THE WISDOM OF CONFLICT
By Bill Southworth
We live in a world
full of conflict. Look at the headlines of national and local newspapers.
It's all around us -- at home, in
at school, in town, on the highway -- nationally and internationally.
Deborah Tannen, a linguist at Georgetown University, refers to this
situation in her book The Argument Culture. Conflict is a fact, and
usually a very
unpleasant part of life that not many people enjoy, particularly if they
are on the receiving end.
To simply declare
that conflict is a fact of life does not mean we should ignore it,
nor does it mean it can't be
changed. Like so many things
that impact our lives in adverse ways, we need to understand how conflict
happens in order to change it. Understanding can be the first step
and often the best way to prevent difficulties from turning into conflict.
One of the reasons we get into conflict is of our own doing. We have
a tendency to separate people on the basis of their differences: e.g.
opinions, income, race, religion, political views, and age, physical
and mental health. The problem is not that there are differences, but
rather how we deal with those differences. We so often choose to separate
and exclude on the basis of differences in ways that are harmful, even
cruel, rather than look for similarities and reasonable ways to associate.
Our excluding limits where people can live, what jobs they can have,
what education they are allowed, whom they should marry, even how they
should worship. We not only exclude on a personal level, but also on
a societal, national and international level. "My way or the highway" is
a familiar approach to differences of opinion and beliefs. If life
were only that simple!
Why do we exclude
people on the basis of these differences? One reason
is comfort. We are more comfortable with people who think, live,
and act like us and have a similar background in terms of income, race,
religion, age, etc. Another reason is safety and security. We feel
with people like us because we are more familiar with their ways
so we know what to expect. People who are different can seem threatening
so we lump them into categories such as others, them, or even the
enemy, all terms that exclude people who are different and eliminate
to understand each other. It's quicker to lump people into the other
category so we can set them aside. Why waste the time to deal with
them, let alone understand them, if it's easier to ignore and exclude
So, is there a problem
of associating with similar people? In some instances it's not a problem
and no one is harmed. It is also
the freedom to associate with people of our own choosing. The problem
lies in those instances where we use differences to discriminate
and limit other people's choices. (e.g. to get a decent education
to live in a pleasant and safe neighborhood, to hold views that
are different from ours.) The problem lies in not taking the time to
listen, so we
might begin to understand, broaden our ways of thinking about issues
and find common interests and concerns.