Rethinking Conflict As Good


Last month, I dropped my first child off at college. College is an awesome opportunity to learn and grow, and I hope he uses his time and talents wisely. Campus life, by and large, hasn't changed much since my college days. Shiny new buildings with dorm rooms straight out of RH Teens, modern technology, and cafeterias that resemble food courts catering to every imaginable palate are different. But thankfully, the foundation of higher education seems to be the same. College life is a genesis for advanced learning and personal growth (mentally and physically - see above regarding food). Yet, some universities have implemented new guidelines to remove perceived communication barriers and mitigate strife. "Trigger" warnings are ways for people to avoid offending someone during a conversation. Once given a warning, the person speaking must cease communication on the topic another person finds offensive. Some campuses refute "trigger" warnings claiming they go against the goal of higher education. I agree with the latter.

As a mediator and conflict coach, the notion that we must avoid conflict concerns me. I don't think it's fair to view conflict as inherently bad. Let's consider conflict as potentially good or at least normal. Some very wonderful things have risen from conflict - America, Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Equality in Marriage, etc. These changes were the result of confronting and dealing with opposing thoughts. Years of dealing with strife eventually led to change. People with competing ideologies can benefit from dealing directly with conflict (in myriad ways) until a resolution is garnered. In many cases, resolution can be an ever changing process. We usually don't just land on resolution - it often requires work and a plethora of difficult but direct conversations.

Instead of avoiding conflict perhaps we should examine best practices for dealing with it. Conflict may serve us well if handled properly and viewed as an opportunity to better understand ourselves and others. If we communicate peacefully, earnestly, and effectively in an attempt to appreciate other perspectives, we are likely to find some common ground and learn a few things. From here, we can frame mutually beneficial solutions. Sometimes the most diametrically opposed interests are grounded in similar needs. Weeding through differences to try and find common ground can produce profound change.

Gaining insight into the conflict - through peaceful and direct conversation - helps us determine how to best approach and manage conflict (and people). Once we understand the conflict from another's perspective, we can alter our approach to it. We shouldn't stifle conversations that provoke different ideologies. In order to learn, grow, and better understand each other, we may want to see conflict as an opportunity. I want my son to embrace the wonder and mess that comes from peaceful and direct communication. I don't want him speaking only in comfort with emoji faces.