Sunday, August 10, 2014

Conflict in Community

Humans need other people, and we do this by forming communities. Since we all differ, there is no way we can avoid discord and confrontation. Imperfect human beings, if like God, were perfect, would not need others, and we wouldn't have conflict. A university ethics professor, in the diocesan bulletin, presents us with the problem and a solution.

The word for discord in Korean is made up of two Chinese characters: the word for arrowroot and the wisteria vine. Both are vines, when they climb the trunk of a tree, they  clash with each other to achieve their separate goals. Asian ancestors living close to the earth learned much from the natural environment. Conflict, on first  perception has a negative message; however, it is not all negative, he says.

When conflict is low we have peace: stagnant, loss of motivation, and spiritlessness (apathy), and the danger of being influenced from the outside. When the degree of conflict is high, we have divisions, disorder, absence of  goals, and the desire to better the situation disappears. When an appropriate amount of conflict is maintained, we have the  possibility of change, and efforts to achieve change have a better chance of succeeding. We don't rid ourselves of conflict but manage it.

He lists four ways in which we can deal with conflict. The worst possible way is to avoid it. When this is done not only does the conflict remain, but we have the least degree of satisfaction among the parties.

Concession, giving in to the other: we have lowered the degree of  conflict but at the price of having  the degree of satisfaction of  those who conceded lowered and those who received the concession increased. This is also not the best possible solution.

Force, where pressure is put on the other party, the level of conflict subsides, but at a great price, for those who have been forced to go along will have a low degree of satisfaction.

The best way is to dialogue and compromise. We maintain an appropriate amount  of conflict, and the level of satisfaction is raised. An appropriate level of stress is present which allows the participants to come to a new level of understanding, to cope with the external changes, and allows the birth of other possibilities that were not envisioned.

In community and in relationships with others, we will never get rid of conflict. There is always a need to keep the level of conflict within permissible levels  where we can dialogue and compromise. The professor knows this is not easy. When we have variations in the way, we see a truth, we have to  continually work to fine-tune what is presented to us, and this is precisely what we mean by the art of communication.

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