unite and conquer
conflict for grown-ups
I grew up understanding conflict as a way to determine who was right and who was wrong. It went a little like this: a clash followed by a rigorous defence, followed by raised voices and the speeding up of words, an adrenaline release accompanied by a pounding heart, followed by a barrage of back and forth missiles, both sides out for themselves.
In my world, arguments were never really resolved. They just faded away until, over time, each party could mumble a few words to each other, a breaking of the ice if you will, before things got back to normal.
I learned early on that conflict was a dangerous thing in my life. Conflict was the cessation of love. Conflict ended relationships. Conflict brought to light my shame. When I couldn’t keep up with the mental gymnastics of the argument, I understood that to mean the argument was won by my opponent. The blame then was mine which, logically, meant that I was wrong.
And that’s what conflict was - a determination of who was right and who was wrong by trying to beat your opponent.
I grew into my adult years with that same model of conflict resolution. I would get into arguments with my husband and immediately fall into the pattern of building my case to prove he was wrong. He was wrong and I was right. It wasn’t a way to find peace between us, it was a competition to see who could build a tighter case. It was about being clever and quick on my feet. I’d look for the lynchpin, dig through my memory to summon the clincher. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at the time. At the time I was fighting for my life.
That may seem grandiose, the “fighting for my life” part, but in the depths of my darkest places, that’s what little me was doing. The tender parts, the wounded parts of my heart, saw arguments as the cessation of love. They were dangerous things that had the potential to detonate fury and hatred. So what did it mean if on top of that, I was the one to blame? It meant that love was conditional, could be taken away in a moment, and I had no one to blame but myself.
I think it’s important for us to be collectively examining the messages around conflict that we’ve brought into our adulthood. We are, after all, a global world of humans comprised of many small groups of humans living in clusters. What happens in our lives, in our homes, with our loved ones, extends into the larger collective. And what’s extending into the larger collective right now is a mirror of our hearts, our homes, and our most intimate relationships.
I read Charles Eisenstein’s most recent essay, “Whose Reality is it?” earlier this week. It’s brilliant and I hope you’ll take the time to read it yourselves. I have been an admirer of Charles’ work for many years now. I’ve read every book he’s written. He has a sharp, keen intellect, but it’s his heart that keeps me close to his offerings. I have come to know him, in my small way, as a human being living in love. He isn’t blurred by false sentiment - he sees the world as it is and he offers his life through love in dedication to a more beautiful world. What a model for us all. To see each other, warts and all, and to offer love even when hatred is easier.
In his essay, Charles tackles the division, cultivated and exacerbated by manipulative powers, that has resulted from the Palestine/Israel conflict. He highlights some comments left on a recent article he read about the bombings in the war. Here’s a sampling:
“Gaza deserves hell and damnation.”
“Israel doesn't have humanity, all those who are supporting them in this heinous act are also shameless and cruel people. Israel doesn't deserve peace and will never get this land.”
“There are no innocents in Gaza. They're all favoring barbaric Hamas, cherishing manslaughter and the kind of terrorism ISIS was conducting. They're all being reduced to rubble, ashes and dust these days, as they all deserve.”
I know these comments are about countries and leaders and far away places, but in them all I see the innermost lives of the commenters. I see the conflict and angst in their lives. I feel the disconnection in their homes and relationships. And that’s why it matters that we get things right under our own roofs. What we model to our children, how we react with each other is the very material used to weave this interconnected tapestry. If, in the dregs of conflict with the love of my life, I cannot find and summon empathy for the deeper places he is struggling with, how could I ever offer compassion to deeply suffering human beings that I think are “wrong”? If my whole model of conflict is judging right and wrong, the sentence of dehumanisation is