Stalemates are funny things. In chess, a stalemate means you are left with no legal moves, but aren’t in check. In Canada, Stalemate is a rock band. In the Mediterranean, stalemate defines the lack of movement to reunify the Greek and Turkish portions of Cyprus. (BTW, it’s on posts like these that I absolutely love Google.)
Stalemates ultimately mean no movement, either forward or back. And no movement leaves you vulnerable. I suspect that’s why President Reagan decided to push some buttons with his famous Cold War speech at Brandenburg Gate. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were at a stalemate and:
Just eight months before [Reagan's speech], a summit between Reagan and Gorbachev had ended unsatisfactorily, with both sides charging the other with bad faith in talks aimed at reducing nuclear arsenals. Reagan, who had formed a personal closeness to Gorbachev during their previous meetings, obviously wanted to move those negotiations forward. (link)
Some thought the following speech on June 12, 1987, only two years before the Berlin Wall fell, was too risky and too bold given the environment.
Reagan is most famous for this particular Berlin Wall speech, but he had given 12 earlier speeches on the subject. However, it’s this one we best remember for “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan’s speech provided the necessary spark to break the stalemate:
In December 1987, the two met once again and signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear missiles from Europe. (link)
And two years later, the wall came down.
What action do you take to end a stalemate? This concept reminds me of Seth Godin’s The Dip because you either make a decision to push through or you quit, but you don’t sit. This idea of waiting for good things to happen, for life to happen, is short sighted. Things of value usually require movement and progress to reach the desired end.
The minute you stop moving, it’s easy to slide into stalemate. Think of Newton’s law of inertia: “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force. An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force.”(link) Isn’t it easier to stay moving than to stop and try to start again?