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Conflicts–Is Fighting Dirty Okay?

C.R. writes: In Do We Attract Conflict and Intolerance we got a few comments and one angry email.

Baseball 55 wrote: I know a woman who always complains about this ***  she encountered and that *** she encountered. I finally asked her, why is it that you encounter all these *** and I never do?

She had no idea what I meant. I explained to her that she was often needlessly provocative and argumentative. But she just couldn’t see it. She just thought she was right and others were wrong, so got caught up in a lot of conflict. I find it sad. While it’s true that this may be her “comfort zone,” it makes her unhappy and angry most of the time. And deprives her of friends. I know, I just can’t deal with her anymore.

In other words, Baseball 55 confirms that in this particular experience, he notices that a former friend is always spoiling for a fight–and that’s what she gets.

But Doly Garcia has an interesting point.

She writes: Very true. But on the other hand, some people have settled into living their life with a certain amount of conflict they are comfortable with. Not everybody has the same level of dislike for conflict. So it may not be lack of awareness of the mirror effect – it may be somebody settling in their comfort zone.

Doly’s comment really makes an interesting point, which rather confirms the post–Not everybody has the same level of dislike for conflict. Okay, so if you kind of like conflict or conflict is habitual for you, then you’ll find yourself in conflicts. True.

But we do have to ask: Is conflict always bad? Are there times where it can even be beneficial?

I used to think so, but in terms of my personal life, the older I get, the more I’m willing to forgo my desires for peace. On the other hand, where would we be without conflict?

There are a few reasons for conflict that I believe are valid. However, because they are extremely open to interpretation depending on one’s understanding of the terms and personal experience, they can be a slippery slope, as in “one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist.”

(I put in a very few examples after the types of conflict, there are many more. Omissions don’t constitute invalidation, so feel free to add your own in the comments):

Wars of self-defense. (World War 2, Six Day War)

Sticking up for those who can’t speak for or protect themselves. (Legal fights to protect babies, children, or the elderly. Legal fights for the cognitively disabled, etc.)

Righting a wrong. (Civil rights movement, reparations for stolen property such as from World War 2, changing a law that people believe is harmful, etc.)

Wars of Liberation/War for Rights. (American Revolution, French Revolution, War of 1812, American Civil War, etc.)

But even when fighting the good fight, keeping the fight “clean” prevents another slippery slope.

The End Justifies the Means

Attributed to Macchiavelli (he didn’t write those words, but the concept is embedded in The Prince), the idea is basically that if you do something underhandedly but it achieves a good outcome, then it is okay. For example, if a member of Congress cheats to win an election but she’s going to help the people in her district, then her dishonesty is okay, and is even validated.

For most of us, this argument is full of holes.

First, who gets to determine whether or not the help she gives is what’s needed? Second, if she’s willing to lie and cheat, then she’s going to use that tactic again. Third, in this particular case, cheating the voters (which is what cheating in an election boils down to) harms them, so any subsequent help can be seen as illegitimate or insincere.

It’s all to easy to say, “I’ll be underhanded, cheat, lie, accept bribes, etc. just this once because it will lead to a good outcome.” Those acts are not victimless crimes. It’s like robbing a bank and handing the money out to people you believe are deserving or needy.

Now, I admit the above is obvious. I’m really not moralizing, just extending the conflict question. I instinctively feel there is a relationship. It’s about truth.

The opposite of “the end justifies the means” was taught by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who said: If you want to win, if victory is more important than anything, you will have difficulty accepting–and living with–the truth.

It’s not worth losing one’s truth, one’s honesty, and the bigger truth in order to win a fight. It damages the soul. It’s not worth fighting dirty.

*** stands in for a term you can read in the original comments here.


Conflicts–Is Fighting Dirty Okay?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2019). Conflicts–Is Fighting Dirty Okay?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Feb 2019
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