Mindless Middles

Barry Oshry wrote a recent blog post on the challenges of working as a Middle. 1

Oshry states:

Middles regularly face potential sewer pipe situations. The instructions come and you pass them on. That’s what Middles do. Unfortunately, that’s what Middles may do blindly and reflexively without examining the instructions and considering the consequences they are likely to have. This is what it means to be a Mindless Middle. The challenge for Middles is at all times to maintain their independence of thought and action, and then to have the courage to act on that judgment.

I read the blog post and nodded my head in approval. I tried to think of situations where I had behaved mindlessly as a middle and none came to mind! Then, the next day, as I was driving to work, I realized that there were instances where I had been the sewer pipe and was the Mindless Middle that Oshry talks. What struck was that I did not feel like I was being mindless at those instances!The bigger problem is that it is hard to recognize or realize that we are being mindless. It is hard to observe what you cannot see!

When I replay the instances where I was mindless in my head, I realized that there was a strong inclination on my part “to follow the orders” and not “rock the boat”. The story that Barry narrates also made a lot of sense. As a Middle, it is easy to believe we are powerless. By shedding light on this phenomenon, Barry shows us that there is another way that is available to Middles and that we do have the power to act and use good judgment.

I was reminded of Barry’s lesson while reading about the incident at the end of the NFL game between New York Giants and Tamba Bay Bucs. At the end of the game, with the Giants in a victory formation, Bucs coach Greg Schiano asked his players to knock Eli Manning. Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin was livid at this tactic and yelled at Schiano during the post-game handshake. Coughlin felt that Schiano’s call to go after the quarterback and offensive line during a kneel-down formation could have hurt somebody. The entire Giants team felt it was a cheap shot and was unwarranted.

After reading about the incident, I thought about the Bucs players. I believe, NFL players understand the health risks of playing the game and would not want to intentionally hurt or injure a player. I saw the Bucs Players acting as the Middle in this scenario. They got a clear instruction from the Top, their head coach, to go after the quarterback. Could some of the Bucs players resented this move from their coach? Did one of them feel they were putting the Giants in a risky situation and could potentially jeopardize a player’s career by injuring them? Wasn’t this the same situation that Barry Oshry mentions? Did one of the players not go after Eli even with clear instructions from their coach? I don’t have the answers to these questions.

The other day, I saw an article from Justin Tuck, NY Giants player, who said that he would have said No if one of his coaches asked him to do something similar.

Tuck said:

“If Perry Fewell told me to dive at a guy’s knee, when we were losing, I would say ‘No,’ ” Tuck said.

I reflected on Barry’s article and this football incident and realized that being “mindful” as a Middle requires a lot of courage. I believe Barry has given us the power of increased awareness and the power to use our good judgment even in tough circumstances.


  1. You can learn more about Oshry’s system model at the following link
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