Conflict can be VERY destructive. You don’t have to look past the news headlines to see the destruction caused by conflict around the world and in our own communities. Maybe you have experienced firsthand the damage that conflict can cause. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
The purpose of conflict is to create
Mythologist, poet, and psychologist Michael Meade believes that the purpose of conflict is to create, not destroy. Yet so often, conflict becomes a competition where there’s a winner and loser.
In a conversation I had with Michael, he shared some history of the word competition. Consider the standard playing field we use for soccer, football, hockey, or basketball. It is rectangular in shape, has a half-court line, and a circle in the middle. In ancient times, two teams would engage on a similar playing field while the community watched and cheered in anticipation. Competition, in those days, meant “co-petition.” The two teams were performing to petition the gods for blessings. The circle in the middle of the field was where the gods were believed to connect with the people. In this sense, competition is a process of struggling with others towards a common goal; conflict that creates.
Next Element surveyed 900 people in the general population about their perceptions of conflict. One of the questions asked people to identify all the purposes of conflict. Four options were given and they could select as many as they wished:
It is an opportunity to create something new
It reminds us to respect and honor diversity
It reveals an unmet emotional need
It gives us energy to struggle with others
Ninety percent of responders selected the first answer. About three quarters selected the next two, and one third selected the last option. Which ones would you choose?
I like Ken Blanchard’s definition of conflict; it is simply the gap between what we want and what we are experiencing at any point in time. If we accept this definition, then the real question becomes, “How are we going to close the gap?”
How will you use the energy of conflict?
The way we go about using the energy created by conflict can be destructive or constructive. Ford Motor Company used the energy of conflict during the 2009 recession to reinvent itself and grow profits without taking bailouts. It motivated Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky to exert herculean effort to win gold for the United States at the Summer Olympics. It also motivates members of ISIS to go to great lengths planning and waiting for the right moment to strike.
Things to ponder
- What kind of damage has conflict caused in your life? What has it cost you?
- What’s your perspective on conflict as “co-petitioning” for a positive blessing?
- Imagine all the potential purposes of conflict.
- Conflict is a gift of energy to create something new. What could you do with this energy?