“If there is no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading.” – Veronica Roth
Conflict. It permeates every moment of our lives from the moment our toes touch the chilly floor in the morning, until our heads sink into the softness of our pillow at night. As we close our eyes and drift off to sleep, conflict floods our dreams. Even the stories we tell and the books we read are packed with conflicts of all shapes and sizes. Conflict is a key player in our daily lives. So could Veronica Roth’s statement that “If there is no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading” be true? Perhaps it runs even deeper than that. Without conflict, there is no life worth living.
Life itself is a story. Chapter One starts the moment we’re born. Life is filled with chapters: series of events that build on previous occurrences. Each chapter is new, exciting, and keeps us on the edge of our seats wondering what is going to happen next. What is the catalyst that drives this story of our lives forward? The catalyst is conflict.
Imagine waking up at 6 a.m. every day, following the exact same routine to get through your day. Your hair cooperates when you style it, traffic isn’t backed up, and you never have a quarrel with your spouse. Everything at work flows smoothly and you come home at the end of the day to find the dishes done and floors sparkling. Sounds great, right? Sure, if you’re a Hobbit.
Conflict appears in many forms throughout our day. It could be in the form of an argument with a loved one or co-worker. It could be that your computer won’t turn on, or your car won’t start. Or that you’re planning to climb a mountain only to find the trail is closed. Conflict causes us to learn, to adapt, and to get creative in our strategies. We learn about relationships and how to grow them in those heated discussions with our friends. We adapt to the situation when the car doesn’t start, and we get creative when we have to find another route to whatever summit we are seeking. Conflict doesn’t just stop us in our tracks – it helps us grow!
Imagine holding an acorn in the palm of your hand. Inside the tough shell is a tiny seed. If you plant the acorn in the ground and provide it water, with time, what will happen? The tree will grow! But think of the conflicts and challenges that the little seed will have to endure. The growing tree will have to break out of the tough acorn shell, then wind its way through the packed dirt up toward the sunlight. Once it reaches fresh air, the tree will have to endure changing seasons and creatures chewing at its leaves. If the tree gave up every time it came across a conflict to its mission in life, we would have no trees! In fact, having to surmount so many difficulties makes the tree more magnificent in a way.
The same is true in the story of our lives. Think of the last time you came across great adversity in reaching your goal and you triumphed! What conflict nearly kept you from succeeding? Wasn’t achieving your goal even more sweet after the obstacles you had to overcome? And don’t people listen to your story now with wide eyes and lips parted in anticipation of what happened next?
The most recent example in my own life comes from the volcanic slopes of Mount St. Helens. If I told you that I got up and strolled right to the top of an active volcano, you might shrug and say, “So what?” But if I told you that I had blown my knee out the summer before and had to train mercilessly for a year to be able to even hike, that might raise your eyebrows a little. And if I told you I’d had an unexpected and unexplained seizure the day before, you might sit forward in your seat and ask, “What happened? Did you still summit?” Those conflicts that created obstacles to my summit attempt not only caused me to grow as a person – learning perseverance, patience, and creativity to reach the volcano’s peak – but it created an amazing story! It’s a chapter in the story of my own life that keeps listeners riveted each time I tell it. Conflict takes stories to epic levels.
Mark Twain once advised, “Write what you know.” All writers and storytellers are inherently familiar with conflict, since it is an essential part of each of our life stories. Writers weave that conflict into their stories because it is such a deep part of their life experience, and it fleshes their stories out into written works that connect deeply with their reader.
Readers seek out stories for many reasons: learning, escape from reality, finding parts of themselves they didn’t realize existed. No matter the reason, each reader has a deep desire and need to connect with the story. Connection, just like conflict, is an essential element in the human story. Readers connect with characters when the characters are real and have a relatable element. What’s more relatable than conflict? Readers will feel the character’s stress in their own bones as they encounter conflict after conflict, and will understand the sweetness of a goal being reached despite the odds. Without the connection that the story creates through conflict, the book might be forgotten on the nightstand and the story lost.
Conflict is the catalyst that creates amazing stories out of the books we write and read, and the lives we lead. It causes us to learn, to grow, and to connect with those around us. It creates variety that we seek and adventures that we crave. Veronica Roth’s quote is certainly applicable for every story – including the stories of our lives. Without conflict, there are no stories worth telling, no stories worth reading, and no life worth living.