If you study history, it seems that conflict and warfare are part of the very fabric of our human existence.
To understand the basis of conflict, all you really need to do is study two people living together. Sooner or later, even if they have the best of intentions, situations will arise that emphasize their different outlooks and needs. When these differences are not addressed, conflict will inevitably follow.
In the course of healthy interaction, we can work together to resolve our disagreements and create understanding and sympathy for each other — that is perhaps the definition of a good relationship, as contrasted with the more naïve notion that we can have endless romance or perfect harmony with no process or effort involved.
It may be impossible to create a world without conflict, but perhaps conflict is not the problem. It seems to be a natural outcome of the friction of people living together, sharing resources, aspirations, and obstacles. Disagreement could be considered a creative process that leads to exploring other points of view, adjusting our expectations and becoming more sensitive and open to the needs of others.
The key to working with conflict creatively is the notion of resolution — working to arrive at a “higher” integration, a creative fusion of the dynamic elements expressed in a dispute.
We often experience discord with other people — at home, at work, in politics — everywhere. But when these disagreements remain unresolved, when we need to win at any cost or when the situation becomes more and more divisive, then we will see the dawn of warfare — at the personal level for sure, but also at the local, tribal, national and global level.
Once we abandon the idea of resolving conflicts, they will inevitably, sooner or later, flair up and expand into a skirmish, into battle, into full-on combat. If you look closely at warfare, you will find its seeds in the abandoned process of conflict resolution.
War happens when we forgo the attempt to resolve our disagreements in a creative way and we feel there is no choice left but destruction. The “others” have now become our enemy and we try to eliminate them. Ironically, even in warfare, our enemies are still our partners. We are still choicelessly engaged with them. In a sense, even war is an attempt at conflict resolution, but it is a less desirable choice in that it leaves wounds and scars that will have to be dealt with again in the future.
Perhaps sometimes war is inevitable. The conflict is too strong, the rift is too wide, and the parties’ interests are not reconcilable. Great healers, diplomats, and leaders have the ability, conviction and charisma to bring the diverging elements in a situation together and appeal to the “higher” instincts of all concerned. However, it may not always be possible to do so, and sometimes this kind of leadership is not present.
If we can’t resolve our differences, there is also the option of developing tolerance of others and acceptance of circumstances that are not going to turn out as we had hoped. It may be possible to let go somewhat of our expectations and the need to control every situation to map to our own fixed version of reality. Compromise is a cornerstone of healthy relationships and good diplomacy. Tolerance can be taught at the individual and societal level and can serve as a buffer for those situations that are not so easy to resolve.
Once our attempts at resolving disputes have failed, we are heading down the road to either an imbalance in which dominance and submissiveness are the currency of exchange or in the case where the power becomes more evenly distributed open warfare.
If we can view conflict as a creative process and develop a strong capacity for exploration and resolution, we can quite possibly diminish the need for warfare in our world altogether. It is possible at the personal level and it is possible at the collective level.
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