A key belief and teaching in conflict resolution is that conflict can be useful--an opportunity to learn, grow and see something the conflict is trying to show us.
- Author and aikidoist Thomas Crum said: “Conflict just is. It’s what we do with it that makes the difference.”
- Kurt Vonnegut uses the phrase “wrang-wrangs” to describe great teachers placed in our life disguised as difficult people. “Wrang-wrangs” are placed there on purpose, he says, to teach us important lessons.
- Poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: "What is required of us is that we love the difficult and learn to deal with it. In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us. Right in the difficult we must have our joys, our happiness, our dreams: there against the depth of this background, they stand out, there for the first time we see how beautiful they are."
And Robert Frost:
The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down across our path is not to bar
Our passage to our journey’s end for good
But just to ask us who we think we are.
A Change in Mindset
Why then do we run from conflict or turn it into life- and relationship-threatening wars? Why do we behave as if conflict is the opposite of a gift--a terrible, negative thing? Some reasons are fear, poor role models, and lack of skill, to name a few.
The primary shift required to turn conflict into opportunity, is a change in mindset.
In aikido, when we refer to the attack as a “gift of energy” we change our mindset--the mental frame through which we see the conflict. And when we change our mindset, we also change the locus of power from the attacker (Ach! He’s coming for me!) to the receiver (Ah, yes. Energy I can use!). When we imagine the possibility of this energy as a gift, we change from being fearful to being curious, a mindset connected to growth and learning.
If we decide it will be terrible, it will be. If we choose a mindset of learning and fascination, we’ll encounter less stress and more fascination! If we think of a difficult person as an adversary, we will contribute in subtle and not so subtle ways to sustaining an adversarial relationship. If we think, “Wow, thank you very much!” and start looking for the gift, we will eventually find it!
Adopting the concept that conflict is neutral and it’s up to us to find the gift will facilitate the resolution and provide a foundational metaphor in life.
The “difficult” in our lives can be our greatest source of stress and our best teacher. Because conflict represents something we resist, it invites us to examine that resistance and the emotions surrounding it. If we are willing to expand our perspective slightly, we may discover new parts of ourselves as well.