How To Make Conflict Your Friend

*9 minute read*

First published 10 March, 2013

“If you want to see someone in real pain, watch someone who knows who he is and defaults on it on a regular basis.”- Pat Murray

“Conflict is the beginning of consciousness.”- Mary Esther Harding

“Conflict is the gadfly of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity, and sets us at noting and contriving.”- John Dewey

I’m a little behind the times when it comes to seeing box office blockbuster films. I haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter or Hobbit movies, let alone Lord of the Rings and it wasn’t until Friday night that I finally got to see the film Avatar for the first time!

[Spoiler alert..wait, was I the only person in the world who hadn’t seen Avatar?]

One aspect of the film that really stood out for me was the way the concept of conflict was presented. At first, the Na’vi people faced the attack and invasion of their sacred land passively. They retreated and withdrew from conflict. At this point in the film I thought I could see how it was going to pan out. The humans would invade and destroy the Na’vi’s sacred land and we would learn a tragic lesson about how aggression and greed continues to triumph over peace and nature.

But it didn’t work out that way. Instead of giving up or surrendering, the Na’vi stood up and met the humans with equal aggression, fighting hard to protect what was sacred to them.

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In life we get what we tolerate.

I believe there is a time to surrender but there is also a time to fight.

There is a time to speak up and a time to remain silent.

There is a time for peace and a time for healthy conflict.

In fact healthy conflict is often a pre-requisite for peace.

I believe that there are also scales of conflict that range from fierce conversations (great book) to all-out violent warfare and these scales will escalate the longer we avoid confrontation.

For example, in my past there were times early on in relationships where I remained silent about things that I didn’t agree with. I wanted to “keep the peace”. The irony was, that these same issues manifest themselves later on in bigger and more agressive ways both externally in the relationship and internally in my head (resentment, contempt, stress, worry, anxiety etc.)!

So often we avoid conflict to “keep the peace”. But what if we were meant to have conflict in our lives? What if conflict was presented to us as a gift to challenge our beliefs and values and through this challenge help us grow? What if we shifted our view (think back to last week’s post) of conflict from fear and pain to an opportunity for no-holds-barred exchange and understanding?

By embracing small-scale conflict early we can prevent the escalation of an issue to the scale of all-out ‘warfare’.

However, we fear conflict. Of course we fear conflict. It is our natural instinct to fear things that may make us feel uncomfortable. It takes courage to enter into conflict and it also often requires a form of healthy agression. Let me explain.

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I had a dream about a year ago, that I was being attacked by a tiger. In the dream I was running and hiding, narrowly avoiding death as the tiger chased me. Eventually I realised I wasn’t going to escape and in order to survive I had to summon the power to meet the tiger with equal aggression. In the dream, we ran toward each other both roaring and collided mid-air at which point we dissolved into each other and then collapsed on the ground (cool huh?). Following the collision, as I lay on the ground the tiger had now become gentle and playful; I had neutralised it’s agression by meeting it with my aggresion. I felt at the same time both powerful and peaceful!

This kind of scenario has popped up in two recent films I’ve seen lateley and it feels like a universal “truth” to me.

In Avatar, in order to tame the flying dragon thing, the main character Jake has to face it with the same aggression that it faces him with:

Also in the Life of Pi, the main character Pi needs to tame the tiger he is shipwrecked with in order to survive:

In both of these films and in my dream it seems almost as if these conflicts were presented by the universe as a gift to help us grow and reach a new level of consciousness.

In my reality, I’m living and working toward creating my ideal life. My ideal life involves passion, creativity, travel, love, faith, family, curiosity, stillness, music, openness and lots more… These qualities are very sacred to me and I am learning more and more that at times I need to aggressively defend them by standing up to people or situations that threaten them. Otherwise, I’ll get what I tolerate.

In the real community, this kind of healthy agression is referred to as the ‘clean warrior‘ archetype. Which basically means using our inherant strength and agression in a healthy way.

I recently had an experience at the coffee shop at work where I put my ‘clean warrior’ into action to establish a personal boundary. One of the coffee shop staff who likes to have a joke with me from time to time made a comment from a distance about me flirting with one of his customers. The lady he was talking about was actually a very important project partner of ours and this was just an inappropriate thing to say.

So, as I walked to the counter to grab my coffee I forcefully said to the staff member, “she is actually a very important partner on a project I’m working on and that was an inappropriate thing to say.” I was clear and direct. There was no ambiguity in my message and I established a very clear boundary on what I tolerate. My comment took him by surprise but there’s been no love lost since.

In this crazy-busy ever-changing world, trying to find peace and stillness would be impossible if we waited for it to magically appear. Sometimes we have to fight for it.

I have a rule of not working on the weekends (as far as possible) so that I can completely switch off from work and be recharged when I come back on a Monday. In the last few weeks my work has been piling up and I’ve  gradually been losing control and this has been holding me back from relaxing.

So, on Saturday afternoon I decided to allow three hours to go and like a ninja destroy all of the chaos that has been holding me back from relaxing. I smashed out an hour catching up on emails and an hour preparing and planning for my new staff member’s arrival on Monday, to make sure it’s a welcoming and empowering experience for her when she begins. I also spent an hour tidying and re-arranging our working space and clearing away clutter. On Saturday night I came home and relaxed 🙂

Sometimes healthy conflict is with other people, sometimes it’s with ourselves.

Either way, we need to embrace healthy conflict and see it as an opportunity to move with power toward peace. By acting with authenticity and integrity, in the exchange of conflict you will feel your weaknesses and strengths exposed and you will learn and grow.

So, I challenge you to consider:

  • What conflict are you avoiding to ‘keep the peace’? What is this avoidance costing you now and in the future in terms of resentment, stress, anxiety and worry?
  • Think back to moments in your life where you have experienced conflict. In hindsight, what kind of learnings have come out of these exchanges? How much worse would the situation have turned out if you hadn’t faced the issue back then?
  • Think back to times where you have avoided conflict. What has this since cost you?

Til next week, be awesome like a warrior!


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2 thoughts on “How To Make Conflict Your Friend

  1. Christian. I really enjoyed the blog this week as conflict is an ongoing challenge for me. I am naturally one that makes peace and keeps everyone happy driven by an underlying need to have everyone like me. Overcoming this fear has been and still is a huge process for me but what I have discovered is that when I do harness courage and face conflict that the perception I had of how big the fear is, is much greater than the reality and the reward of facing the conflict is much larger than what I had actually perceived. It’s so interesting that my mind works in this way and actually ties in so much with my choice in having a positive or negative outlook on my life and situations. It’s crazy that my mind can create a sabotaging belief so powerful that I convince myself that stepping away from my truth is more beneficial than holding it. What a powerful tool our minds are and I feel so grateful that we are fortunate enough to be living in a reality that is presenting us with opportunities to grow and learn to make the most of that tool! Thanks for helping me to continue to Be Awesome!

    1. Thanks again Brodie, for having the courage to reflect on this topic through your comment. Your thoughts remind me that we often live in two realities; the one in our head and the one we experience. They are vastly different and one can hold us back while the other one can allow us to grow. Our mind is a powerful tool but it has it’s limitations and we need to harness it for our benefit rather than our sabotage. You are awesome for sharing!

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