We waddle through our days following plans and reaching for goals. But just as we seem to be making headway, the unplanned disaster strikes, swooping down unannounced, and disrupting our progress. Those who skillfully navigate conflict succeed; those who don’t wither in frustration. Growing through conflict is our challenge. Once mastered, life flourishes.
Depending on our approach, we grow or shrink with these inevitable setbacks. We shouldn’t seek conflict; but should expect that conflicts will naturally arise, demanding additional resources and patience. During discomforting conflict, we must keep focused on goals, determining new paths, when necessary, to overcome nasty unplanned interference. Our approach molds the nature of the experience—for growth through conflicts or deterioration from the stress.
Life doesn’t conform to our wishes; no matter how noble those wishes. Our partner, children, friends, and coworkers shouldn’t be treated as pawns in our private game, forced to conform or be damned. They have their own plans, hopes and desires that need attention for their sense of purpose and well-being. We live amid others, with their own individual plans, our lives constantly bump and collide with the lives of others. Ignoring all plans except for our own, narrows our view and creates countless disappointments.
Self-focused, excluding the impact of others on experience, ignores the ever-present complexity of this living. To master life, achieving our intentions, we must successfully face obstacles and grow through conflict of different ideas, believes, and goals. If we refuse to see beyond our own hopes, we limit essential relationships. If we open our minds to accept our role in society as a part and not the whole, we broaden our views to creatively work through interpersonal conflicts. From this heightened perspective, we learn the art of compromise.
“No matter what kind of challenges or difficulties or painful situations you go through in your life, we all have something deep within us that we can reach down and find the inner strength to get through them.”~Alana Stewart
Conflict Creates Discomfort
Conflict—by its very nature—creates discomfort. We feel discomfort when plans, wants, or believes are challenged. The purpose of discomfort is to direct attention to the conflict. The goal isn’t to eliminate the conflict through manipulation or attack but to reconcile with the new demands. We adjust, adapting to a world that is not programmed to bow to our individual needs. This process makes growing through conflict possible.
We live in a vast universe that supports societies of people and countless living organisms. Frankly, we are not intelligent enough to run the universe, considering the complexity and the impact of each choice, if everything flowed to our wishes, I suspect the universe would cease to exist in short order. The force of others and nature keep us in check.
Stress and Growing Through Conflict
Conflict causes stress, which makes our bodies produce a hormone called adrenaline. This hormone makes us more alert and responsive. However, it also draws attention on quick fixes to conflict, even when those simple solutions might harm long-term goals. When we switch into survival mode, we ignore the bigger picture.
Brenda Gregory Dawes wrote that “everyday stress can throw you into an energy crisis if it is not recognized and managed” (1999). If we are to survive conflict, we need effective coping mechanisms to calm the stress, bring cognition back into the equation, and move forward with a wise mind rather than reactive fear and harmful reactive aggressions.
“People can indeed grow from adversity. They can become stronger, improve the quality of their relationships and increase their self-esteem. But it probably doesn’t happen nearly as often as most people and some researchers believe.”~Eranda Jayawickreme and Frank J. Infurna
Conflict and Avoidance
Many avoid conflict. The discomfort provokes overwhelming anxieties. Instead of risking the intrusion of unplanned challenges, they conform. But avoiding discomfort limits experience, discounting personal fulfillment of improvement to the humble following of what society or a partner determines is best. Sometimes conformity is good; other times limiting—or even destructive.
Managing the difficulties of balancing our own needs with the needs of others requires us to think more deeply about our own beliefs, thoughts, and actions. Our deepening understanding of self then helps us expand our knowledge so we can understand the different perspectives of others. This means being open to change and learning how to calm our worries as we navigate through uncertain and unexpected situations.
“We adjust, adapting to a world that is not programmed to bow to our individual needs.“~T. Franklin Murphy
A new skill of human interaction is needed. When another person’s plans block our path, instead of arguing, we should try to understand their point of view, their purpose, and their goal. Our reactions largely determines whether we succeed or fail. Growing through conflict is not only possible, but necessary for a flourishing life. We should remember that we are just a very small part of a vast cosmic universe. How we fit in and navigate through conflicts is what life is all about.
Gregory Dawes, Brenda (1999). Harnessing energy to overcome conflict. AORN Journal, 70(4), 562-566.