The Privilege of Conflict
Teachers hear it all the time, and parents hear it more often then they’d like. It is not uncommon for a child to ask… or perhaps complain in response to a chore, request, or responsibility with the words, “Do we HAVE to?” Unfortunately, children are not the only ones who have this response. Adults may not say the words out loud, but they think it, or more accurately they take on responsibility with an attitude of resentment. I call this the “have-to” attitude. When adults see responsibility as an opportunity to take action or make a difference, I refer to that as the “get-to” attitude. The attitude of “have-to” versus “get-to” makes a big difference in the way we approach the conflict that is inevitable in our day-to-day lives.
When asked whether conflict is good or bad, most adults see the faulty logic (false dichotomy) of the question and give the correct answer, which is that conflict is both good and bad. However, when I dig a little deeper, most of these adults have a negative, or “bad” feeling associated with conflict. The way a person thinks, and the way s/he feels are not always the same, and this disconnect can cause trouble when dealing with conflict. For example, I enjoy riding on roller coasters at amusement parks… now. For quite some time, I was afraid to ride a roller coaster. I knew in my head (thinking) that it was safe, but my fear (emotions) led me to wait (behavior) and miss the enjoyment of riding roller coasters with my friends in a shared experience that was an opportunity to strengthen my friendships. Did I HAVE TO ride a roller coaster to make/keep friends? Certainly not. Did I GET TO ride roller coasters later and have a fun shared experience with friends? Yes, of course. Now, this is perhaps a silly example, but it gets more serious, and the consequences can be the same, albeit intensified.
In a close and/or intimate relationship, there will be multiple opportunities for conflict. As scary as it may sound, conflict gives you the opportunity to deepen and strengthen your relationship, and conflict really can be good for you. If you truly believe (think) that conflict can be good, your actions (behaviors) can demonstrate that to be true in your life. However, fear, shame, and guilt (emotions) may prevent you from living up to your potential. To keep your emotions from holding you back and missing opportunities, it is helpful to do an attitude check regarding conflict. Get rid of the “have-to” attitude and take on a “get-to attitude. Without relationship, there is no conflict because there is no connection between you and the other person. I would go so far as to say that it is a privilege to have conflict with someone because it means you have a relationship with him/her. Working through conflict together, even though it’s difficult, gives you a shared experience that you both survive together. Viewing conflict as a privilege can be just the thing to help you move forward in your relationships, and enjoy the ride.