Disagreement turns into conflict when the parties involved feel like they are in a zero-sum game. While we are having an abstract debate about whether bread is good for our health or not, we have a difference of opinion. When there is one slice of bread left and we are both hungry, that is a conflict.
It is a conflict of interest. A conflict of needs. Your survival threatens my survival.
Some people apparently thrive on disagreement and conflict. They’ll express what’s on their mind regardless of the consequences and the ensuing conflict to them is like rain drops are to a well built roof. A non issue.
Other people stay away from conflict. They think twice about what they say, they are polite and make sure they don’t do anything that directly upsets other people.
From a distance, the people who avoid conflict seem to have more peace of mind. But that’s a mirage.
The price of avoiding external conflict, is internal conflict.
They have the same disagreements and fights as the other group, but within themselves, between parts of their own personalities.
External conflicts are resolved by either finding a mutually acceptable solution or by one of the people forcing their will onto the other.
Internal conflicts are not dissimilar.
The different aspects of our psyche have different needs, which can be at odds with each other.
A part of me needs time alone, while another part of me needs company.
Part of me needs to do good and to construct while another part wants to see destruction.
Part of me is selfish and can only think of itself while another part would give everything away.
Part of me needs love and intimacy, another only needs raw sex.
Part of me seeks peace and calm, another part needs excitement and stimulation.
Part of me craves sweets, while the other part wants to look good, and yet another part wants to stay healthy.
Most of our decisions, but even our habits are the net results of which of our personality fragments prove to be stronger at any given time.
If there is a lesson to be drawn from the social arena and history, it’s probably the one about suppressed conflicts.
When a conflict is covered up by apparent peace, but the needs of one group of people are systematically ignored and suppressed, then provided that the suppressed people survive, a backlash of some sort is inevitable.
Suppose humanity survives long enough to witness lasting global peace, when war and military conflicts become a thing of the past. What kind of people do we envision populating the planet in that bright future? How are those lucky ones different from the people today who make and suffer from war?
One thing seems sure. They will look at one another as sacred and untouchable. None of my needs and desires can ever be important enough to physically harm you or to abolish the resources that are essential to meeting your fundamental needs.
This doesn’t mean there can’t be different opinions and fierce debates. But the framework which holds all debates is that we have equal rights to exist and to meet our fundamental needs. And the same is valid for all living beings, not only humans.
This also doesn’t mean that meritocracy is out of the window and let’s have another go at good old communism dressed in a fancy new age dress. Far from it. Let’s continue to reward high level contribution with more wealth. But when we are looking at the last piece of bread, we’ll share it equally amongst all of us, because we have equal rights to survive regardless of status, wealth or anything else.
Today, the zeitgeist is, if you want something, take it. Take as much as they let you, not as much as you need. If you do anything else, you are a loser. In that peaceful future, if it ever comes, the zeitgeist will say: take only so much that everyone else gets some. Why would you even take more?
Acknowledge the other’s right to exist as step zero.
How can we get there?
Peace among people is dependant on peace within people.
Just as acknowledging the other’s right to exist is step zero to peace in the world, so too acknowledging the right of our own fragments of personality to exist is step zero to peace within.
By acknowledging the right of your own dark side to exist, you give it permission to not have to overthrow the bright side and dominate your entire personality.
That’s only possible by paying attention to what it says and not turning the other way, even when what it says is scary or disgraceful.
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