Conflict has created so much good in the world, if you think about it. All the wars, all the famine have led to a re-envisioning of countries, policies, law and how we live our lives together. But it is interesting how completely unnecessary it is.
If there had been no conflict, would we have not still discovered new and interesting ways of experiencing the world?
Some say that conflict, struggle, tragedy and hard times create a thicker skin, expand capabilities and push imaginations. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. But we are all going to meet the same end, eventually, whether we have conflict in our lives or not, so why not enjoy our time here with some peace?
Once as a child, I asked my uncle why things couldn’t just be good and happy all the time. He said, “In order to experience joy and happiness, we need struggle. We need something bad to compare the good to.” I disagreed then and I disagree now. In fact, I think it’s hogwash.
Humans and even animals spend so much of their lives in conflict, it must be ingrained into us, to some extent. Perhaps, we sincerely can’t live without some struggle. It certainly appears that way at times. There are people who even seem to seek out conflict. I remember overhearing some bonehead in a parking lot once say something to the effect of, “I’m going to get into a fight tonight.” He was actively looking for conflict – for fun. By choice!
In the film, “Fight Club,” based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, Tyler, played by Brad Pitt, instigates his associates to each go out and pick a fight with a stranger. It proves extremely difficult, because no one wants to fight with them. Each person they attempt to pick a fight with goes out of their way to avoid the confrontation. In one scene, a fighter splashes a hose on a passer-by to try to rile him up. The passer-by is puzzled and bewildered by the fighter’s actions. He stands stunned, unsure how to react. He doesn’t want or need the conflict.
Most children are born into a conflict-free environment. (Not all, sadly.) They come into the world as tiny, helpless infants. They couldn’t handle conflict. They are guarded, guided and protected from it. It’s not necessary to their existence, and in fact, is detrimental at that stage of their lives. Over time, unfortunately, they begin to experience it more and more. In some regards, it involves basic and minor incidences, such as who has their toy, or it stems from not getting their wants or needs. Eventually, they experience playground scuffles, conflicts with their parents and teachers, which could involve discipline and even perhaps some forms of bullying.
As they continue to age, they may encounter psychological conflict: issues involving relationship exploration, tests of wills, or tests of strength or patience. Into adulthood, the conflict can increase into unexpected issues, surprise chaos, or even family drama.
It doesn’t tend to get better from there on out. By the time we reach full maturity, if in fact we make it to see life as an octogenarian or older, we’ve experienced a full plethora of conflict. Love, break ups, employment woes, perhaps marriage and divorce, loss, run-ins with in-laws, crime, difficult strangers, random off-encounters, and unexpected conflict.
I’m currently settling into middle age, and I have experienced much conflict over the years. Many of the previous forms of drama mentioned have been ushered into and out of my life through the decades. I’ve seen the high highs and the low lows. I’ve witnessed family traumas, some brought on by my actions, others instigated by family members or strangers. I’ve had health scares, and I’ve been in some compromising situations.
Looking back, I can see and appreciate my resourcefulness in part due to the extremes I’ve experienced. I can get myself out of most jams by relying on the lessons I’ve accumulated thanks to the array of conflict I’ve encountered.
Did I have to go through the conflict to get to where I am now?
I don’t think so.
In fact, I have enjoyed many peaceful moments that have had no conflict at all.
Most mornings, I take my son to the park. It always unfolds in about the same way. We walk around and climb the structures. We find sticks, rocks and blades of grass on the ground. We play in the water fountain. We look up at the sky and contemplate the shade of blue that shimmers confidently over our heads. We see people pass, and take them in. We meet other children and their parents, and share fleeting moments of our lives with them. Sometimes we develop friendships that extend onward, beyond just the short encounter.
In this scenario, there was no conflict. Yet, the story was worth telling and remembering forever, because it was about some of the most beautiful moments I have known. The story fills me with a kind of happiness that one involving conflict simply could not.
At the end of my life, if I’m blessed with the opportunity to think it all over, I’d like it to be one of the final places I visit in my mind—I would love nothing more than to be able to live out my last moments of eternity in the park, my son frozen in my memory in childhood, frolicking with him among the trees and the sticks, under the vivid sky, not a shred of conflict in sight.