The Neutral Zone

Legendary football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships”. If you study any of the professional sports leagues, you’d likely find it hard to disprove Bryant’s philosophy. Interestingly, this philosophy can be applied to the world outside of sports. Let me share an example you might find familiar.

Turn on any news channel and you will undoubtedly find the popular host of a show discussing a polarizing topic with an invited guest whose views are different than the host. In this scenario, the host has a stance that s/he is going to defend, and the guest has a view that challenges the host. The conversation usually starts in a civilized manner and quickly devolves into a shouting match where the host delivers the last word and moves to a commercial break. In this scenario, the show’s viewers tune in because they are already aligned to the program’s explicit bias, and these viewers are excited to watch the invited guest, the offense, attempt to challenge the host, the defense. The invited guest is predictably crushed by the host and the viewers feel vindicated. Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships.

The opportunity that exists today is to find the delicate space in between offense and defense, which I’ll call the neutral zone. In the neutral zone, neither the offense nor the defense holds an advantage. This is the space where offensive players and defensive players come together with an intent to listen; to truly listen to each other’s views. They show up with their well-established biases tucked away, turn on their sense of curiosity, and instead of challenging and defending, they ask questions and engage in productive conversation. At the end of the conversation, the participants may agree to disagree, but maybe, just maybe, they won’t be disagreeable towards each other.

I’m certainly guilty of clinging to my views and biases. And, it’s easy for me to find a community of like-minded people (or a news channel) who will make me feel great about my views thereby reinforcing my righteousness. I’ve come to the undeniable conclusion that this approach isn’t working, nor healthy for my overall well-being. It’s going to take a lot of practice, but it’s time for me to find the neutral zone. I hope to see you there.