Conflict can lead to positive shared conclusions. Today’s post has words like: ‘war’ and ‘violence’ in it because those words are those words are the words of the author I am quoting. They conjure up ‘jarring’ concepts. Conflict is ‘jarring’. Conflict is present in around the work of schools. School leaders can hope the disagreements go away or they embrace conflict as a reality and work to resolve it. To get good at resolution means people will need to want to listen and work through their disagreements. William Ury in his book, The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop published in 2000 states:
Fatalism paralyzes our will to act.
What if fighting, violence, and war were preventable – and we simply didn’t know it? What if we didn’t know it because we had never fully tried to prevent them? What if we had never really tried because we had never really believed prevention to be possible?
Conflict is a natural part of life. It brings about change. In the form of business competition, it helps create prosperity. It lies at the heart of the democratic process. The best decisions result not from a superficial consensus, but from surfacing different points of view and searching for creative solutions. Few injustices, moreover, are addressed without serious conflict. We need more conflict, not less.
Our challenge, therefore, is not to eliminate conflict but to transform it. It is to change the way we handle our most serious differences, replacing fighting, violence, and war with more constructive processes such as a negotiation, democracy, and non-violent action. The task is to transform the culture of conflict from coercion to consent and from force to mutual interest.
No one should underestimate the difficulty of this task. There are plenty of good reasons why people fight – from conflicting interests to power struggles to fear and anger. Those reasons are real and cannot be wished away. After a century of terrible wars and genocides, moreover, no one should be under any illusions about the human capacity for evil and destruction.
There are three hard questions concerning the possibility of transforming conflict:
What is the alternative? What could conceivably replace fighting as the arbiter of human disputes, especially “when push comes to shove”?
But isn’t fighting in human nature? If people have always been killing one another, what reason is there to suppose the A could ever stop?
How can we stop? Given the seemingly intractability of conflict, is there anything that we can do, the individually or collectively?
I think that we can either we get good at working through conflict in productive ways or we settle for conflict escalation. Intensification of conflict is the last thing we need. We must find the energy to engage each other and focus on working toward the common good as opposed to working toward being a ‘winner’ and leaving the ‘losers’ behind.