“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” ~ Buddha
The Nonsense of Conflict
“A conflict begins and ends in the hearts and minds of people, not in the hilltops.” ~ Amos Oz
No doubt we have all seen—and been involved in—conflict.
Conflict can range from a petty argument between people to a complete breakdown in communications between countries; it too rarely ends with a positive resolution. When we look at conflict from the simple view point of it arising between two people we can see that it often serves no purpose. Conflict is nonsensical.
Conflict arises when we disagree with another person in some way. Whether this is based on politics, religion, lifestyle choices or simply a personality clash, we have all had some direct or indirect experience with volatile disagreement.
Of course, we are only human, and part of our primitive nature is to be reactionary, judgmental and competitive. These natural instincts serve us well in some circumstances, but in modern times, on the whole, the conflict that comes from granting these qualities free rein is unhealthy and unnecessary.
If we observe conflicting emotions within ourselves, we see that no happiness ever comes from this state. We can often feel confused, frustrated, irritated and angry, which leads to mental stress and suffering.
Similarly, when we experience conflict with another person, there is rarely any common ground and discussions can quickly turn into heated arguments. From this point, each person digs their heels in further, determined to stick to and defend their own point while being wholly reluctant to accept the other’s point of view.
In imagining this type of scenario, we can see that conflict causes us to exert a great amount of mental (and sometimes physical) energy without necessarily resulting in any positive resolution.
So how does conflict arise?
Conflict comes from disagreeing with a particular point of view or stance. Usually, when we disagree with someone we automatically say that they are in the wrong—not us. Often, we condemn someone’s particular actions and then when it’s pointed out that we are guilty of the same or similar action, we reply: “Yeah, but that’s different…” We justify our own actions and condemn others for theirs.
It’s clear, then, that conflict arises from our mind, from our own thoughts. When we perceive the world around us, we hold continuous expectations of how things should be and how other people around us should act and behave. It is rare for us to try to understand things when they happen in such a way that is incongruous to our own thinking. For example, most of us have told a lie or two in our lives. If you can think of any recent examples, you’ll have already begun to justify your actions and yet, if someone lies to us and we find them out, we are immediately filled with frustration and anger and pass judgment on that person. They become untrustworthy, unreliable, sneaky and devious. Of course, when we lie, that’s different…
In short, conflict comes from our selfishness. We don’t stop to ask why things aren’t how they should be and we make no effort to try to understand things from the other person’s point of view; instead we find it far more convenient to simply decide that the person we are in conflict with has failed to meet our high standards.
How can we avoid conflict?
On a personal level, we can strongly reduce any chance of conflict by accepting that everyone is different. Rightly or wrongly, the people around us will do things differently from us; they will have different views from us and they might do things that we completely disagree with. However, instead of reacting to these things, if we stop to consider the possible reasons behind peoples’ actions and try to keep in mind that we are in no way perfect ourselves, we will find in time that we become less and less affected by the frustration and anger that lead us to conflict.
There are countless factors that contribute to the way a person conducts themselves. The greatest mistake we make is in believing that everyone else should hold the same values and ideals as us and should conduct themselves in the same way we do. Of course, this is nonsensical as we ourselves have been and will be the cause of another’s annoyance when they think it is we who should act and behave in the same manner as they do!
When we find that there are some actions that we feel merit anger and frustration, we might be right. There are individuals who do terrible things and as a result this can make our blood boil. However, it is well worth remembering that when we feel anger, when we feel frustration, when we want to lash out, we as individuals are the only ones to suffer from our anger. When you are angry at someone, is it not your blood pressure that rises? Is it not you who gets the headache and feels the tension and the stress? Even if we can use our anger to affect another, we only come to find that the arisen conflict leads to even more anger and frustration. In some cases, we find that conflict leads us to great embarrassment and deep regret; such negative consequences for our allowing our negative emotions free reign—and totally unavoidable.
So with conflict, there are no positive results to be gained from embracing it. We suffer both mentally and physically through conflict and the more we embrace it, the stronger it becomes and the harder it is to conquer. However, the key is to take a moment before reacting to anything we perceive as negative and try to find some rational explanation for what is happening in a situation. We are bound to feel angry on occasion—this is only natural—but it is in how we handle our negative emotions that can leave us feeling better or worse. When we dwell upon and build our anger up to the point of conflict, we will always feel negative results—nothing good ever comes from unrestrained anger.
However, when we can learn to take a moment and think before we react, we will start to see positive results emerging and in time with practice, we will come to realize the nonsense of conflict.
Having worked for the Scottish Parliament and various newspaper titles, Clarke has a keen interest in current affairs and global politics and as a practicing Buddhist, he also devotes a lot of time to spirituality.
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