Virginia Satir, a pioneer in the field of Family Therapy, once wrote that “conflict is an avenue for hope.” This is nutritious food for thought that can enrich relationships between people whether they are family members, couples, friends, or even colleagues in the workplace. What Virginia spoke to was how most of us have been conditioned to believe that the presence of conflict is a sign that one’s relationship is in peril. We may even decide that if conflict has arisen between us and others, we can no longer work together with them. Virginia has talked about how many people in family and couple relationships believe the presence of conflict is synonymous with “I don’t love you.” If this is the extent of our thinking about conflict, of course, it would make sense that we would shy away from instances where conflict had the potential to surface. Of course, we would get in a hurry to do something about the conflict, to get rid of it. But, what if, like Virgina Satir, we could view conflict as an “avenue for hope”?
Conflict is a manifestation of the ways in which we differ from others in relationship to others. We are all unique individuals with so much of our identity being shaped by the multiple dimensions of our experiences throughout our lives. This shaping starts from childhood and it continues through our adult lives as we encounter people, places, situations, information, etc. Would it not make sense that at different points in living our lives with and among others we would discover our “differentness”? This discovery of difference, in whatever form it presents itself, is not an indication to throw away people, or to even throw away the conflict. Instead, I have learned that conflict offers us information and if we can begin to appreciate how we differ, then we would have our eyes open looking for ways to best utilize those differences. If we cling to the idea that avoiding conflict is about “keeping the peace,” then we will always find ourselves keeping our perspective to ourselves or being excessively appeasing as to not encounter discord. Unfortunately, in this way, we fail to honor our own differentness and that of others so that we are able to live in more authentic ways.
We are constantly in relationship to others, so let’s practice embracing those instances when conflict arises as opportunities to learn how to fold differences into workable, useful tools for enriching relationships, both personal and professional.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.