What is it about a story that draws you into a good book? Is it the description of the scenery, or maybe the character development? Both may be well written and somewhat interesting. Yet I would venture to say that until we know how the character and circumstances reveal a problem to be solved, there is little to keep us reading. Veronica Roth is quoted as saying “If there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading.” If that statement is true, why is it that we look for conflict? What is it about the challenge in a story that keeps us up at night, turning the next page?
Most of us have not yet found perfect peace on Earth. Thankfully, we may experience it in moments of beauty and joy in our lives. Yet still we are faced with the conflict in the world around us, whether that involves our job, our city or country, or even our own family. We search for glimpses of peace and look for ways to overcome strife in our life. Why would we not we feel better with stories in which everything goes right? Probably because they might seem unrealistic and annoying. We live the challenge daily and look for methods and examples to help us overcome conflicts. If we cannot find a strategy in what we see or hear, maybe we can at least find hope that someone found a way to overcome their conflicts.
Think of your favorite book or movie, and consider why it is your favorite. Often the stories that capture us most draw on our emotions or teach us a lesson. If we are lucky, they do both. This insight brings us further understanding as to why conflict calls us to pay attention. We pay attention to things that are going to teach us something. Would you read a book describing the beautiful scenery of a place you have been to several times? Maybe for a minute. Would that not get boring after a little while though? You already know what they are saying is true. But, if the book instead listed the secret treasured places that only locals know about, that would be far more enticing, because you would be learning something.
How might this apply to conflict in the world? We have heard all our lives the prayers for world peace. We see spiritual leaders from multiple traditions and belief systems call on the world to embrace peace. And, most of us truly hope we can move closer to this ideal with each generation. Have we considered though what would be different if we lived in a world without conflict? What would be the impetus for change? Would there even need to be change?
We can imagine this scenario in another familiar image, that of Heaven. If Heaven is a perfect place with no problems of any kind, what is our purpose or function? What motivates us to find something to put our effort into, or to celebrate, an outcome? How do we keep learning, if there is no challenge before us to figure out?
If we think of things that we enjoy in our free time, we can gain some wisdom into what brings us peace and joy in our lives. We play games, we participate in sports or physical challenges, we build relationships, we cultivate gardens, etc. Often a challenge, competition, or goal inspires us to apply ourselves to something productive. We usually have to learn something or practice something to get better at it, which brings us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. That may involve a physical skill, a strategic mentality, or a growing knowledge base. The common denominator seems to be a desire to learn and to grow. Without conflict and challenge, there seems to be little inspiration or motivation, or even awareness of how to develop and advance our lives.
Conflict would rarely make the top of someone’s wish list in life. And yet, without conflict, we might become complacent. We might not have a reason to think outside the box and to develop new technologies. We might not find personal motivation to expand our skills and perspectives. Without conflict, what would be our teacher? Wisdom and enlightenment are the gifts of overcoming conflict. Though it may be painful on the journey, some lessons can be learned no other way. With wisdom comes a higher perspective and ultimately, greater peace within.