An interview about the central concepts in Just Conflict

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Where does this concern for conflict come from?

Working with men who have been clearly abusive to those they say they love the most, it became clear to me that they were very afraid of addressing conflict in their most significant relationships.  I observed how their avoidance of conflict caused more frequent and intense conflicts.  It became clear that the intensity of conflict for all of us is heightened by trying to avoid addressing conflict. 

So are you suggesting that everyone is in conflict?

Yes, exactly.  We are all experiencing conflicts all the time.  We often don't name the issues as conflicts.  We may not call them conflicts unless we don't know how to address them.  But a conflict is essentially whenever another isn't who we want them to be or we are not as they want us to be.  How often does that happen?

Doesn't your notion of conflict begin to feel a bit overwhelming?

It can.  Especially if we believe we can't resolve the conflicts which arise for us.  But we resolve conflicts all the time.  We are actually pretty good at resolving the familiar conflicts.  We have learned what to do to create what we need.

So what do you mean by "resolution?"

Well, that can be complicated.  In general a conflict is resolved when we have been able to act in ways that create what we need without it being at the expense of another.  In practice it can be very difficult to know what we need.  We tend to jump to a tactic rather than figuring out what the qualities are that are missing and working towards creating them.  But as I said, we all resolve conflicts all the time.  Conflict resolution is what we do whenever we solve a problem--whenever we create something.  Any act of creativity is a resolution of a conflict.

I think there are a lot of folks who have addressed conflict and didn't find it to be all that creative.

Not everything we do to address a conflict is going to resolve it.  For most of us, though, the problem is not that what we do doesn't work, it is that we decide the conflict can't be resolved so we just back away and try to ignore it.  What we have been doing hasn't worked so we give ourselves permission to quit by saying it can't be resolved.

Well, aren't there some conflicts which just can't be resolved?

No, every conflict can be resolved.  Maybe not fully resolved right away, but there are always things we can do that will move us toward what we need.  We don't know that we can resolve it because we have already tried all of the things we can think of to do which we believe will be helpful and they haven't worked.  We have even tried things that make the problem worse.  Frequently the very things we try to do to solve the problem create the problem.  We are thinking about the problem in a way that guides us to act such that we create the problem.

How can the way we think about a problem create the problem?

When things aren't as we want them to be, we construct a way of understanding the problem that will guide how we will address it.  But all maps are partial.  They highlight some information and ignore other information.  When we use a way of understanding that leaves out important aspects, we then make choices which don't respond to the whole situation.

For example, we often think that the way to get a conflict resolved is to get others to change.  Most of us know we can't change others, but this information doesn't stop us from trying.  When we are trying to get others to quit what they are doing, we put them in a really powerful position.  All they have to do is to keep doing what they are doing and we will lose.  We set ourselves up.

If we can't get others to change, how can we resolve a conflict?

The good news is that all we have to do is to change ourselves.  Of course, as anyone who has ever made a New Years Resolution knows, that can be plenty hard to do.  But at least it is possible.  All we have to do--and I fully understand that this is difficult--is to know what we need (as opposed to what we want), and to know what we can do that will create those qualities, and then consistently get ourselves to behave that way.  We can, on our own, create many of the qualities we need, and we can create relationships with others in which we work together to create what we all need.

This sounds like an awful lot of work.  Is it really worth it?

It is an awful lot of work.  It is the hardest work any of us ever does.  But it is also the most satisfying work we can do.  It is the work of identifying what we need and then creating it and creating relationship with others in which we work together to create what we all need.

As it turns out, life is not a zero sum game.  When you create what you need you don't take anything away from others.  When you create what you need you are also creating what everyone around you needs.  This is the most satisfying work of all.

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