Thursday, September 12, 2013

I Often Think I'm Right

I often think I'm right.

I spent 5 years studying conflict narratives, exploring mediation, pondering reconciliation and theorizing about relativity.

I have two degrees that attest to my alleged expertise on the topic of conflict and its resolution.

I've taught multiple eight-hour seminars on effectively navigating interpersonal conflict.

But still, when I'm entrenched in my own personal conflicts, I often think I'm right.

It feels like a sickness- to be so obscured by the irrationality of rage and emotion that another person is found to be so intrinsically 'wrong'. The cliched adage "There are two sides to every story" is quickly eroded and the other person's story is dispelled as erroneous in order to solidify the veracity of my own. And the more 'right' I am in my narrative and my arguments, the more "wrong" the other person must become.

Even when I see truth in the other's explanation, I rapidly dismiss it and begin reinforcing my fortress of argumentative ammunition to obscure the cracks in my own story. In the truest sense, I see weakness and vulnerability as admitting defeat.

In the heat of the moment, I see conflict as zero-sum, and I must win at every cost. I justify my words and actions like a ruthless crusader unable to relinquish the dream of victory.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

After the heat of the argument has abated- after I have hurled hurtful words like a lance through my opponent's core- I remember. I remember that in almost every conflict-no matter how 'right' I think I am- I have contributed in some way to dissonance. Despite my immovable stance, I remember that by engaging in conflict, I am equally culpable as my adversary. I remember that there are so few instances where conflict has a clear "right" and "wrong". I remember that the other person is feeling as hurt- but also as 'right' as I am.

Of course there are 'right' and 'wrong' actions, and I am not a moral relativist. I absolutely believe that some deeds are inherently 'good' and appositely 'bad'. Still, when two people are engaged in conflict, they have more than likely both contributed to disharmony in some way, as hard as it is to see amidst the fog of anger and justification. But when we recognize our own accountability in conflict, we begin to understand the other's position, and can better understand our own.

Unfortunately, it is only after the argument has erupted and subsided that I think to ask "in what ways have I contributed to the other person's hardships? To what extent have I escalated this conflict? How have I hurt them, as I feel they have hurt me?"

These are difficult questions to ask, especially when entrenched in the stoicism of "right". They signify vulnerability and coax out the cracks in my arguments- the ones in which I feel so undeniably justified. But these are the questions that need to be asked if true conflict transformation is to occur. The facts, logistics and 'rights' and 'wrongs' of the argument may be important, but not as critical as understanding and accepting how I have hurt the other person.

How great would it be if I could stop myself mid-verbal assault and evaluate my role in a given conflict. How much more peaceful would life be if I could have the forethought to remember in the heat of battle that I'm not right, and that's okay. How humbling would it be if I remembered that conflict isn't truly resolved by divvying up land, or the redistribution of tasks, or by bowing out and admitting defeat. Conflict resolution- in its truest sense- is achieved when two people, or parties, or groups, or countries understand how they have wronged each other, and learn to love again.

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