“If there’s no conflict, there are no stories worth telling — or reading.”
— Veronica Roth
Do you agree? — No.
How fascinated we have become with the storylines in films and books which we admire. How stealthily and quickly these ideas creep into our heads: the idea that what happens in those stories, which you have so much respect for, should resemble what happens in your life so that it feels as worthwhile and colourful as the protagonist’s story. So very often, this protagonist figure seems to undergo an important transformation through the misery of conflict — conflict with themselves, with another being or with life itself. When this paradigm repeats from book to book, from plot to plot, we start involuntarily associating the grandeur and ‘epic-ness’ of a glorious life which we pursue in our dreams with the idea of conflict and struggle to whatever extent. Before we know it, we sink into the belief that we need drama, heroes and villains to make our lives meaningful and worthy: we need someone to fight against and we cannot achieve happiness until we taste our grain of salty suffering, the bigger and the saltier — the better… It becomes so hard for us to believe that happiness can come without a price, that it doesn’t have to be earned by enduring a lot of troubles. And then, it’s no wonder why so many of us end up deprived of self-love and self-respect: we cannot feel like we deserve it until we’re sure we’ve paid enough coins of conflict, minted in the struggle with life and its standards.
It might not seem that way to some as this argument could be seen as blown out of proportion. How can a ‘simple’ novel or an ‘idle’ movie session create such influence in our behaviour? But the mechanism through which the line is drawn between the stories we surround ourselves with and the way in which we end up perceiving our own lives is the same one that’s at work when our personalities are formed by the influence of our cultures, families and friends. The subtle words, moods and actions of the people we care about or in whom we recognise authority firmly make their way into our hearts and minds from the earliest of age. So, it doesn’t really matter where you learned about the “greatness” of conflict, whether it was from a real life experience of your father or your guru or whether it was deeply influenced by a made-up yet so beautifully painted life that you secretly would like to call your own. As long as you’re attached to those people and stories, they squeeze into parts of your own identity.
So, assuming that the aforementioned is the main way of learning about life, what happens if we are taught the idea that conflict is what we need to justify ourselves? We either seek it, create it out of nothing or live in fear, viewing conflict and all the miseries that come from it as some inescapable and inevitable force that will always govern our existence. In one way or another, whether we’re aware of it or not, the core belief in terms of why we trust the power in conflict is the idea that we are not good enough and we have to be fixed. That job can only be done best through unsettling and unkind clashes of circumstances in our lives. There’s an additional reaction to our own worship of conflict: an aggressive attempt to hide from it. In this attempt we try to flip the story around and claim that it’s not us, it’s the opponent in our conflict who is bad, that they need to be fixed and defeated. The logic in this mind set is that “There must be someone to blame, and since it’s not me, it must be someone else”.
In whichever way we express our attachment to conflict, the sickness caused by this attachment is due to under-loving: the malnourishment of our relationship with ourselves, with people and our lives due to our adherence to hardship (or any other form that conflict can take with the help of our misused ingenuity). We strip love of its unconditional nature. We are the ones who say: “Wait, wait, I cannot love myself and others yet, I haven’t completed my struggle yet”. Since true love is unconditional by definition, when stripped of this quality, it disappears. But how can we allow this, if we know that love is the only principle that encourages compassion, forgiveness and joy. It allows an evolution towards a warm and understanding world, where our care for each other can put an end to any kind of atrocities. When this principle of compassion, the only worthy way of leading mankind, is overthrown — we move away from the light and into darkness.
Many believe that darkness is a necessary stage in our path to the light. This often comes in the form of sayings such as “You can’t appreciate the good things in life without experiencing the bad ones”, “You cannot grow without hardship”, “You cannot gain without having an opponent”, “The worthiest people are martyrs” and other phrases of the kind, which upon closer inspection, does not really make any sense. After all, we know that love is the root of all good, that it promotes and is promoted by joy, peace and fraternity. Then why is it that we need the absence of love, which translates as the presence of sorrow, to learn what we already know? Isn’t it simply insanity? Mankind doesn’t need hard lessons to learn the price of goodness, of happiness and love. If we focused on those things and not on the conflicts to start with, we wouldn’t even need any “lessons” to bring us back to the ever-evident truth. It’s not a happy life that comes with suffering as a price but our hidden yet costly belief that the value of suffering brings us our happiness.
We can realise that conflict in and of itself doesn’t have any value, even if it’s supposed to lead us to valuable results, without having to experience a conflict in the first place. Our fascination with dramatic stories based on conflicts, wars and battles on any scale becomes nothing more than a silly toy without real worth. However, it’s totally understandable why people who are confused with where the actual value lies are so attached to the idea of hardship or other kinds of conflict in life. For them, without conflict, there really are no stories worth telling or reading. The question is, is it worth believing that conflict is the key to life?