Considering Conflict

problem opportunity

Let’s begin by pondering a few questions. First, if you had a choice, would you always want to be happy? Second, if you had a choice, would you live a life absent of conflict?

I bet you’re thinking, “What’s the catch? If I had a choice, of course I’d rather be happy all the time AND have a life without conflict.” What would that look like? We all have times in our lives when we wish everything would slow down, straighten out, or be less complicated. Sometimes, life just keeps throwing us curveballs and it can be extremely frustrating, but does that mean we never want to be challenged? Never moved to tears? Never have to rethink a well-worn position? If life was always smooth sailing, would that result in happiness?

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘conflict’?  When I ask that question to a group of people, the initial responses  usually include: war, fighting, argument, broken relationships, yelling, name calling, pain, bullying, etc. Most people associate negative feelings and attribute unpleasant situations with conflict. That’s when I identify that there’s another side to conflict and to understand conflict, it helps to acknowledge both sides.  In other words, in conflict there is indeed challenge, maybe even danger, but there is also opportunity. This is the point in the conversation when people start to think of more constructive associations with conflict, such as: solution, healing, communication, working together and better understanding.

In my experience, happiness is fleeting and that’s what makes it so special.  Within one day I can experience few or many happy moments, but I don’t live in a perpetual ‘happy place’.  Also based on my experience, the happiness that I feel after I have attained a long sought after goal is the most fulfilling happiness.  And guess what, that goal is usually sought due to some sort of conflict that has appeared in my life (losing weight to fit into that wedding dress, achieving a new academic degree to better support my family).  For most, when conflict presents itself we don’t respond with ‘oh goody, here’s a challenge for me to face!” Rather, we resist and maybe say a few choice words @#%*. What follows is a somewhat complicated response based on our physical health, our emotional state, or our past experience with conflict of this kind or conflict in general.  For some it may mean a dip in energy, for some a rise. But after we have our initial response, we most often set out to develop a plan to deal with the situation in front of us. And when we come out of the situation on the other side, and the result is in our favor, isn’t that the sweetest happiness of all?

Somewhat similar to the well-known saying, ‘no pain, no gain’, I say ‘no conflict, no change’. Wouldn’t the absence of conflict make for a boring, stagnant world? Think about it, the world’s greatest inventions were the result of addressing and overcoming conflict. Consider the telephone and the internet, for example, they each allowed for quicker, more inclusive sharing of ideas across the nation and then the world.  Even democracy, the backbone of our nation, was conceived of a desire to find a better way to govern that didn’t condone suffering and oppression among the masses. So instead of focusing only on the negative side of conflict, perhaps balancing our responses to also look for opportunity will yield a different perspective.  Now let’s look at our own communities; conflict can tear at a community’s fabric or it can be the catalyst for better understanding of the needs and wants of our neighbors and loved ones. Such a perspective encourages resilience and zeal for life.