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Relationships • Conflicts

Stop Avoiding Conflict

Being ‘conflict -averse’ sounds like a lovely mild and peaceful way to be. Wouldn’t we all like to avoid conflict? Surely it represents a charming and kind approach to existence?

But the reality of conflict-aversion is far darker — and its implications are anything but easy. Conflict-aversion doesn’t just mean a distaste for a fight, it means a radical inability to get involved in a struggle of any sort because we are insufficiently on our own side; because we hate ourselves too much to dare to defend our own causes. We cannot take up arms, even when this is very necessary and correct to our survival and flourishing, because we are not inwardly convinced we should even be here.

Whatever our pacifist ideals, let’s be clear: a good life is going to — and must — involve conflict. It requires that we operate with a secure sense of our right to assert ourselves. Every good active life will mean meeting people who, for a range of motives, will want to screw us over and do us down. In the workplace, these injurious sorts will be envious and competitive. In relationships, they may be venal and vengeful. At least one in ten people is going to be against us. Health demands that we be up for the fight, that we understand the likelihood of conflict, that we know how not to buckle, that we understand how to complain loudly and that we have to hand the number of an extremely good lawyer.

Conflict-aversion is a symptom of shame and self-hatred. We run away from battle because we loathe ourselves too much to stand up for who we are. We were made to feel terrible and now cannot defend someone we despise too much. It might have been a caregiver or teacher who taught us such self-loathing, it was probably — sadly — more likely a mother or a father. 

Naturally we need to train young children to be on the side of gentle play. But as importantly, we need to train them to love themselves enough to take up appropriate defences against nastiness — of which the world is unavoidably full (a dark fact we never need to panic about).

Health doesn’t merely mean loving peace; it means having the self-respect to fight a just war.

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