Conflict can sometimes seem like a dirty word, something that we’re not only supposed to avoid engaging in, but also seem encouraged to avoid discussing at all.
When asked to look back into our past to times of conflict – within ourselves and with others – we are not likely to conjure up positive memories of discussion and respect and everyone leaving with their needs met. When I look back at times of conflict in my life, they have been full of anger, sadness and me taking things more personally than might have been appropriate.
The all too often black and white thinking in today’s society can feel like we’re all being separated into our little factions based on our beliefs and that can bring about a sort of ‘You’re either with us or against us’ feeling between groups of people. But thinking this way does not take into accont the nuances of humans or a person’s ability to grow, change or be a potentially decent person despite having some questionable beliefs.
I don’t think I’ve ever been taught how to have a healthy conflict, how to take an approach of I’m ok, and you’re ok, we just disagree about something and need to talk it out. For all the things that were lectured to me in school, college and university, not once was I taught how to be compassionate while disagreeing with someone, how to feel love for someone who’s views anger me or how to hear someone out when they are against me. All those things might seem difficult but when I look at the alternative, I don’t see much progress in my conflicts with others.
To do those things listed above, I need to allow myself to be vulnerable in front of those I might not consider to be ‘my people’. And while that isn’t an easy thing to set out to do, I believe it to be the beginning of true communication. If we can have the courage to ask questions of the people we are in conflict with (or our own internal conflicts we are facing) and take the time to genuinely listen instead of just talking, we can take the first steps in transforming a conflict into an opportunity for growth, learning and connection.
– Grainne Patterson,