Why Conflict Sucks and What You Can Do About It

Couple arguing with each other in bed

I hate conflict. I deeply, sincerely, genuinely do. Interestingly, so does everybody else I have ever asked. I also think it is deeply, sincerely, genuinely interesting that most relationship advice, when boiled down to its bare essence, generally amounts to no more nor less than advice about how to handle conflict.

The same holds true for the guidance we receive about how to win and maintain new friendshipsand romantic relationships, network successfully at meetings and conferences, raise well-adjusted and self-confident children, and transition from team player to team leader. If everybody on this planet hates conflict and really wants to avoid it (however well or poorly they may do at actually pulling this off) then it just makes sense that conflict is the last thing we want to introduce into any type of connection we are hopeful of keeping.

Yet we have plenty of conflict. We often create it within our own heads without going anywhere or talking to anybody. Most movies from documentaries to dramas thrive on it. So-called “reality” television programs seem to actually seek it out, relying on conflict to expose weakness and exploit strength through to its logical conclusion. Every advertisement we will ever see achieves its goal by setting up an internal conflict within the viewer and then offering a resolution of that conflict through the purchase and use of a particular product or service(accompanied by simple and clear instructions for how to obtain said product or service, of course). 

Recently I watched an award-winning independent documentary film called “10 Questions for the Dalai Lama”. The film is 85 minutes long, and revolves around one simple question – “if you had only one hour with great man himself, what questions would you ask?” The filmmaker, Rick Ray, unsurprisingly chooses to focus on tough questions revolving around how to successfully resolve seemingly unresolvable conflicts – conflicts about tradition versus modernization, religion versus politics, and people versus people. Throughout the film, as the esteemed world leader is dispensing his own unique brand of relationship advice, the Dalai Lama clearly and consistently advocates for peace, peace and more peace. He himself radiates peace, smiling and laughing with genuine warmth and hope while addressing difficult issues relating to the recentslaughter of an estimated 1.2 million Tibetan people by the Red Chinese Army, the ensuingsystematic eradication of the ancient traditions that hold his people together, and ongoing efforts by the Chinese government to install an imposter Dalai Lama in his place once he has passed from this world.

Obviously, I highly recommend watching this film for inspiration and insight into how to handle the toughest conflicts life can throw at us. I caught myself thinking as I watched, “Man, there are tougher conflicts out there than what I am facing” (and at that particular moment, I was feeling like my conflicts were very tough indeed). Perhaps most importantly, nowhere in the Dalai Lama’s 45-minute soliloquy on conflict resolution did he even once intimate that conflict is easy to fix, or that introducing even more conflict can fix it. He also never even hinted that it would ever be a pleasant or enjoyable experience to handle conflict. While he may have used more refined language than this, the message he reinforced was still crystal clear – “conflict sucks”. It does. It simply does. 

But he also firmly and consistently reminded us that we can do something about how much it has to suck for us personally. While we may not be able to ease the conflict itself as quickly or favorably as we may desire, we can continually adjust our inner atmosphere to reflect a state which insists upon peaceful resolution, radiating our goal from the inside out long before we may ever see it manifesting up close and personal in front of us. We can choose – each and every step of the way from the start to the close of the conflict – whether to reflect the problem or its solution. We can moderate whether the energy of our minds and hearts are focusing on hatred, revenge, aggression, domination, and submission, or on peace, laughter, connection, collaboration, and resolution. 

If the Dalai Lama can do it – if this great man, who began his contentious, tumultuous, and to date often tenuous reign as the 14th Dalai Lama at the tender age of 15 can do it – then you and I can do it. We can take this Nobel Prize for Peace winner’s relationship advice and apply it to ourselves first and to the conflict second, walking a mile in his shoes as we hug and laugh and smile and connect our way through to a resolution that through peace can – in time – accomplish what absolutely no other means or method possibly could.

What works well for you to handle conflict – both within yourself and with others? Do you have mentors or heroes who inspire you to seek out your inner strength and compassion when conflict comes knocking?