"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world—that is the myth of the atomic age—as in being able to remake ourselves."
I would like to explore the source of conflicts in an effort to shed some light into why we act and behave in a way that begins with discomfort and ends with either directly or indirectly destroying each other.
Conflict is the number one complaint among people in relationships. "We are not communicating well," say many. We blame others or we blame ourselves. We manage conflicts by avoiding them, overcoming them or winning them.
Here are some definitions of conflicts:
- Happening in relationships, to others or to oneself
- Opposition between two simultaneous but incompatible wishes or drives, sometimes leading to a state of emotional tension
- A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one
- An expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals
- Threat that might lead to fight and war
What is the nature of conflict?
Conflict is a difference of opinion, values and beliefs, culture, religion, or economic background. It is a struggle because we think that it shouldn't be there and, if the difference is a threat, we want to overcome it by fighting or declaring a war.
My mentor, a great leadership strategist, said that "conflict is never resolved, not as long as people are alive and breathing. The only time you might not have conflict is if you run a cemetery, and that's only when you don't have to deal with families."
Even though we experience the source of conflict as happening "over there," it always begins with how one perceives the situation. It is past-based, and it has very little or nothing to do with facts in the present.
The myth of conflict, from tragedy to disagreement.
I am 8 years old. My mom and I are having dinner in the kitchen. She talks loudly and continuously. "Your father should be home already. He promised that he will be home early tonight. It’s almost 8 o’clock. He is probably with that woman. He can't stay away from her. We have been talking about this, and he promised no more affairs." My eyes are wide open, and my ears hurt because at this point she is almost screaming. I don't know what she is talking about. I am scared. I am hoping she just stops shouting. My father steps into the house. He looks tired and weary. He has been working since 6 am. He is a truck driver. He works long hours. My mother's tone of voice catches him off guard. He wants to say something, but my mother doesn't let him. The next moment I hear "whoosh!", and a dish with cooked food is flying across the kitchen. Silence...I am already in my room lying on my bed under the covers. I am shaking uncontrollably and I am terrified. I am never ever going to be like my parents, I swear quietly to myself.
My father won the heated argument with force and violence. My view of life became that argument can be violent and dangerous and something to fear. Most my life, either I avoided disagreement or blew up in anger. It cost me full self-expression, relatedness, aliveness and love.
Peter, a client of mine, raised by older parents, was adopted as a baby. He had difficulty explaining how his parents related to each other in conflict. He had no distinct awareness of if his parents were lovingly connected or were upset with each other. Growing up, he needed to be a good brother to his siblings, even by overriding his own needs. He could not protest because that might upset his parents. He interpreted that disagreement is wrong because people withdraw their attention and love from him. All of his life he struggled with pleasing others, a lack of self-confidence, and never reaching his full potential.
Kate's style is an explosive one. She can't tolerate disagreement. She thinks it is a personal attack and she has to defend herself. Usually she blows up and wants to win the situation. When she raises her voice, she feels bigger and more powerful than others. Intimidating others is her weapon, but underneath she is a little girl who is terrified to lose the battle. She was abused physically and emotionally, so her view of is that life is dangerous and that she has no one to trust. The impact on her life is that she gets angry easily, she is lonely and she feels unlovable.
Conflict doesn't have to always be the source of tragedy. Sometimes it is just a statement of how things should or shouldn't be, like "You have to be on time," "You shouldn't interrupt me," or simply saying "no" that sweeps us off our feet.
The truth about conflicts
As you are discover, conflict is nothing more than a reaction to what's happening in the present moment through an escalation of one's perception of reality. When we examine something exactly the way it is, with nothing added and nothing left out, conflict dissolves into a naked reality.
You need to ask yourself: Can I manage or even prevent reality?
Only when we are relating directly and precisely to a problematic situation is there a chance for real communication and find a new solution. There is nothing and nobody to blame. We can experience full self-expression, love, and freedom.
"Gods, religions and national boundaries are absolutely imaginary. They don't tend to exist. As soon as you pull back half a mile and look down at the Earth there are no national boundaries. There aren't even national boundaries when you get down and walk around. They're just imaginary lines we draw on maps. I just get fascinated by people who assume that things that are imaginary have relevance to their lives."
- Neil Gaiman