Conflict! A word that evokes powerful emotion in so many people.
Conflict! Some thrive on its sudden and unpredictable twists and turns, others, so conflict averse they would rather spend years avoiding it instead of attempting to address and resolve it.
Conflict! It can occur with mystifying speed and can instantly manifest itself in a place where none had existed a mere nanosecond earlier.
Conflict! Love it or hate it but there’s no getting away from it.
I was reminded of this a few days ago as I was sitting in my favorite coffee place awaiting the arrival of an old friend when I suddenly became aware of rising voices from the booth behind me.
Here in the province of Alberta we were recently blessed with the joy of a provincial election and the conversation behind me, that was rapidly escalating into heated conflict, was focused on the results of this election. One person was clearly supporting the side that won and his former good friend clearly favoring the party that occupied second place.
What was intriguing to me, having only auditory exposure to their conversation, was that moments earlier the only sounds emanating from that booth had been those of laughter and camaraderie as is expected of two people enjoying a friendly conversation.
And in far less time than it takes to read the few words I have written above, that laughter was replaced by voices whose tone was rapidly escalating; becoming louder and more hostile.
The volume increased and the anger drifted upwards until one of the debaters said something like “I’m not going to sit here and listen to your @%^^$#!* anymore and stormed out of the restaurant muttering strange sounds under his breath.
One would’ve thought that his departure would end this argument but for at least 30 seconds the remaining combatant, perhaps unaware that he was speaking loudly to himself, continued berating his departed friend, using language that, if I reproduced at home, would lead to my mouth being washed out with soap and me having to spend considerable time alone in my room thinking about what I had done.
Political arguments, like most points of contention between two or more people, are simply expressions of opinion and in no way are they representative of fact. However, this is generally not true in the minds of most people engaged in rigorous argument.
As I watched the second person in that argument leave the restaurant, clearly in less than a happy state, I was reminded that, as a disinterested observer, [or listener, as the case may be] I had just experienced further validation of a fascinating topic we have broached many times before in these weekly discussions we have established between us.
We have talked many times about how only one thing divides us as human beings; we are divided by the separate, unique and individual things that we separately, uniquely and individually believe to be true.
Each of my two former coffee neighbors had believed their viewpoints on the election results represented the truth and, therefore, the opinion of their companion could not possibly bear any resemblance to fact.
And the anger that had arisen was perhaps driven not as much from the differences in what each of them believed to be true but from the refusal, or unwillingness, of the other party to acknowledge that their beliefs were wrong and instead, continue to promote their erroneous (not to mention stupid) opinions.
And I began to wonder how many times each of us has brought anxiety, stress, anger and discomfort into our own lives simply because when we engage in passionate argument with other people we stand for what is true and right which means, naturally, they stand for what is false and wrong. We speak fact; irrefutable and indisputable. They spout opinion; erroneous and misguided.
They’re just plain wrong.
They don’t seem to get it.
Which is awfully frustrating.
Sometimes we exit relationships with people over differences in what we believe to be true, sometimes we engage in violence over differences in what we believe to be true sometimes we even go to war over differences in what we believe to be true.
Is it possible that we can substantially reduce conflict in our lives if we can simply accept that there are few “facts” in the world when compared to the massive quantity of opinions and that the pathway to conflict reduction lies not in proving our beliefs to be right, thereby proving opposing beliefs to be wrong, but rather in becoming tolerant and accepting of others’ beliefs even when they conflict with our own?
If we all agreed to do this, could we not replace bitter arguments with respectful discussion and enjoy strong friendships with those whose views of the world are very different from ours?
Could we possible put an end to war?
I believe we can.
And that’s a fact.
Till we read again.
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P.P.S. Please email me (email@example.com) and let me know your thoughts on this topic and whether you agree that much conflict stems from conflicting opinions and not from ignorance of the “facts.”