Hexagram 6 is called Conflict, or Arguing; its name also means bringing to court and calling for justice. Fittingly enough, it’s best understood through contrasts and oppositions. The authors of the oracle seem to have thought so, too: its Oracle is laid out as a series of contrasts:
There is truth and confidence, blocked.
Vigilant and centred, good fortune. Ending, pitfall.
Fruitful to see great people,
Fruitless to cross the great river.’
I think this begins with a contrast between ‘truth and confidence’, which above all is the connection that’s the basis for relationship (more on that in Language of Change), and ‘blocking’, which means obstruction – a hole stopped up, stifling the flow through. The opposition between these two pinpoints a frustration of Arguing: truth not brought to expression. Sometimes this is directly apparent: a truth that can’t be communicated, a relationship where certain things may not be said. At a deeper, simpler level, it’s the basic sense that this is not right – not just the emotional reaction of dissatisfaction, but truly knowing that the situation could be better.
(There is another way to punctuate this opening to get a different translation: ‘There is truth and confidence. In blockage, be vigilant…’ That would make the contrast between ‘truth’ and ‘blocked’ less prominent.)
The contrasts continue: good fortune as opposed to pitfall; fruitful as opposed to fruitless. What are the distinctions being made?
‘Vigilant and centred, good fortune. Ending, pitfall.’
‘Vigilance’ is a beautiful character: its components are the heart, and yi, change (the name of the book). To have a change-heart in the centre is good fortune. There’s a distinction between stopping halfway and driving through to the bitter end – but more than that, good fortune comes of being poised and alert in the centre, aware of change and capable of moving in any direction. (At the centre, you’re equally close to all points on the periphery – all possibilities are equally available to you.)
The Tuanzhuan (Commentary on the Judgement) says that ending means pitfall because ‘arguing does not allow accomplishment.’ This is a core theme of the hexagram: Arguing is not a way to achieve things. It’s a way to say, ‘This isn’t flowing, this doesn’t fit… let’s try something different.‘
‘Fruitful to see great people. Fruitless to cross the great river.’
What’s the nature of the contrast between seeing great people and crossing the river?
Great people, in the Yi, are distinguished by their ability to see more. (Again, see the entry in Language of Change.) The elders, leaders, even diviners, can see both sides of the argument and the full field of possibilities. Einstein may or may not have said something to the effect that, ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.’ Seeing great people, in a time of Arguing, means accessing a different level of consciousness.
Often, when discussing ‘see great people’ with a client, I might suggest consulting with one’s wiser self – for instance through the playful ‘thought experiment’ of having a conversation with the self of ten years in the future, who resolved this situation long ago. With hexagram 6, though, my first suggestion would be to talk to another person, because it’s so hard to turn off the inner polemic for long enough to become aware of alternative views. Hexagram 6 is time for marriage counsellors, coaches, arbitrators, wise friends who will not get sucked in… after all, ‘Arguing’ does translate as ‘bringing to court’.
So seeing the great person implies stepping back, finding an overview. seeing more than just your own objectives. Crossing the great river, on the other hand, represents an irrevocable commitment to a single course of action – not least going to war. It requires uncompromising focus: ‘This way and no other way, no matter what.’
The Tuanzhuan says succinctly that crossing the great river here means ‘entering into the abyss’. The one who crosses the river has decided to ignore many things she needed to know. She lacks perspective and understanding – so she’s sunk.
Even more contrasts…
The text contrasts truth with obstruction, centrality with ‘to the bitter end’, overview and perspective with narrow focus. Structural contrasts, with other hexagrams, amplify and add to this – giving us more of a sense of what Arguing isn’t, so we can see what it is.
Complement: 36, Brightness Hiding, and openness
Change every line of Arguing, and you have Brightness Hiding, its complementary or opposite hexagram. You can see the basic similarity in the ‘shape’ of these two situations: truth obstructed, a status quo that isn’t right. The difference is in the response: Hexagram 36 hides the light; Hexagram 6 brings the dispute to court.
The roots of the character song, Arguing, give a good sense of its meaning: its components are speech and gong, which means both a duke and also ‘fair, unbiased’ and ‘public, open to all’. Hexagram 36 hides its insight – pretends not to know. Hexagram 6 wants to get the problem out in the open to resolve it. There’s no keeping it to yourself here – and also no keeping it from yourself, which can happen with 36. Arguing names the problem and makes it explicit.
Contrasting pair: 5, Waiting, and progress
If you look at Arguing from the reverse perspective – in other words, if you turn the hexagram upside down – you see Hexagram 5, Waiting. The Zagua, the Wing dedicated to contrasting pairs of hexagrams, says,
‘Waiting means no progress, arguing means no connection.’
Hexagram 5 has to do with waiting on, attending to, inviting what you need towards you through the quality of your attention. Waiting has truth and confidence – no ‘blocking’ here – and finds it fruitful to cross the great river, a manifestation of commitment. I think waiting, done well, is a way of aligning with dao. Not a way of ‘making progress’ relative to one’s environment, but of connecting with it.
The word ‘connect’ here means kinship, intimacy and affection – things Arguing, with its ‘truth blocked’, doesn’t have. But perhaps, just as Waiting seems to be a way of connection, so Arguing might be a way of progress. Not of arriving, not of accomplishing anything, just of moving forward. Waiting might connect with the processes of change, but Arguing actively pushes against the status quo.
Shadow: 59, Dispersing, and difference
Still another contrasting hexagram: hexagram ‘minus 6’ in the Sequence (ie counting backwards from 64) is 59, Dispersing. This (a discovery of Stephen Karcher’s) is the Shadow of Arguing: precisely the wrong way to think about it.
Shadow hexagrams are tricky – they can seem like the only sensible way to think about the situation. When there’s conflict, wouldn’t it be a natural, positive response to seek a single unifying current that flows through the situation, sweeping away its divisions? Really, shouldn’t we be aiming to dissolve the differences that block the flow?
Well… no. Arguing needs its distinctions; it needs to be able to say, ‘No, not like this,’ so it can move against the flow. This is expressed most clearly in its trigrams, with water flowing down and away below heaven:
‘Heaven joins with stream: contradictory movements. Arguing.
A noble one, starting work, plans how to begin.’
Arguing also requires enough distance from the emotions involved to have a clear overview – to ‘see the great people’ and plan a new direction. (Dispersing tends to mean free, uninhibited emotional flow.)
In practice, this movement against the flow can show up across a broad emotional spectrum. Raging indignation is a possibility: like Gong Gong in his fury stirring the waters to beat against heaven – this is not right, this is not just, this cannot be.
The Sequence from Hexagram 5 says (perhaps wryly), ‘Drinking and eating naturally mean arguing.’ That can point to a desperate fight for resources, Arguing just to have your basic needs met. But within the Sequence, it’s also part of the story of a newborn – naturally ignorant, needing to be fed – which conjures up pictures of someone who really will not eat spinach purée, because he’s become aware of how it tastes to him: he knows his own mind. Arguing begins with ‘truth and confidence’, after all.
So there can be rage, furious refusal – or, with a little more poise and maturity (‘vigilant and centred… seeing great people…’) there can simply be the growing awareness of what a coach might call a ‘toleration’. ‘This isn’t ideal, but I can put up with it… but then again…’ – and there is an itch to change. Such awareness might even emerge as curiosity: ‘It would be good if this were different; how could it be different?
The repeated message of Hexagram 6, from its oracle through to (especially) line 6 is that there’s no such thing as conclusively winning an argument. Or to look at this idea from another angle: when you’re arguing, when you can see and want something different, seeking to win is a misapplication of this power. Arguments are not meant for winning; winning is the wrong thing to do with an argument.
It’s only the fifth line that offers unambiguous good fortune –
‘Arguing: good fortune from the source.’
– and this is the line where Arguing joins with hexagram 64, Not Yet Across. It’s arguing with the constant awareness that nothing is complete, nothing is decided, and it’s not good to be in too much of a hurry to cross the river. So in practice this kind of arguing is open-ended, creative and inquisitive. ‘The noble one, starting work, plans how to begin.’ (This is one of several hexagrams where the Image reads like a commentary on the fifth line.) It’s not looking for a ‘win’, but wondering, ‘How to tackle this now? and what about now? And now which way?’