Two Types of Strength


According to James Carse there are two ways of being strong. The first type of strength is what he calls ‘power’ and he defines this as the ability to influence other people without being changed or influenced in return. Power is what is exercised in games: we defend and consolidate our position whilst manoeuvring the other person so that they can’t do what they want, but have to do what we want. Therefore, power is all about winning and losing: the person who is most powerful wins whilst the person who is least powerful loses.


The second type of strength (which James Carse calls simply ‘strength’) is in a way the exact reverse of power. It is not the ability to move (or manipulate) other people from an impregnable position, but the capacity to allow myself to be moved (or influenced) by others in ways that neither I nor they can foresee. To a ‘Type-1 player’ – which is most of us – this sounds suspiciously like letting someone else get the better of you, i.e. being a doormat or a loser, but there is a crucial difference here that is all too easy to overlook.


The difference is this. When I am exercising power, I already know where I want to go, I already know what it is that I want to achieve. All that is left is for me to control the situation as best I can until I obtain the desired goal. James Carse calls this a finite game, and he says that the point about a finite game is that I play in order to not get any surprises. If I am surprised by the other person, then that necessarily means that he or she has ‘got one over on me’. There is no way that this can be good, therefore! Strength, however, rather than power, is the quality that is required by the player of an infinite game, and the player of an infinite game is playing in order to be surprised. He or she does not have a fixed agenda, or goal, and therefore the notion of ‘winning’ or losing’ are both equally meaningless. Surprise isn’t the enemy to someone who is playing the infinite game but rather it’s what makes it all worthwhile.’Being surprised’ is the whole point of life, a player of the infinite game will say. What is life otherwise? Who wants to be ‘proved right’ the whole time?


The player of the infinite game plays in order to learn something new, in order to journey to a place that they have never been to before. If I am a finite player then I always know what I want, and as a consequence I never move beyond my own conceptual horizons, I never move beyond the known. Essentially, I never change because change is the one thing I don’t want to do! If I am an infinite player, on the other hand, then I am open to change. I am curious, open-minded, and willing to find out that what I thought to be true before is perhaps not so ‘definitely true’ after all! Being proven wrong is not a bad thing. Having one’s expectations overturned is not a bad thing – that’s how we grow!


For the finite player what is important is ‘the rule’. Everything is based on the rule and the rule is never to be questioned – in fact, the whole point of power is that it is force which is used unreflectively. The point is to do, not to question why I am doing what I am doing. For the infinite player, the ‘rule’ is only interesting as a stepping-stone. It is interesting because it is part of the journey, not because it is the final destination. The rule exists only to go beyond itself; by itself it is quite meaningless. “Know the rules well, so that you can break them effectively!” says the Dalai Lama. The essential ability in an infinite game is therefore the ability to ‘question the rule’, rather that the ability to ‘act out the rule’ (which would be power, not strength).


We can see how valuable it is to be able to engage in infinite play by considering communication. Carse says that a finite player moves others, but is not moved himself. When I speak as an exercise of power, I am not speaking in order to be surprised – I already know what I am going to say, my beliefs are not to be questioned. The point of communication in finite games is for me to change what you think, for you to be moved by my beliefs. This, however, is a mockery of true communication because it is only one way. Basically, I am not in the least bit interested in your position; I am only interested in what you say so I can use it against you. I don’t actually want to find out anything ‘new’, because I already know that I am right. I already have the answer. The situation is totally different in infinite play: Carse says that an infinite player does not move others, but allows himself or herself to be touched by others. If I am an infinite player, I speak in order to be surprised, I speak in order to learn. I don’t know where the conversation is going to lead because I haven’t got it tightly under control the whole time. In fact, the conversation isn’t under control at all!  True communication can only occur when neither party has the agenda to be ‘right’.


In true communication, both parties are ‘touched’ by the encounter in an unpredictable manner – the interaction is ‘out of control’ for both of them. I am changed by meeting you, and you are changed by meeting me. We both go away different people, we both go away with a different understanding of the world. What has happened is that we have both gone beyond ourselves, gone beyond our limited conceptual boundaries, and this is what the infinite game is all about. We can use a version of Carse’s principle of finite versus infinite play to help us understand anxiety. Instead of ‘power’ versus ‘strength’ we will simply talk in terms of Type-1 strength and Type-2 strength, and we will define the two as follows:


Type-1 strength is the strength to get things to be the way we want them to be, whilst Type-2 strength is the strength to allow things to be the way they already are.


Normally, when people talk about ‘strength’ it is Type-1 strength that they are talking about. We rarely stop to consider that Type-2 strength might be a better answer to the situation. When defined in the way that we did above, Type-2 strength might not even make sense at all. The point is, of course, that there are times when it is both smarter and more courageous to give up the attempt to ‘stay in control’ than it is to keep desperately at it, and ignore the fact that trying to control the situation is not working. Being able to face one’s fear is a basic manifestation of Type-2 strength. Not being able to face fear is what lies behind the reliance on power.


There is more to it than this, though. Normally, we control our realities so tightly that we very rarely get to see stuff that we don’t want to see. And when we do, we make sure that we forget about it pretty quickly. ‘Control’ means that we make the world obey our rules, but the only trouble with this is that if we get too hooked on control then we don’t actually see the world as it is, we only see the world as we made it. Because our ‘managed reality’ conforms so closely to our rules for ‘how it should be’, all there is left is our rules. We have ironed out surprise, and so we end up living in the world of our rules, meeting only those aspects of reality that we feel safe with. This is like being a millionaire who surrounds himself with ‘yes-men’ – he only ever hears what he wants to hear. He is too powerful ever to communicate! After all, as Carse says, we are playing in order not to be surprised.


Being in control of our external environment is one manifestation of Type-1 strength, and this is something we all need to do in order to survive. Being in control of our internal world (the world of thoughts, feeling, memories and perceptions) is another manifestation. What this second manifestation of Type-1 strength amounts to is ‘the ability to only see what we want to’, and we all make heavy use of this ability! Therefore, this type of strength is actually ‘the strength to avoid’ – it is how good we are at not facing up to stuff. It is the strength to distract ourselves.


This second manifestation of Type-1 strength also has its rightful place. When I concentrate on answering a telephone I have to screen out the chatter of people around me, which means that it is a form of self-distraction (i.e. it is a way for me to exclude what I don’t want to know about), but clearly this is a necessary and harmless form of ‘internal control’. If I concentrate on something in order to exclude awareness of some problem that I have, then this is a different kettle of fish entirely. This is psychological denial. When Type-1 strength turns into the ability to avoid reality, then Type-2 strength comes to our rescue as the capacity that we have to actually see reality. This is why we said in the definition above that it is the ‘strength to let things be what they really are’.  Type-2 strength is the strength to ‘drop our agendas’, and let things unfold as they will.  Essentially, it involves the willingness to take a risk, to accept uncertainty, to face the radically unknown.


Type-1 strength always expresses itself in terms of attraction and aversion, [YES] and [NO], [+] and [-]. This is another way of saying that Type-1 strength is based on rules (or ‘certainty’). As we saw in the first handout, a ‘rule’ necessarily involves a black-and-white split between [RIGHT] and [WRONG], [GOOD] and [BAD], positive and negative. A rule causes the ‘separation of opposites’, technically known as a symmetry break because one way of doing things is not at all the same as the other way, and so there is no symmetry or equality between the two possibilities. For this reason, Type-1 strength is inextricably linked with extrinsic motivation, which is motivation that comes from rules (or ‘conditioning’). ‘Extrinsic’ simply means that the source of the motivation is from outside our true self, it is imposed on us and not natural to us.  Type-2 strength is not based on rules, but on uncertainty, i.e. [MAYBE].  Rules say “This is allowed, but that is not allowed”, whereas [MAYBE] says “Everything is equally allowed.”  MAYBE is symmetrical, it presents the same face to all possibilities. Whilst Type-1 strength is always a reaction to an identified reality, Type-2 strength is not a reaction, it is about allowing enough uncertainty to creep in to show us that all our identifications where too hasty, too premature. Type-1 strength is a self-fulfilling prophecy because it always shows us the reality we expected to see, whilst Type-2 strength allows us to see that things are never what they seemed to be….


We can relate certainty with ‘comfort zones’, and uncertainty with what we might call ‘discomfort zones’.  The opposing forces of attraction and aversion that make up automatic thinking are a comfort to us, for the simple reason that they provide us with a basic orientation: if there is something that I see as GOOD, I strive to obtain it, and if there is something I see as BAD then I strive to avoid it. Extrinsic motivation always operates within fixed framework of meaning – in fact it takes that framework totally for granted. This allows me to identify meaningful goals which I can then work towards.


This sounds good on the face of it, but what is really happening is that I am trading off realism for a convenient black & white over-simplification of my situation. I therefore obtain the satisfaction of having both a definite goal to aim at, and a straightforward method or procedure to enable me to reach that goal, and in order to enjoy this feeling of satisfaction I am more than willing to ignore the fact that my model (or ‘map’) of reality is incomplete and inaccurate! This just about sums up comfort zones – by providing us with somewhere in which hide from reality, they allow us to feel a sense of relief and security. This ‘somewhere’ is actually ‘nowhere’ though, because we are no longer in reality.


Reality is not black and white, or YES and NO, and for this reason it is uncomfortable for the thinking mind.  I don’t know what my goals ought to be, and I don’t have a clue what to do in order to help my situation; I know something is called for, but I don’t know what. But why should reality be uncertain? One way to answer this is to say that reality is always more complex than we give it credit for. Another way to answer the question is to say that reality is uncertain because it is always ‘new’. MAYBE is a term which expresses unpredictable development – it means becoming, i.e. the unfolding of something that we don’t understand. MAYBE therefore stands for the dynamic aspect of the universe – its mysterious side, its power to surprise, delight, and terrify. YES and NO, on the other hand, are a way of talking about something that is finally known, a situation that has been evaluated or judged once and for all. For this reason YES/NO stands for a frozen or static representation of reality, a sort of ‘snapshot’. Therefore, extrinsic motivation relates us back to our static snapshot of reality, which is why automatic reactions confirm our expectations in a form of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. Intrinsic motivation (or ‘curiosity’) relates us to the way life goes beyond our expectations.


Since Type-2 strength is linked with the capacity to tolerate (or ‘stick with’) uncertainty, we can see that it is actually ‘the strength to stay in reality’. Type-1 strength, as we said earlier, tends to become ‘the strength to evade reality’, the strength to take refuge from the uncomfortable uncertainty of life by ignoring all data that doesn’t fit in with our narrow view of it. Type-1 strength is the strength we use to ‘hang on’ to our comfort zones, whilst Type-2 strength is the strength we use to ‘hang out’ in our discomfort zones.


We need to repeat that Type-1 strength has its rightful place in our lives, because we simply couldn’t survive without being able to control stuff. The only thing is, in order to control effectively, we also have to see the limitations of control, which means we have to be able to ‘let go’ as well as being able to ‘hold on’! Holding on becomes an obstacle if we don’t also know how to let go, because then we can never move on. ‘Holding on’ without ‘letting go’ is worse than useless! The crucial thing to understand is that our difficulties have to do with the fact that we tend to use Type-1 strength to solve all our problems, instead of knowing when to let go, and gracefully drop our attempt to remain firmly in control of everything.


We can also see this in terms of communication: as we saw, James Carse describes the infinite game as the only way we have of being in a genuine dynamic relationship with our environment. In finite games, communication means “telling others what I already know”, which is not a two-way process. In one-way communication, what counts is the power that I have to influence others, whilst not being influenced myself. In two-way communication, what counts is the strength that I have to stay in the uncomfortable zone where I am uncertain of what the other person is saying, as well as being uncertain of what I myself am saying. Type-1 strength, therefore, is the way in which we impose our will on the universe around us, without being open to stuff that has no relevance to our plans. We are talking, but not listening.


Type-2 strength, on the other hand, means being in a state of dynamic two-way communication with everything. The state of being in communication with the dynamic or surprising aspect of the universe we can call consciousness, whilst the state of being safely secluded in that aspect of the universe which matches our narrow expectations, we can call psychological unconsciousness. Consciousness can be defined simply as ‘knowing that we don’t really know’ (i.e. questioning rules), whilst unconsciousness can be defined as ‘thinking that we do know what we’re doing’ (i.e. automatically accepting or obeying rules). Controlling is how we obey the rules and so we feel good when we are in control because we are able to successfully obey the rules! Essentially, we are feeling good because we are managing to avoid our fear of uncertainty.


As we have said, Type-1 strength has two aspects. One aspect is the ability to control the outside world (which covers anything from boiling a kettle to getting dressed in the morning), and the other aspect is to control the internal world of our thoughts, feelings, memories, and perceptions (i.e. what we attend to). Both aspects become counterproductive when we feel that we absolutely have to control, when we feel that we don’t have the freedom not to control. This is the state of mind in which we have totally lost the ability to question the rules that lie behind the controlling, and so we are forced to ‘act out’ the rules no matter what. In this case Type-1 strength is ‘strength that is against ourselves’.


It is easy to see how we set ourselves up for trouble when we absolutely insist on controlling our situation.  If the universe we live in is essentially uncertain, and we are insisting on making it definite, then we are fighting the universe. If, as the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “All is change”, and we try desperately to fight this change, then we have set ourselves an impossible task. We are trying to do one thing that can never be done! Because we cannot challenge the rule which says “This mustn’t happen’ we are forced to put all our money on control, and yet control can never win. It is impossible to win this struggle, and yet it has become infinitely important that I should win, and so here we have anxiety in a nutshell.




Finally, we can round everything up by saying that there are also two types of cleverness and two types of confidence. Type-1 cleverness is the cleverness that allows us to successfully avoid the discomfort of encountering uncertainty. When uncertainty avoidance is my over-all goal then I am constantly calculating the best way to get through the day without having to spend any time in my discomfort zones. There are all sorts of tricks that I can use, all sorts of clever dodges and sneaky manoeuvres. I have all my comfort zones carefully lined up in a row, all my escape routes and back-up plans. This type of cleverness takes up a lot of time, and it easily takes up all of my available ‘thinking power’, because it is such an endless task. What’s more, no matter how clever I am it’s still never going to work out for me in the end…


The universe is always one step beyond me, so there is always the possibility of something going wrong, and that is something I feel that I cannot allow. Type-1 cleverness, although very successful at first, ultimately leads us to disaster because it seduces us into undertaking ‘the impossible task’ the task of predicting what will happen in an unpredictable universe. ‘Its not clever to be clever’, says Gurdjieff. What we provisionally might call ‘Type-2 cleverness’ is on the other hand the cleverness to know when our cleverness is not doing us any favours. It is the cleverness to know when to let go. This type of cleverness is of course better referred to simply as ‘wisdom’!




‘Type-1 confidence’ is the confidence that comes from being secure in our controlling.  It is related to the feeling of well-being that is dependent upon our ability to successfully manipulate our environment. A lot of people who appear to have lots of self-esteem manage to be so confident because they are good finite-game players, because they are experts at playing a particular game. However, this is a type of ‘external confidence’ that derives from ‘external strength’, and it is not at all the same sort of thing as inner peace. Type-1 confidence comes from our strength to be ‘one up’ on the universe, and therefore it constantly has to prove itself. It has no time for failure, either in oneself or in others, and for this reason it is essentially uncaring. Type-2 confidence on the other hand comes from knowing that you don’t have to play the game, knowing that you don’t have to control, knowing that you don’t have to ‘win’. Not winning is more interesting than winning, after all!


The feeling of well-being that is associated with this inner-confidence is dependent on nothing and so it is not pressurized. Neither is it competitive, because it is based on the understanding that it doesn’t really matter at all whether we win or lose. If Type-2 strength is the strength to let the universe be what it is, then Type-2 confidence is confidence in the universe’s ability to be what it already is. Type-2 confidence might be better referred to simply as ‘trust’, therefore.


Type-1 confidence, which is ‘for show,’ is always beset by secret anxiety no matter how good it looks on the surface. It is beset with secret (or sometimes not so secret) anxiety because it is based upon fighting what is inevitably going to be a ‘losing battle’. We ever can’t win this battle and so the very best we can do is stage a ‘theatrical victory’, which is where we deceive ourselves (temporarily) into thinking that we can win, or that we have won. This type of ‘victory’ is a victory over ourselves since the only thing we have succeeded in doing is in fooling ourselves into thinking we are ‘in control’ when we’re not! When we succeed in fooling ourselves in this way (which we do petty much on a full-time basis) then we feel secure, we feel cocky (we can even feel totally arrogant) but all of this is Type-1 confidence, all of this is only ‘for show’. We only fooling ourselves; we taking refuge in comforting illusions…


With Type-2 confidence there is no anxiety, because it is not based on us trying to fool ourselves into thinking that we’re in control when we’re not. There’s no need for anxiety because we’re not trying to ‘succeed at something which deep-down we know we can’t succeed at’. We’re not trying to deceive ourselves, in other words (which is to say, we’re not trying to escape into illusion). We’re not fighting against ‘what is’ – we’re relying on reality to be ‘what it already is’ and so there is no way that this can ever let us down…