What is the best way to handle conflict?
“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
Who would forget these precious words from Mahatma Gandhi? Indeed, we need to learn how to handle conflicts in the right way.
As we look around, dissension abounds in almost all corners of the earth. Not only is she becoming blind. Disagreements continue to disable her, she is sick to the point of dying. Can we still save Mother Earth from destruction? Is there even a little hope that strife will end?
What Is Conflict
Wars, battles, fights and quarrels. Yes, conflict is more than a disagreement. It usually connotes an irreconcilable action of at least two opposing forces.
What is the origin of conflict? When did it first occur? Who started it?
Every religion recognizes that there is a battle between good and evil. There are good spirits and bad spirits, God and Satan, and spirits of light and darkness.
In Hinduism, good and evil exist within the mind. Events that meet our interests are called good and those that bring misfortune or misery are referred to as evil. It’s all under the banner of the law of karma. You get what you choose. You reap what you sow.
Christians believe that the first conflict took place in heaven. A perfect, beautiful angel rebelled against God’s authority. His name, Lucifer, then became Satan which means “adversary”. Satan convinced one-third of the angels that God is unjust and unworthy to be the heavenly king. War in heaven ensued and the loser, Satan, was cast out together with his followers. But the conflict did not end there. It continues until today!
What has Conflict Meant in Human History
In 2014 it was reported that over the past 3,500 years, the world has only experienced 230 years of peace. That’s how chaotic the world is!
These figures are only referring to wars; what about other kinds of conflict? Is there such a thing as a so-called “year of peace”?
Beyond the numbers, these wars have significantly affected our world history:
World War I dismantled at least four monarchies. It also marked the end of colonialism, inspiring people to nationalism that led to revolts and, finally, the independence of many countries.
Wars have reshaped our world, especially when it comes to politics. Political boundaries continue to be affected by conflicts. Time and time again, we see changes and disputes over claims of territory.
The strife keeps on defining political debates. Listen to politicians’ speeches. There has been a rapid rise in disagreements whilst, ironically, their speeches contain promises on how to handle conflicts.
Violent conflicts have impacted human civilizations, health and healthcare systems.
On an individual level, it is pretty clear that soldiers and civilians suffer from the effects of war—physically and psychologically. That is why we now have the term PTSD or ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’. Victims of conflict feel haunted by the traumatic events they have witnessed or things they were ordered to do. One of the best examples are the many veterans of the Vietnam War who turned to drugs and alcohol to ‘drown their sorrows’.
Imagine those traumatized war victims, both soldiers and civilians. They have to deal with high anxiety, numbing memories and recurring flashbacks that severely affect their daily living.
In a broader scope, conflicts have also paved the way to the spread of epidemics. Did you know that the spread of influenza spread fast while troops travelled the globe? This led to a plague, Spanish ‘Flu, that killed more than 25 million people worldwide.
Moreover, wars cause disease and malnutrition to many thousands of people, due to food shortages.
Turmoil disrupted the culture of peace among different tribes. Battles led to tremendous human suffering. Ethnocentrism became more prominent. Now we have to deal with tribal wars, ethnic conflicts, clannism, racism and supremacist ideology and practice.
These conflicts are not actually about ethnic differences but are a significant threat to international peace and security. When closely considered, they are more about political, social, economic, cultural and territorial disputes. Take for example the deadliest conflicts from the late 20th to the early 21st centuries. Remember what happened in Rwanda, Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Destabilizing territories is often linked to human rights violations. There is economic decline, a flowing of transiting refugees, environmental problems and state failure too. Just look at what genocide and crimes against humanity have brought to this world.
We cannot deny how the world’s physical structure has changed due to conflicts. Seventy years on from the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan is still victim to their destructive effect— on the population through birth defects and the country’s wildlife.
Ancient Assyrian and Roman armies were reported to have sown salt into the enemies’ farmland to render it useless and thus ensuring the total surrender of their foes. This is one example of military herbicide, one of the most detrimental environmental effects of war.
Today’s weaponry is not limited to artillery. Chemical warfare threatens both humankind and the earth.
The manufacture of horrific weapons is skyrocketing and its adverse effects can be seen in people and their surrounding environment. Consider nuclear power plants. It is inevitable that as weapons become more dangerous the human and environmental cost will increase.
World history attests that conflict is a primary source of food shortages. One apparent reason is that as men were mobilized for war, the farming workforce became limited, thus reducing food production. But there’s even more to this.
Are you aware of the so-called “food war”?
A population may suffer from hunger as a result of armed conflict. This kind of warfare can also be used as a deliberate weapon. There have been times in some parts of the world where governments have introduced repressive policies and measures. These have led to restricting or denying access to income or food production, such as the discriminatory practices once upheld in apartheid South Africa.
The results of armed conflict and conflict-related sanctions often include malnutrition, acute food shortages and poverty-related limitations to food access. Economic and food system disruptions are usually found in countries where conflicts arise near their borders. Fleeing refugees, in search of food and fuel, may ransack livestock and natural resources on their journey. Economic distortions may occur when refugees eventually settle or are forced to settle. They compete for land and resources, which affects the local market. With the additional demand for food and other essentials, a scarcity of produce may result in price inflation. Alternatively, assets may be sold at lower than market value in order to obtain fast cash to buy food. These events can lead not only to food shortages but even famine. This is what happened in Western Darfur, Sudan when refugees arrived from neighbouring Chad.
Humanitarian groups and refugee organizations have arisen in order to address these problems, organizing the distribution of food relief and other aid.
Finance or Economy
As mentioned earlier, conflicts have a significant impact on economies. We see this happening not only locally but globally. World War 1 notably changed the world’s economic balance leaving European nations in deep debt that paved the way for the United States to become the world’s leading industrial and financial power. In many countries today where there is conflict, rising inflation is prevalent.
Family and Social Life
There is no doubt that wars devastate families. They not only lose their homes and possessions but, at times, even the concept of a family. The basic unit of society is shattered due to conflicts.
Women and children are often the most vulnerable victims. They suffer terrible abuse during turmoil. Survivors may suffer stigmatization, unwanted pregnancies and even sexually transmitted diseases. Many are left widowed or orphaned.
Social life changes as a result of conflict. Women have had to be the breadwinners when men are away at war. Over time they become more empowered, even campaigning for human rights, peace, security and development.
After the First World War, the way was opened for many ideologies to arise and grow in popularity, such as socialism and fascism.
Peace and Security
At the end of the First World War, a global body of nations was required to promote peace and security. The League of Nations was founded in 1920 and following the Second World War its power and functions were transferred to what is now the United Nations.
Information and Science
Interestingly, controversies have initiated technological and medical advances. Take communication and transportation ,for example—nations aim to outdo their foes.
As we have mentioned, violent conflicts impact the labour workforce. When men go to war, women must provide for their families and yet they continue to strive for equality in the workplace. Related to this, post-war veteran soldiers have difficulty finding employment. Studies show that there is a much higher unemployment rate with many having a hard time transitioning to civilian life.
These are some of the effects of conflict on the broader spectrum. Now let’s narrow its impact on an individual level.
How Conflict Affects Us Personally?
Disagreement with someone is inevitable. Most often, we face squabbles at our workplaces, schools and even in our churches and homes. We can’t avoid the fact that each individual is unique. Our personalities differ and therefore so do our opinions, tastes, experiences, views and beliefs. Other reasons why conflict occurs include lack of communication, lack of leadership, lack of role division and resistance to change.
But not all conflicts need another party. We also experience what we call ‘inner conflict’. This occurs when we have to make choices between two or more alternatives.
Even the so-called ‘little conflicts’ that we encounter in our daily lives affect us. Little they may be, but they cause damage to our general health and well-being when they pile up. The following are some specific impacts of conflict on an individual:
Controversies trigger strong emotions that lead to hurt, discomfort and disappointment. Have you heard about the “broken heart syndrome”?
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a temporary heart condition triggered by sudden and extreme emotional trauma. Interestingly, one major cause of emotional stress is conflict. People who suffer from this syndrome experience severe pressure-like chest pain, typical to that felt when suffering a heart attack.
The effects of conflict on our mental health can be devastating.
Some people experience mental health issues in the early stages of a conflict. This may be manifested in poor decision-making. The longer a dispute takes to resolve and the related stressors pile up, the more one’s mental health can suffer.
Continuing and unresolved conflicts often lead to stress. Stress then leads to fatigue, lethargy, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression and PTSD. Sometimes people give up the struggle, resulting in irreversible mental illness.
Conflict is not all destructive. There is what is known as healthy productive competition. This opens up opportunities for individuals to learn creativity in problem-solving, leading to greater maturity.
The most noticeable negative effect of conflict is injury or attack, but this isn’t the only way physical pain or illness is experienced.
The Institute of Aging at Portland State University conducted a two-year study of the harmful effects of prolonged or repetitive conflict. Among more than 650 adults they found a higher degree of significant functional limitations, lower self-rated health and a higher number of health conditions.
Medical research has shown that stress weakens the immune system. We know that prolonged exposure to conflict leads to stress. Notice that you are more susceptible to colds, ‘flu or other infectious diseases when stressed. Other health issues resulting from unresolved conflicts include acne, diabetes, obesity, digestive problems, tooth and gum disease, hair loss and sexual dysfunction.
For some, exposure to conflict results in stress-related chronic pain. Headaches or neck and back pain, anyone?
Relationships suffer as a result of conflict creating tension and disrupting bonds. Communication and connection can be affected or even severed. Dissatisfaction within a relationship increases more and more.
Disagreements often occur in the workplace. A CPP Global study showed that conflicts diminish productivity. This was seen most readily through undermined teamwork and cooperation. The same can also apply to any relationship.
Conflicts can either make or break you spiritually. Someone who feels helpless but who realizes they cannot manage a conflict alone, may seek divine help which in turn strengthens their spirituality.
With others, the opposite is true. They see conflict as the work or punishment of God, and turn against Him and all matters spiritual.
The worst option is when someone in the midst of conflict feels helpless and hopeless simultaneously. With nowhere to turn, they take their own lives as a way of ending their misery.
What Is Conflict Management?
“Conflict follows people”.
Knowing that controversy is virtually impossible to avoid, we need to know how to handle conflicts. Conflict management is the process and ability to identify, address and resolve disputes. The practice needs to be fair, sensible and efficient.
Conflict resolution is vital. Consider the following benefits:
- Builds improved, stronger working relationships;
- Allows constructive change to occur;
- Provides better solutions to challenges or problems;
- Renews and enhances the commitment of all parties concerned;
- Generates new ideas and significant innovations;
- Improves morale;
- Enriches a deeper understanding of each other;
- Strengthens productivity;
- Facilitates goal achievement;
- Manages risks like aggression, violence and even litigation; and
- Avoids or reduces financial implications.
But these benefits are not the primary, most crucial reasons why we should know how to handle conflicts. How important is conflict management in your daily life?
It is a matter between life and death!
The reason for open conflict is only too apparent. You don’t want to mess with your enemies, do you?
But the most important consideration is about the inner conflict. You have to make the right decisions in life. Would you choose eternal life or utter destruction?
Handling Conflicts the Way Jesus Did
When Jesus lived on earth He was, like us, fully human and yet He remained perfect, without sin. He faced conflicts as often if not more than we do. Let us learn from Him, our ultimate example.
Conflict in the wilderness
After Satan was cast out of heaven, he began the task of deceiving mankind into following him in the fight against God. By means of his deception and temptation he distracted and ultimately destroyed the culmination of God’s creation, the first man and woman, and all of humanity since. Nor did he spare Jesus, who is God in human form.
The devil presented to Jesus all the fascinating things of this world in exchange for his worship. But how did Jesus handle the situation?
Jesus was calm and listened to the arguments of the enemy. Although the temptations were strong Jesus was not compromised. He stood His ground—what’s right is right and wrong is wrong! This is contrary to the style of Satan, who mixes truth and error to accomplish his plans. For example, he promises pleasure but does not mention the pain that goes with it. Most importantly, Jesus focused on the issue at hand. These are the measures we need to adopt in a disagreement.
Conflict with the Pharisees
When Jesus lived on earth the Pharisees, the Jewish temple leaders, were constantly in conflict with Him. Again, Jesus focused on the issue and was always open and honest with His adversaries.
Conflict during the crucifixion
Men despised, rejected and even physically hurt Jesus despite His innocence. He did not retaliate but remained calm. Even though He is God, He did not pull rank.
Despite the pain and suffering, He still considered the win-win situation. Even though He suffered inner conflict throughout this ordeal, He submitted His will to God. Instead of running or fighting, He willingly laid down His life in the war against evil. In the end He emerged as the victor.
In each of these three instances, when Jesus was faced with conflict, we see He was armed with love. We know He always used a heavenly or highest form of love in dealing with controversies. This kind of love is filled with untainted trust and truth. His method is the best way of handling conflict. We should learn from Him and where possible do likewise.