Conflict from Fight

We think conflicts cannot be resolved because of what we understand the nature of conflict to be and how we conceive of the process of resolution. As we develop a fuller understanding of the nature of conflict, possibilities for resolution open up to us.

We may say to ourselves about a troubling situation, "I won't say anything. I don't want to start a conflict." By conflict in this context we mean, "I don't want to start a fight." "What I have to say about what is bothering me will hurt her feelings and then she will respond in kind and then we will be caught up in trying to make each other lose and I don't want to go there, so I just won't say anything."

In another sense, however, the conflict exists whether I say anything about it or not. The other is doing something which bothers me. There is a quality to our relationship I don't like and it is not serving my needs. The other has made or is making choices which create events which create a quality in our relationship which is not good for me or for our relationship.

While I may think of the conflict as the fight we might get into if I say anything, we may also think of the conflict as the condition that exists already as I contemplate what, if anything, I will do to respond. For our purposes in learning to more fully resolve conflict, it is necessary to separate out

  • the condition or event that triggered my awareness of the problem, and
  • the response that I consider making to the problem.

So we will talk about conflicts and strategies for addressing conflicts as different things.

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While it is important to make a distinction between a conflict and a fight, this is hard because we sometimes use those words as synonyms, as when we talk about an international conflict when what we are referring to is a war. Certainly a war is a kind of fight. For our purposes, though, we want to notice that there is a condition in a relationship that we call a conflict even before we begin to do something about it. A fight is one of the strategies that people use to address conflicts, but the conflict exists before the fight starts and we can choose not to fight even if there is a conflict. A conflict is a condition in a relationship in which one or both parties don't like the way the other is being. A fight is a way of addressing a conflict in which the goal is to try to make the other lose.

So while we sometimes use the word conflict to mean fight there is a useful distinction we can make between them. Most people, once the distinction has been made for them, reliably continue to see and make the distinction. But there are some distinctions that are much harder to make consistently. One example is voiced by the Serenity Prayer with which many are familiar. There are variations, but the one I am familiar with is:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can, and

The wisdom to know the difference.

Personally, I think it should be referred to as the Wisdom Prayer as the crucial capacity is the ability to distinguish what I can do from what I cannot do. This is a distinction which is very hard to make. It seems simple, but it certainly isn't easy. And, as the popularity of the prayer can attest, it is very important to know the difference.

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