The Illusion of Conflict

We all would agree that it is possible to disagree, right? And sometimes vehemently. So vehemently that raised voices occur – that first form of suffering at not being heard, acknowledged, known to exist. From yelling, disagreement can turn to isolation, leaving, disavowal. And then there can come all-out violence, hurting and maiming and killing those who take another view.

I was contemplating this in the wee hours this morning, as I lay awake, and I heard gun shots. I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming these shots, but they rang out in my mind causing a deep stir of fear to reverberate inside me.

When I awoke, I learned of Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting, and the phenomenon of the abstract became viscerally real. It is horrific and, in a way, fascinating that merely taking a different position can cause one human to kill another. To snuff the life that represents The Other. As if being confronted with something different is so intolerable that it must be squelched, vanquished, slain…and forever.

From my view, it appears we are particularly stuck in the polemic of The Other. Mired in it. Congress can get little accomplished. The media reports daily about this clash or that – health care, the economy, Afghanistan, religion, on and on. Sarah Palin has her target list. So much certainty delivering another sockdolager from one side to the other.

In fact, two sides are simply an illusion. There is no such thing. How do I know? By looking at it. Say you are sitting on one side of a room, and I am sitting opposite you on the other. We’ll refer to you as A and me as B. You look straight at me and describe what you see…perhaps there is a window behind me and a plant, sun streams in and glints off the leaves. I look at you and see the wall you are leaning against, a cement wall, with a crack in it.

Opposing Viewpoints A and B

We see completely different things. It is perfectly clear to us both that we see exactly what we see, and we do not see what we don’t. You’ve got a window and I have a wall. Period. Now we can describe this to each other, and try to convince each other that one of us is right.

And that’s where the conflict begins: our tacit agreement that only one of us can be right.

But what if, instead, we choose to take a more macro view, and assume that there is a perspective from which both of our individual views are correct and part of something larger? Like this:

A and B as part of something more

Now we can see that we both are occupying a certain position in the whole, and our positions happen to be directly opposite each other. And then what if we choose to try and see more than what our opposite positions can show us about our reality? How do we do this? We invite others with differing perspectives from our own to share theirs, say we refer to them as C, E, H, K and N. 

A and B with others

This begins to get us a sense of the larger view. We can listen to each other describe what is seen from different vantage points, and from that information, gain an expanded perspective. So now K lets A and B know that in fact there is both the sunny window AND the cement wall. And what is more, there is a bookcase behind E, full of books. And by bringing in more and more diverse views, we end up with a complete picture of what before appeared to be a raging war between A and B.

All view points

This idea is not revolutionary; it is not new. It is, in fact, what diplomacy is about, what mediation works toward, what focus groups are designed to reveal, what is at the heart of brotherly love and every higher ideal about compassion, understanding and one-ness that all spiritual teachers teach. It is also simple truth – while there are opposites, they do not exist in isolation. Our continued choice to focus on the opposites is just that: a choice.

We choose to relate from the “this versus that,” I think, to help us make sense of things. We prefer to line up on one side or the other – Republican/Democrat, Rich/Poor, Male/Female, Christian/Muslim – almost as if the mere existence of two sides makes us feel complete, more sure of things and ourselves.

And yet this bifurcation, the polarization, the “we vs. them” is as sure an illusion as Santa Claus, only the illusion of conflict is a pernicious one. Pernicious because so much energy is sucked into the maintenance of the illusion, and so much violence done in its name.

And the persistent choice to see our world and each other this way is proof of our immaturity, of our surrender to the simple-minded, lazy mind. Why? Because it is so much easier, quicker, and perhaps more instantly satisfying to find the opposite sides and pick one. What fun it is to root for one sports team against another, taking out all our primal hostility on one set of colors over the other. But, it is much more challenging, time consuming, and confounding to see and truly perceive the whole of anything.

And you might say, if you only ever saw the whole, how would you decide how to act? What to do? Choosing sides tells us how to behave, doesn’t it? Well, I might say, from the whole view I have found that the action is, surprisingly, much easier, more graceful, and in the end more innovative than anything that comes of conflict. Getting to the bigger view is not quick and it is not easy, but once you get there, it is steady and strong and has at its base the fullness of view point, the compassion for all others that make up the whole.

Shall we try it?


About Rebecca Reynolds

Leadership Guru; Systems Thinker; Complex Problem Solver; Facilitative Leader...also LOVE life, dog Wiley, good food, Malbec, forests, oceans, yoga stillness, the boxing bag, ballroom dance, and movies.
This entry was posted in conflict, Leadership, Politics, Social Issues and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Illusion of Conflict

  1. Jim Fenwood says:

    Since I am human, I can be very competitive and I certainly love to win. My challenge has been in redefining what “win” means. As a human, I am also an animal. One thing all animals have in common is the drive to live (which requires hunting or gathering food) and the drive to perpetuate their species’ particular DNA. If I (a male of the species) can bring home an antelope, we get to eat and I look more attractive to a mate. The hunting efforts may be cooperative, but my tribe is probably competing against another tribe for scarce resources.

    When we modern animals let professional sports teams do our “hunting” for us, we root for our tribe to “bring home the meat.” My lack of interest in following sports or caring about the outcome of say, this year’s Superbowl makes me an outlier in the male population. I just can’t see why anybody cares. I wonder if that makes it easier or more difficult for me to move beyond the bifurcated thinking you describe to being better at “seeing the whole?”

    Is our collective obsession with sports just good fun or does it distract us from the hard work of trying to really “see?’ Neslon Mandella knew that for his new government to be successful, it couldn’t be seen as a victory of a Black majority over a White minority. However, if the movie “Invictus” is an accurate portrayal of events, he didn’t hesitate to use competitive rugby to help unite South Africa. After all, he had to get his own country to act more like one big tribe instead of tearing itself apart. The Global Village could wait until later.

    Maybe the major threats to becoming more united as a species at a global scale stem not mainly from the obvious differences in religious and political ideologies, but are rooted in the desire to hold onto power and acquire more wealth. That’s why we are seeing such blatant maneuvers as attempts to roll back the rights of women and to dismantle the principle of “net-neutrality.” The fear of what could happen under a Republican Whitehouse makes me more competitive than ever. My team MUST beat the other one next time around. Failure to win would be a major set-back in the search for a shared “macro-view.”

    Hope I don’t hear any gunshots tonight. Unlike your part of the world where what you’re hearing is probably evidence of the inter-specific tension between people and coyotes, shots fired here are more likely to be due to competition of an intra-specific nature.

    • rebeccaspeak says:

      Love this comment, Jim. Thanks so much. You stir many more thoughts on various subjects – just exactly the purpose of this blog! Football, Superbowl, Invictus (and many other films – one of my obsessions), Mandela, major global threats, religious and political ideologies are all on my list. Stay tuned and keep commenting!

  2. Pingback: Men Who Snap and Shoot | rebeccaspeak

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