of trainings in Tanzania. We played Mingle Mingle, because we love Mingle Mingle. Love it so much that we played 6 different types of it, including one created by local coaches. Among the differences between them we could find 2 major similarities: Fun and no “Pushing and Pulling”. Let me bring light to the darkness of doubt to you, my dear reader, that don’t know what Pushing and Pulling means in this context. In Mingle Mingle, we, the group, dance and mingle (of course). Then the leading coach asks, verbally or non verbally, for something from the group, that usually involves getting physically together. For example, “make an elephant of 3 people”, “get together in groups of 8”, “make a family” (whatever this might mean) or “3+9-6”. During this game we often come across people pulling and/or pushing each other in order to complete the task. We don’t think that all physical contact signifies aggression, however we use this specific social dynamic to start a conversation about choice, power, violence, and whatever emerges from the group. We acknowledged the group, not as in “well behaved, let me put this star on your forehead”, but as people loving other people finding harmonious and non violent ways to communicate and manifest their intentions.

    Later on in the week we had an intense but respectful sharing about religion and politics, started by our game “Freedom of Expression”. No need for any type of authority to rule in the space. Respect emerged from the practice of honest listening. By this I mean, listening not to respond but to comprehend, to connect. We explored contrasting ideas, some of them even opposite from each other, however, no one tried to “be right”, pull towards “my truth is the truth” or pushed anyone out of the boundaries of that space out of fear of difference, even when things got uncomfortable. We didn’t arrive to an agreement, we didn’t intend to. We just kept playing together.

    From my perspective, every not agreed upon experience of Pushing and Pulling equals violence. Intended or “unintended”.  Every act of violence finds its roots in the belief that we exist separate from each other. Difference, variety and uniqueness do not mean separation. “I” violate you by “taking away” something from “you”, so I have more than you or you don’t have as much as I. Oil, sense of freedom, the value of your perspective, food, physical capacity, happiness, money, the floor when you speak, hope, your birth right to fail, the control/direction of your experience, you name it. If we want a new culture to arise from the ashes of this old and obsolete ecosystem we must (again, not as a command but as an inherent requirement) intentionally create room for direct experience.

    In my experience as a coach/educator, this has translated into facilitating things that I don’t feel comfortable with, since they confronted my own belief system. As long as they don’t attempt against safety, legality or violate others, I count them as a fare exploration, even if  thoughts like “I know better” or “I have tons of experience in this matter” or “I know that it can’t have a happy ending…” crossed my mind.

    I’ve stopped believing that I can “allow” people to do or not do things. I refuse to believe that I can control other people’s experience. If chosen as part of a group, I will support, teach, guide, correct, share or whatever the group or individual asks from me. Influence does not mean imposed direction.

    Other “Pushing and Pulling” cultural/social forces and architectures play a heavy role in learning processes. Punishment and reward based dynamics, such as competition, hierarchy, fear of failure, fear of success, etc. A lot of times I replicated this cycle of impoverishment because I didn’t see them, like that fish that says to the other fish “The water is lovely today” and the other fish responds “what is water?. They almost passed unnoticed, but caused equal harm. As a coach I work consciously not to bring any of these into the spaces that I belong to, since I think they direct from structure.

    I will not feel coherent offering something to another human being that I don’t experience directly, so I work in the same way within myself and in my personal interactions.

    Sometimes I fail, but at least I see them now, and my radar works better every day.

    I lost in my third and fourth games of Draughts. These times against CJ, our beloved volunteer and friend.

    However, I moved all of my pieces, the best way to play, and lost.

    In order to evolve, we must move our own pieces, without accepting any Pushing or Pulling.

    PS- I won the fifthIMG_0971.