Of Stories Worth Telling

By Bindu John. Bindu, from Kochi in India, is a marketing professional and an aspiring author. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Growing up as a child overdosed on Enid Blyton fiction, my greatest wish was to get kidnapped. In hindsight, heroically rescuing someone who got kidnapped would have been a better option, but hey, kids are weird! I guess what I really wanted was an action-filled challenge to spruce up the holidays, so I would have an exciting story to tell my friends at school. As I grew up, the obsession with getting kidnapped abated, but the craving for adventure never did. The quest for a good story never ended.

The stories we’ve all heard and loved are those of love and revenge, fear and valour, greed and fulfilment. A common thread that ties these together is conflict. A wiki search defines conflict in narratives as ‘the challenge main characters need to solve to achieve their goals’. If not for internal conflict, Tom Sawyer would do as told and paint the fence. Without a clash of ideology between the North and the South of the United States, Scarlett O’Hara would live happily ever after at Tara without knowing Rhett Butler even existed.

Victoria Roth said, “If there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling – or reading.” I would nod vehemently in agreement. In fact, I would go a step further and say, “If there’s no conflict, there is no life worth living – or dying for”. Give me a chance to elaborate. How do conflicts affect us at various levels – individual, societal, national and from a macroevolutionary perspective?

Conflict is the life-blood of an individual. A child needs to be conflicted while taking lessons at school. If not, the teacher ought to actively encourage conflict in her class. It signals the child’s ability to grasp, question, debate and digest things, thus realizing the full potential of learning. This child is likely to grow into an adult displaying the same traits, able to live life on their own terms. Let’s get inside an average person’s head. “I doubt if I am taking the right course, it’s so damn boring”, “We have been going out for two years. Should I propose to her? But I am really attracted to this other girl”, “This job is taking a toll on me. I must find a stressbuster”. Without these conflicts within us, would we really have the courage to drop out of college to work on that start-up idea, get out of the unfulfilling relationship or pursue that life-altering hobby? How would we then become great from good, and good from mediocre?

Existential angst is all well and good, but what about those conflicts that afflict the society as a whole? Last year, we saw the worst flood in almost a century in the tiny state of Kerala in India, where I live. Lives and livelihoods were washed away in the fury of heavy rains. But while it was happening, we saw small miracles erupting everywhere. Hundreds of fishermen worked tirelessly beside our armed forces on rescue operations. Homemakers cooked day and night to feed the stomachs and souls of millions lodged in relief camps. After the waters receded, we saw a slew of positive changes in terms of environmental regulations and sustainable development. A narrative on Kerala would have marked out the 2018 floods as the worst conflict in our history, but we emerged stronger than ever in the end. A conflict that grips our society is a test of our collective strength. The world is watching. Let’s put on a fine show by turning it into an opportunity for learning and progress.

The most-evoked connotation of the word ‘conflict’ is in the context of war. Countries usually go to war to gain independence, or to reclaim their land or ideology. Such large-scale conflicts have forged the identities of entire nations and their heroes. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi embraced seminal conflict-resolution techniques – those of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (non-violent resistance) to free India from colonial rule. If not for India’s fight for freedom, Gandhi may have continued as a lawyer in South Africa and would have never been credited as the ‘father of the nation’ by his fellow countrymen. The way a nation responds to conflict is directly related to the respect it commands from the world at large.

A healthy democracy thrives on conflict. The collective mandate of the citizens decides who gets to rule and who gets to sit in the opposition. But the story doesn’t end there. The existence of continuous conflict keeps the government’s actions and decisions in check. When healthy dissent leads to social reforms, it paves the way for a generation rich in vitality and strength. Just as conflict fuels a true democracy, the reverse is also true. Nations grow and prosper when they nurture and resolve conflict, not when they suppress it. It’s imperative for governments to acknowledge that they are ruling over living, breathing entities and not machines that are programmed to think and act a certain way. If not, there’s always the next election.

Let’s now go back in time and visit the theories of human evolution. Human beings started out by using stone tools and then fashioned these into weapons for hunting and foraging, when faced with competition for food. When stressed with the need to communicate and socialize, we invented language and organized ourselves into communities with unique cultures. The agricultural revolution stemmed from a need to settle down in one place, making it possible to cultivate plants. What millions of years of evolution have shown us is the constant need to transform ourselves, just so that we can survive. This survival instinct prods us on even now, leading to the most ingenious inventions. It’s interesting to imagine what would have happened if our ancestors had failed to overcome the conflicts they were faced with, or worse still, if they had been content with the status quo. Rest assured, I wouldn’t be writing this article!

Should we then actively seek conflict? Absolutely! It’s when we stop identifying conflict that we stop being meaningful.

Each of our lives tell a story. When we constantly challenge who we are, our stories get more exciting. We may discover new plot lines and more interesting character arcs. When we face our battles head on, we become true heroes. Who knows, the climax may be rewritten in a way that we never thought possible!

Conflict isn’t a bad word – seek it, face it and learn from it. Let’s create not just great stories, but legends. Meanwhile, future generations are preparing to tell our story and immortalize it in the annals of history. Let’s make it worth their while.

107 comments on “Of Stories Worth Telling

      • Lily Luke on

        Conflict, external or internal triggers the evolutionary impulse in every form of life. Bindu reiterates this truth with examples from myriad corners . In fact, she glorifies conflict as the hero of life itself which has been so from time immemorial.Her piece makes readers honour conflict and condemn aristocratic leisure.

        Reply
  1. Cherian Mathew on

    Very well written..even in history we can argue that conflict has resulted in stronger resolve among people on many topics ..like how Germany today is stringent against Nazism or Japan against nuclear weapons…

    Reply
    • Mobin V on

      I tried actively seeking conflict as you advised. As she was the only around at that time, my wife became the obvious protagonist.

      Long story short, I won’t be getting food from home for the foreseeable future. Please cook for me as well.

      Seriously though, it’s a nice article.

      Reply
  2. Sanjay on

    Good take on conflict. I liked the way this piece started, created some kind of a conflict in me 🙂 not expecting someone to fancy being kidnapped than helping the kidnapped. Actively encourage conflicts could be the mantra. Good work.

    Reply
    • Bindu John on

      I guess that’s how much I liked excitement and challenges 🙂 Yes, I agree, we need to encourage conflict rather than supress it. Thanks sanjay!

      Reply
  3. Leena on

    Loved this interesting take on the concept of conflict. The piece was a well articulated, enjoyable, and thought provoking.
    Looking forward to read more from the author 🙂

    Reply
  4. Dhathri on

    Until I read this piece of article conflict was just another word, very thought provoking and very well articulated. I was always stuck with connecting the word with mind-conflicts of the mind!!! But as you have mentioned from conflicts come great stories and it’s just not with mind!

    Reply
    • Bindu John on

      In fact, before writing this article, I also didn’t give much thought to conflict and its possibilities. But now that I have, I think it’s not something to avoid, but rather to seek, face and learn from. Thanks Dhathri!

      Reply
  5. Suraj Varma on

    Conflict is essential for stories, otherwise you won’t read it after the initial set up… but in life… I am not sure if we need to ‘seek’ conflict. A conflict arises, we will fight it and if we overcome we are victorious and that marks a hero – now… if we don’t fight it in life, may be life will still move on, a tad boring and a bit mundane, and you may not become a hero… that’s all. Simply put… nice article to have a debate on… and let’s do it… and there rises the conflict 😊. Nice Bindu … we will take it further directly. Go ahead and write more.

    Reply
    • Bindu John on

      What I meant was – a questioning attitude is very essential in our lives, rather than accepting everything that’s presented to us. The questioning inevitably leads to conflict, and gives us an opportunity to overcome it and become stronger! YEs, as you said, it’s something to debate on. Thanks much Suraj!

      Reply
  6. Ravi on

    Liked the comparison of stories to lives, nations and humanity in general. As you rightly said, conflict is the only way to grow at all these levels. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Bindu John on

      Thanks Sidharth. In fact, ‘Sapiens’ did give me a new perspective on how humanity evolved. I just connected the dots!

      Reply
  7. Lakshmi Karanth on

    I love how the story starts, it put a smile instantly on my face and sucked me right into the story. This is such a well-written piece, felt like riding waves on a Pirate-ship filled with stories of adventures.

    Last but not the least, any story that can make one think and introduce one to another perspective is a great story. What a nice read!

    Reply
  8. Samatha on

    Lucid articulation Bindu. And I agree with what you say about seeking conflict and resolving it rather than suppressing it. 👌👌👌

    Reply
  9. Bijith on

    A very well thought out and well researched article on conflicts – both internal and external. The article brings certain glamour to conflict. Great effort….keep writing….cheerssss

    Reply
  10. Deepu on

    Conflict is an opportunity to prove who you are… The perceptive, language, and the comparisons…. Well written Bindu John…

    Reply
  11. Karthika on

    Deal with a conflict head on..YES!!! Seek a conflict..NOT SURE ☺️ Very interesting take on a much avoided word ..Congrats Bindu!!

    Reply
    • Bindu John on

      Just an additional angle to think about. Challenging ourselves and everything we know, by actively seeking conflict could result in great things. Thanks so much for sharing your PoV!

      Reply
  12. Bernadette Lobo on

    Interesting points of view Bindu…we’ve become so averse to conflict, rather than facing and addressing it. All the self-contained feelings can make one just implode.

    Reply
    • Bindu John on

      That’s so true. It’s so important to acknowledge the conflict first and to not suppress it! Thanks for sharing your PoV!

      Reply
    • Anupama Nambiar on

      Loved this so much Bindu..its innovative, unique and creative!! Well crafted and extremely humourous..! Keep writing!

      Reply
  13. Sarala on

    Good Attempt Bindu…Your “Conflict” make me think in a different way. Two negatives make a positive. Keep on writing with similar originality.

    Reply
  14. Mithun Alexander on

    A positive take on a disturbing fact of life, which is put across with deep clarity.. After all, living is about survival…:).. Great write up!

    Reply
  15. Priyanka Paul on

    I have been a fan of Bindu’s writings since i know her.
    A must-read to see a different perspective on ‘Conflict’!

    Reply
  16. Ashraf on

    Agree with you 100%. Conflict isnt something to be feared, but to embrace. It is essential not just in stories, but in life itself. Very well written!

    Reply
  17. Alex on

    Very well written Bindu! Conflict indeed was what resulted in evolution, renaissance, art and every greatest achievement we ever made.

    Reply
  18. Sita Kumar on

    Very nicely articulated. Conflicts whether big or small ( we have so many of them on a day to basis) engages us with our value system and makes us debate and deliberate and decide. I like the way you picked out various snippets be it Enid Blyton, Gone with the wind, nations and their ideologies, evolution of civilisation and related it the theme. Love the write up.

    Reply
  19. Vipin on

    Fab ,Brilliant articulation.. with appropriate anecdotes..pen more, you can incite spirits of readers which are dormant within..Continue to write more stuffs like this…you are amazing 👍🏻👍🏻

    Reply
  20. Shibu Raghav on

    Hi Bindu,
    What a fantastic post !!!
    Treating conflict as a competition, where you get into an argument, I am good and you are bad is where it loses the value. Any intellectual conflicts discussions shall always lead to a problem solving .
    Rather, I think it should be taken in the right context, not used to win an argument .

    Reply
  21. Nipun on

    Good take on conflict, i agree its part of a personality but still can be imbibed/nurtured from childhood and very useful to get us out of our comfort zone if given a proper direction.

    Sadly in most sections of our society its frowned upon and people are forced to kill it within themselves and follow the orders. Many who are strong end up being called “rebels” or outcasts.

    just my thoughts though 🙂 well written piece

    Reply
    • Bindu John on

      I so totally agree Nipun! I fact I think we need more of so called ‘rebels’ and ‘outcasts’ for our society to grow. Thanks so much for sharing your point of view!

      Reply
  22. Arun Bose on

    Well we’ll written and well researched, academic article. I guess all art forms originate from conflicts both internal and external. Creation is the magical act of moulding a narrative content routed on experiences with imagination (fighting with your own inertias), using time and space.

    Reply

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