Understanding Conflict
Images Source: 2015 article by Johann Rockström on ‘What kind of Earth will future generations inherit?

Understanding Conflict

Excerpt from the ‘Social Design Dimension’ of Gaia Education’s online course in ‘Design for Sustainability’

  • Daniel Christian Wahl
2 min read
Daniel Christian Wahl

“Creating freedom, community and viable relationships has its price. It costs time and courage to learn how to sit in the fire of diversity.”

— Arnold Mindell

Arne Mindell stresses the important insight that conflict is inseparable from life and diversity. Where there is homogeneity, there is less conflict, there is less tension, but there is also less movement, less life. Our challenge as human beings is to support and appreciate diversity — a key component of life’s evolution and vitality on this planet — while we learn to recognize the unity underlying the apparent diversity, so that we can live the encounter with what is different, maybe with tension and difficulties, but without violence, aggression, or (self-)destruction.

The most important lesson is to change our attitude from avoiding conflicts to looking at them with interest and openness. This means stepping out of a “winner-loser“ attitude and moving towards a “win-win“ perspective. Win-Win solutions become possible after all involved parties of a conflict have been heard and understood.

Often, when we regard a situation as “conflictual”, this means that we have lost our sense of connectedness (interbeing), of belonging, or of being understood. Before agreeing or disagreeing with someone’s opinions, try to tune in to what the person is feeling and needing. Instead of saying “no,” say what need of yours prevents you from saying “yes.” If you are feeling upset or angry, become aware of the deeper need that is not being met and of what you could do to fulfil it, instead of thinking about what’s wrong with others or yourself.

Types of Conflict

In the end, all conflicts refer to people. As Mindell says, “behind the world’s most difficult problems are people–groups of people who don’t get along together.” But interpersonal conflict is in many cases the external manifestation of something that goes on underneath: We can be projecting our own inner conflicts as if others were causing them, we can be unconsciously reacting to the tense dynamic of the group field, or we can be suffering from oppressive structures we are not aware of.

The first step to deal with conflict is to know what really causes it, instead of falling quickly into blaming another person. The following table, based on Integral Theory, gives us a general overview of the different types of conflicts and what causes them.

Note: The next cohort of students in ‘Design for Sustainability’ are enrolling now! The course starts on October 15th, 2018 with the Social Dimension. This section was initially authored by José Luis Escorihuela (Ulises) and revised by Daniel Wahl in 2016.

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