The Omnipresence of Conflicts

By Rebekka Higgins. Rebekka, 22, lives in College Point in the USA and is a recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland. She now works as a settlement co-ordinator for the Sutton Alliance. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

“What has been your greatest conflict?” the interviewer asked.

“My greatest conflict?” I blankly repeated back.

“Yes, what has been a conflict that you have experienced in life and have overcome?” the interviewer repeated.

“Umm, let me think…” I faltered. I could feel my face turning bright red and my hands becoming clammy with sweat. Deafening silence pervaded the room as I struggled to think of a conflict I had experienced in my 17 years of life. Both interviewers were now looking at me, waiting for me to respond. Their scribbling had stopped and their pens rested idly on their notepads. My mind was drawing a complete blank. I agonized to think of a conflict I had experienced and racked my brain in desperation. “What conflicts had I experienced in life? Had I even experienced any conflicts? What did they even mean by the word ‘conflict’?” These thoughts all jumbled through my brain, one after the other, further contributing to my confusion. I could hear the clock loudly ticking, filling the silence in the room, and just as abruptly as their scribbling had stopped, it resumed again. Any feelings of nervousness and anxiety I had felt before immediately increased tenfold. “What could they possibly be writing about?” I thought to myself. I had not even come up with a response yet.

“I’ve gotten into conflicts with my mother before…” I finally managed to stammer. Both interviewers looked up at me, expectantly, and then exchanged a sideways glance at each other. But I had nothing else to say, I had barely managed to come up with that inadequate response.

The interviewer paused before continuing. “And were you able to overcome those conflicts…with your mother?”

“Yes, yes I overcame them,” I smiled weakly, knowing that I sounded ridiculous and that my answer and scant explanation had fallen far short of their expectations. Once again, silence ensued only to be interrupted by the sound of the interviewers’ furious scribbling. It was too late for redemption though at this point. For the life of me I could not think of a way to salvage my answer and turn the interview in a positive direction.

The interviewers wrapped up the interview by asking me a few more customary questions before dismissing me. As the interview ended, I could feel anger, disappointment, and embarrassment surge within me. Now I had to go out to the car, where my mother was excitedly waiting for me, and tell her that the interview had been an ultimate failure and that there was no way I would be accepted into the honors college. I couldn’t help but feel indignant at the fact that my acceptance rested so heavily on one insignificant question. “Why did my conflicts in life even matter? How were they even relevant to me being an honors student? Shouldn’t my GPA and academic background speak for itself?” All these thoughts swirled through my head, as I struggled to understand why that question was so significant.

Little did inexperienced, 17 year old me realize that this question would resurface later on in my life in job interviews. It would come up again and again, and each time it would still throw me off. Once I graduated college and started going to interviews, I realized just how critical my response to this question was. Before I would go to interviews, I would practice my answers with job recruiters, and would repeat them over and over again in my head as I waited to be interviewed. Eventually with practice, a few more bombed interviews, and more experience, I became better at answering this question.

So what was so important about this question? Why was it such a popular topic among potential employers and schools? Why did they care about the conflicts I’d experienced in life and how I’d handled them? I soon realized that conflict management was an extremely important and valued skill to have since conflicts occur frequently, whether at work, school, or just in everyday life among family, friends, and acquaintances. Conflicts, both big and small, are at the center of human interaction. Thus, it is crucial that as a person you have the capability to overcome these conflicts, because you will constantly be faced with them throughout your life. Once I realized this, it made sense to me why interviewers cared so much about the conflicts I had experienced. Interviewers wanted to hear about my conflicts to ensure that I could handle future ones that could arise on the job. They didn’t want to hear about the smooth, tranquil experiences I’ve had, but rather the times I’ve had to face obstacles. Now that I was able to understand the importance of this question, I was no longer at a loss for words and could suddenly think of tons of times that I had experienced conflicts.

‘Conflict,’ is a word that has been ever-present in my life. Flashback to my life as a freshman in college, young and hopeful, I was excited for the new prospects that college had to offer me—new jobs, classes, friends, and experiences. “Your college years are the best years of your life,”—or so it goes. Well if that was the case, I was certainly ready. However, what I wasn’t ready for were the conflicts that came with it. College life started off rather uneventful—classes, homework, and partying on the weekend, nothing major. I found that I experienced minimal issues which I was grateful for, but at the same time I also had little to contribute to conversations. I didn’t have any of those wild college stories that you hear about. My friends and I would eat breakfast together in the dining hall on weekends and we’d share our stories from the night before. I would typically sit and listen contributing here and there, but having minimal to share. Meanwhile my friends would discuss conflicts they were experiencing with a new guy they were seeing, or how they were having issues with a friend. Just typical college conversations about dating, drunk nights, and that one hated professor. In the beginning I started off as the silent listener, but by the time senior year came around, my role had been reversed. Now I was the one telling stories of how someone was untrustworthy or how predictably some guy turned out to be a jerk, as my friends sat around listening. The words in the popular pop song, “100 Bad Days,” by AJR come to mind; “A hundred bad days made a hundred good stories—a hundred good stories make me interesting at parties.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still was not a fan of conflicts, and am not to this day. But, the older I got I realized that they were an inevitable part of life. Therefore, I agree with the quote by Veronica Roth, since I have learned that conflicts are interwoven into the very fabric of our life story. The conflicts I have experienced in college and in life have helped me grow as a person, and even if I did not particularly enjoy them, they definitely made my life more of an interesting narrative to tell. I have learned that people generally are more interested in hearing about the conflicts you are struggling with, rather than how smoothly your life is going. As humans, we thrive on these conflicts and live for them. They are embedded into our very culture and society. Whether in movies, television, books, or music, conflicts are omnipresent. Go to the movie theater to see countless movies filled with action scenes and relationship drama. Turn on the TV to watch the news and one can learn about terrorism, tropical disasters, and crimes. Read books to find out how the heroine defeated the enemy. Listen to music to hear about others’ conflicts and how they were impacted by them.

In fact, conflicts are part of the very foundation of history–a subject that is stressed with such importance throughout our education and lives. Wars, sacrifices, death, and heartache are all conflicts which compose and embody history. Conflicts have given rise to countless traditions and have been passed down from generation to generation. Whether they are ancient territorial feuds, or disputes over ethnic and racial differences, conflicts have survived the test of time and have morphed over the years into newer, more modern issues. Even when progress shines bright, it is still accompanied by a dark shroud of past conflicts that create stagnancy. History can be witnessed repeating itself over and over again, and just when we think we’ve overcome something, it drags us right back down again. As humans, we would be nothing without the conflicts that have shaped our existences; for we are indivisible from them. Accordingly, it would be hard to find an aspect of our society, culture, and lives that doesn’t involve conflicts in some way, shape or form. Even now, you can find yourself reading about them.

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