Getting ‘Off the Line’

Getting ‘Off the Line’

The first principle in almost any aikido technique is to “get off of the line”.  This refers to moving just enough to the side of an attack so as to not be met with the full force of it.  But it is also important not to move too much – not to become disengaged and have no means of redirecting the attacker’s energy.  That is in the context of physical conflict, but applies to verbal conflict as well.

We often hear the phrases “take a deep breath” or “take a step back”. These help to reduce the body’s “fight or flight” response, which otherwise routes blood to major muscle groups and away from the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of your brain.  That done, it is important to understand what the conflict is about.

If someone yells at me “You son of a motherless goat!” (to steal a line from The 3 Amigos), and my reaction is “You can’t call me that!”, this conflict, for me, is about him calling me a name, while for him it is about something else, the reason he called me that in the first place.  We are having two entirely different arguments, and so will never resolve either of them; he yells back, I yell back and we both get louder and angrier.

Removing yourself from this cycle requires you to:

  1. Recognize the emotional response in yourself and in the other party for what it is, and
  2. Attempt to find with its root cause.

If my internal reaction is something more like “He called me a name and that makes me angry, but he is clearly angry also; I wonder what he is angry about.” Then I at least have the ability to begin a useful dialogue by asking the question “what are you angry about?” I’ve stepped off the line, but I am still engaged.