Whether we live in community or alone, we all face conflict. It comes in countless different shapes, sizes and styles. And since the world is here to help each of us remove ignorance, we each have conflict in forms designed specifically for our benefit.
The root of our word “conflict” is the Latin verb confligere, which comes from con– (“together”) and fligere –(“to strike’). The Latin noun conflictus means “contest”. From this we should see the virtue of conflict. We are contesting. We are coming or striking together. We conflict with people, objects, situations, nature, ideas, and ourselves. There really should not be a problem with conflict. It is an important venue of learning. The question is what we make of conflict in relating with ourselves and others.
We avoid conflict only because we have not learned how to act appropriately in conflict—how to use it wisely. What we run from we will run into. If we are trained in how to deal with conflict clearly, to neither escalate nor run from it, then resolution will be available for all.
No one sees the world in exactly the same way. We each have different vibrations that shape how we assess our world. We approach a situation, a person, an idea, an object, nature and ourselves differently. As in The Art of War, we need to know ourselves, our opponent, and the terrain. If we do not, then there is little chance of winning the contest.
When a conflict involves anger, that vibration needs to be directed appropriately. Here is a foursquare that illuminates this problem:
|Displaced anger||Appropriately directed anger|
|Safe release||Dangerously exposed|
Recently we have seen people protesting injustice. These protestors are angry, and it is their right to express that anger. Some of them, however, feel powerless and have a storehouse of anger they do not know how to express clearly. They are then displacing their anger and taking it out on their neighbors through vandalism and looting. Why, we keep asking, do these people destroy their own neighborhoods? If we look at the foursquare above, we can see the reason. People who do not feel safe in their expression of anger will look for an outlet, for what they believe is a safe release.
The problem is that this kind of displaced anger will not provide a safe discharge. Also, there will never be a resolution if you use this form of expression. The conflict cannot be resolved because you are not addressing the conflict in the appropriate direction. If you consciously confront the conflict, you are shining a light on the situation all around and can see clearly what is involved. You can then choose to communicate appropriately and discharge your anger in such a way that it aids in resolution. For instance, when Joseph Welch said to Joe McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency?”, his clear and appropriate expression of anger woke everyone up from the spell and McCarthy lost his prestige, and hence his power.
Our fear is that if we express our anger directly rather than displace it, we will be dangerously exposed. Everyone will know how we are and where we stand. But they will know these things anyway. And being clear and clean does not belittle us or others; it frees everyone to arrive at the same clarity, and then at resolution.
Stuffing anger within ourselves is also a form of displacement. Yet another is what we too often call “taking the high road”, which is usually displacing anger by directing it at ourselves. We say we are letting it go, or it’s not worth it; in truth, we are actually saying we are not worth it.
We now have an abundance of models for displaced anger and violence. What we lack is models of appropriately expressing anger. Where are the role models who have actually expressed anger cleanly? Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Eleanor Roosevelt redefining the position of First Lady by standing up for civil rights. Martin Luther King expressing his appropriate anger through powerful yet consciously nonviolent words and demonstrations. John McCain explaining with clarity and depth of experience why it is important to release the torture report.
When we forsake this kind of clarity and appropriateness and remain attached to a conflict, it never ends. We are bound to our opponent, whoever or whatever it may be. We never get away. Have we not seen that the United States has been in a perpetually unhealthy relationship with terrorists since 9/11? We are in it together. We express for each other the qualities that are within both of us, and we hate. We will not free ourselves from terror until we give up our appetite for conflict.
Appropriately expressed anger resolves conflict—if not with adversaries, then within ourselves. When a conflict is resolved, we are no longer trapped in an adversarial role. We are detached and free.
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