We spend most of our lives avoiding pain. Anything we can do to sidestep suffering, we will do. The path of least resistance. The path of ease and comfort. Even if it leads to apathy, we want to avoid struggle at all costs.
Conflict is the most awkward kind of suffering. The suffering of relationship. Conflict is the word we use when struggle is no longer solely internal. Conflict is a group activity.
And since it is a kind of suffering, we do our utmost to avoid it.
Yet conflict is not a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it is healthy and necessary. In and of itself, conflict is neither good or bad. It is a neutral entity. How we engage with conflict determines its usefulness; whether it is a net gain or a loss. And the first step toward healthy conflict is recognizing it for what it is worth.
Why We Conflict
Healthy conflict happens when two values rub against one another. Anytime we feel as though a value has been threatened, conflict is warranted.
This happens in a lot of different ways. Miscommunication is one. We hold our values so close and so dear. Sometimes they are triggered when someone does something. Sometimes we hear things that weren’t said and perceive things unintended.
Yet, a conflict is still warranted. One of the values of conflict is clarity. If we are an part of an organization or a relationship pursuing truth, conflict is inevitable. Whether people mean it or not, we say and do things that hurt each other. Our expectations aren’t met. Our definitions are different. We don’t understand the experiences of others. All of these lead to conflict.
The Value of Conflict
Conflict can be an aid to all of these ills. We often think of conflict as the unfortunate result of our differences. But it is also the bonding agent of our diversity. Only by coming together – expressing our thoughts, feelings, and ideas – can we move into a deeper and more unified understanding of the truth.
The great destroyer of conflict potential is the power of ME. We want conflict to justify our position. To make us right and punish others for disagreeing. Conflict looses its value when it lacks humility. When we lack the basic understanding that we are on the same team, that we are in this together, our conflict devolves into something destructive.
Although this is pandemic in our world, it doesn’t need to be. Because conflict is also how intimacy develops. It is how we learn and grow. It is how we develop trust and interdependency.
Some of us are obsessed with conflict because we are obsessed with validating our own self and need an antagonist to fight against. This is not about values. This is about pride. It may not even be right to call this conflict. It is more about arrogance, the tantrum of a self-obsessed narcissist. Conflict is about engaging with someone. You should not engage in conflict if you are unwilling to listen.
Conflict is almost always “okay”. The question is whether or not we are going to resolve in a healthy or unhealthy way. Will we use the opportunity of conflict to deepen division or develop strength?