I live in a country where engaging in conflicts is somehow counterculture. In fact, in our culture, there is discomfort to being in a situation where you would have to frankly tell someone about something hurtful or embarrassing.
We, Filipinos, use euphemism or artistic ways to state an unpleasant truth as pleasantly as possible. Some make use of “go-between” or a middle person when we have not gathered enough guts to directly tell a person about our concerns.
I grew up with this kind of rationale, that I should utter positive words and compliments all the time to help maintain good interpersonal relationships and to demonstrate respect to other people.
Growing up, I was the pampered and naïve kid raised in a very conservative family. I adhered to a defined box of norms, be it written or not, and it felt sinful to deviate from it or to explore the world outside that box. I never complained about it though because I got used to it anyway.
I used to believe that’s how things should be, but when I left my province in 2010 to study in our country’s premiere university, things were totally different.
The day I witnessed my fellow student and professor arguing about a certain social issue is still very vivid in my memory. I asked myself, “Why would our teacher allow his students to disrespect him?” I was even surprised when my professor approached the student after the class and he sounded so proud of how she argued with him.
It remained to be a question until the day another professor introduced me to Paulo Freire’s book: The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It sounded so scholarly that it earned my undivided attention. The book boldly debunks the kind of education system that we currently have. It challenges the one-way transfer of knowledge from the educator to the learner because of the risks of cultivating oppressive practices. It promotes the teachers and students as equal and significant contributors to the learning process, hence conflicts are necessary.
After that class, I started to see conflicts from a new lens and understood its other benefits. Arguments in our classes are not acts of discourtesy or disrespect. Those contrasts of ideas and exchange of thoughts are vital to stimulate critical thinking and to acquire learning.
I was wondering why I had lived believing that conflicts are absolutely unhealthy. Why did I feel obliged to conform to norms and agree with other people just to avoid the tension? I tried to search for the right answer and came up with a theory. Perhaps, the conformist in me comes from the prevailing colonial mentality in our society, that feeling of inferiority.
When the Philippines became a colony of other countries, we were introduced to new systems and beliefs. We were taught that our culture is inferior to theirs. We were called uncivilized and were introduced to socially constructed beauty standards that Filipino beauty could never achieve. No wonder, many people in our country splurge on whitening products just to get rid of their brown skin. I am not surprised that many parents in our country require their children to make foreign languages their mother tongue because it symbolizes high status in our society.
This is my word: We may be different from our colonizers, but being different does not mean being less or greater than the other. Conflicts are differences and disagreements, but it does not always mean that one idea should be better than the other, simply because we are all unique.
Conflicts are usually seen as threats to relationships and hindrances to the achievement of goals, but come to think of it, what would a superhero story be like without a villain? It would be very dull and boring. Probably such kind of story could make anyone walk out of a movie house. Conflicts are the different colors that make a picture. It is the contrast between the superhero and the villain that reaffirms their existence and identity. It is the hardships and conflicts between them that make the victorious ending sweeter.
I stayed in the university for almost five years and the moment I stepped out of the campus, I knew I was a completely different person. I kept some of my values and principles but I also learned to be more open to other people’s beliefs.
I have learned that unity is not the absence of conflicts but it is when we achieve social cohesion despite our differences. It is choosing to still respect other people despite the presence of mutually exclusive ideas and opinions.
As a social worker at a drug treatment and rehabilitation center, I deal with families who are overcoming the ill effects of substance abuse. Many times, I am in awe of people who choose to stay in relationships regardless of their painful experiences. I am amazed by families who always forgive and love our clients unconditionally. I have learned from their stories that conflicts bring out the love and care that we are capable of giving.
Conflicts may be attached to some negative connotations, but I have seen in many people’s lives how those things help individuals get to know themselves and the people around them better. Being in situations involving conflicts give people opportunities to enhance their communication skills and level of patience. Moreover, conflicts teach people to respect other opinions and differences without losing their identity. I can attest to the fact that conflicts are to be blamed for changing people for the better and strengthening human relationships.
Wherever life is, there are conflicts. And because of this, good stories are born.