Daily Herald January 26, 1991
One tragic aspect of human nature is the ease with which we start conflict and our difficulty stopping it. The more someone escalates conflict, the more others likely retaliate in kind. The result is a never-ending increase of threats, hurts and use of force. Unless someone or something intervenes, two parties attack each other until little is left worth destroying. This could be an introduction to the Persian Gulf war. But it can also describe conflict in a marriage, between siblings, in a family, in organizations such as churches, unions or businesses, or within a community of any size. People seldom start a conflict intending to create a disaster. But it happens. Conflict occurs for many reasons: people see a situation quite differently; someone believes something is theirs, and the other person has no right to it; or one or both parties feel hurt by the other.
One or both parties may feel afraid of losing something, sometimes not even knowing for sure that they will. In summary, conflict occurs because, the way that one person sees a situation is different from someone else. The 'someone else' is quickly labeled "the problem", "the pain" or "the enemy", depending on whether they are a spouse or in-law, a brother or sister, or another country.
If I had a magic solution for how to stop a conflict between large numbers of people, I'd use it. But helping couples, brothers and sisters or families deal with conflict usually requires the help of an arbitrator, often called a counselor. It also needs a commitment to peace by all involved. One person can start a fight. It takes two to stop it. But, often, only when someone else shows them how! The first step is to take a "time out" and stop fighting.
The second step is to be willing to practice the helpful ideas put forward by the counselor. But stopping a fight is one thing. Wanting the fight to end is another. The next step is to honestly listen to each other, set your own feelings and reactions aside, and put yourself in the other person's place. This is often referred to as "walking a mile in another person's mocassins". It's difficult. You have to be willing to see and feel the situation as the other person does.
Once each party does this, the next step is to look for possible solutions, not ones that are just tolerated by both parties, but ones that you both can honestly and fully support. This doesn't mean you get your way. That's what you were fighting about in the first place. If you won't look at new solutions, different from those you wanted in the first place, there's not much chance that both of you can accept and support a way to end the conflict. Supporting something means you see it as a reasonable and acceptable proposal to BOTH of you.
The next step is to learn and practice whatever skills are necessary for the proposed solution to work. Listening skills, communication skills, and clarification skills, among others, are all needed for any solution to work in a marriage, a family or elsewhere.
The final step is to realize that a new relationship must be developed between you and the person with whom you were in conflict. This means learning more about yourself, since you are one half of any conflict. It also involves understanding what reconciliation means. Forgiving the past and accepting the present is difficult, whatever the conflict, and, whoever it has been between. It's much harder for us to stop conflict than it is to start it.
Preventing conflict from starting saves pain and hurt. And, to ad-lib from a very timely song, "when will we ever learn?"