Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leaving options open

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. This does not mean that the enemy is allowed to escape. The object is to make him believe that there is a road to safety and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair.
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Ch. VII

In Judaism, there is a law (in halachos of warfare) that one should not enclose a city completely during a siege, leaving an option for the besieged to leave the city (I am not sure whether to flee or to surrender). This way, not only are you being merciful to the besieged, giving them an option not to perish, but also the ones who do not immediately decide to surrender will fight halfheartedly, the option of leaving the battle always on their mind. If, on other hand, you seal them in completely, they will fight to death — much more fiercely.

When talking about relationships, Rabbi Gottlieb compares the above to the difference between being married and dating. When one is married, one is "sealed in" (although one can still get divorced, chv"sh, the barrier to do so is much higher than to breaking up). As a result, any problem that one encounters, one will fight on much more severely and stubbornly than if one were merely dating. Even if one is in a so-called "long-term relationship" — let's say, a couple has been together for close to a year — it is much easier to break up over the same problem that one might encounter during one's shanah rishoina.

I think the same distinction applies not only to secular-style dating, but even to the shidduchim. On the one hand, one wants to find out as much as possible about his perspective spouse. On the other hand, certain things are better left unknown — until the couple are married, when such things should be dealt with. Once one is "sealed in", one fights with a greater effort and can accomplish things he did not know he could.

I am talking about things that can theoretically be solved within the context of marriage (i.e., there is a good chance that the couple can deal with them — even with some difficulty — once they come up). Obviously, many things should be known before one commits. It is a matter of balance. I suspect that the balance may be off-set in the modern shidduchim, contributing to so many people unable to find a partner for a long time.

This also touches on the idea of length of a shidduch. The shorter the shidduch, the less one finds out about one's perspective spouse. This has the danger of remaining ignorant of things that one better find out about before one is married. But the longer one dates, the more one is likely to find something out that will ruin the general "mood" of the shidduch — something that could be certainly dealt with once the couple were married.

That is why in certain communities (including, to a large extent, Lubavitch community), the general custom is to find out about the most important, crucial things, and leave the rest to be worked on during the first year of marriage.

* * *

In a game of go, one is oftentimes confronted with choices. It goes without saying that there are many choices of good moves on the board during most of the game. But sometimes one has a choice between specific moves in a specific location. For instance, if I play 1a, my opponent will respond 2a, to which I will respond 3a. If I play 1b, he will respond 2b, and I will respond 3b. Etc. The micro-situation on the board will change depending on my move.

The idea I heard a few days ago is that sometimes it is useful not to play any of the choices and just tenuki — play somewhere else on the board. (The important assumption is that the sequences a, b, and c have equal value to me. Obviously, if 1a–2a–3a exchange is more valuable than the others, I should play 1a.)

Why tenuki? Well, the point is that the situation on the board is still uncertain. Let's say, the center and the right side of the board are still unsettled. Although I may have some semblance of a plan of what I want to do, I don't know perfectly how my opponent will respond. Because of this, a situation may arise on the board that favors 3b move over 3a or 3c. But if, at that point, I will have already played 1a, it will be too late to take advantage of 3b. So, best leave things unsettled, sequences still hanging in potential, until the situation changes and I have a better idea of what is more beneficial to me.

What if the opponent chooses one of the sequences himself? Well, in that case, you will respond accordingly — and you will have played (hopefully sente) somewhere else on the board first.

Last night, a situation like that actually happened. I was playing a game in a local Barnes and Noble coffee shop and had a group on the left in which there was a choice of how to make two "eyes" (two independent sets of internal liberties necessary for the group to live). The game moved on, and the bottom and the center of the board got settled. The group which was pushing on the my left-side group from the outside found itself in a shortage of liberties if I played the right tesuji (a combination of moves). But, this tesuji was possible only because I left the left-side group alone, having not chosen in which of the two ways I can make eyes. (Obviously, if my opponent would make a move there, I would have to respond. But, he also left the group alone.)

* * *

The above concept from go can be applied to everyday life in a number of ways. The obvious lesson is to leave the options open. Don't burn the bridges. Don't seal things in until you have to. In relationships too, sometimes it is helpful not to make up one's mind about a person and leave a space for the development of the relationship and your opinion about him.

In one of his articles (most of which I happen to dislike, but this one is good), Tzvi Freeman compares it to an advice that most of us heard at some point of our lives: don't tighten the screws all the way until all of them are in. You may want to leave some "wiggle room" for things to re-adjust.

* * *

Something interesting: miai (read until the end of the introductory section).


Anonymous said...

Can you please be more specific instead of just saying "Issues", What are the main issues that a couple should know before going into a marriage and what red flags should they be looking for throughout the dating process and what are the "Issues" that can be worked out during your marriage. sorry if your hinting to something that I should know what your talking about I just don't get what your trying to say.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

I think it's for a given couple/person/community to decide.

For instance, whether a husband snores or how often he goes out drinking with his buddies (if at all) can be worked out after the wedding. It's something that is theoretically can be worked out within the context of marriage.

Whether the couple will eat only kosher food and on what level of kashrus should probably be decided before they decide to marry. Because such things as religious observance determine the make-up of the whole marriage. Many of the things that are considered issues of "compatibility" in modern secular culture do not.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

The general point is that the longer a couple dates, the more details they inevitably find out about each other. Some of those things may be issues of "compatibility", but those things can be worked on during marriage -- and should be worked on during marriage, as opposed to during dating. Because if they start to be worked on during dating, each person is still single. Once the couple are committed to each other, it's easier to see the need to compromise.

So, the way to do it is make a list of important things that are crucial to know before one marries a person and discuss them right away (starting second-third date). If everything matches up and one feels some sort of emotional connection to the person, one should go ahead and think seriously about committing. Waiting for an indefinite amount of time until one "finds out enough" is not right.

At least in theory, that is how it works in many communities. In practice, it doesn't always work out that way.

e said...

I once heard a Baal-Shem-Tov story (or other Rebbe miracle story) whose punchline was that this chick ended up married to a total am ha'aretz and her brothers were pissed. Said the Rebbe, "He's her bashert. Deal with it." And the brothers made him into a talmid chacham.