A meaning of and a necessity for conflict

Nick AdlingtonUncategorizedLeave a Comment

The word “conflict” can throw up many different associations. We will all have had experience of conflict at some stage of our life, at some level, in some way. Perhaps we could say that each of us is likely to have a relationship with conflict. As you bring it to mind now, notice the thoughts, feelings or images that arise. I invite you in this moment to explore your own relationship with conflict. Through this exploration we can find out more about our own experiences, perspectives and needs related to being in conflict, or possibly witnessing conflict. I see this understanding as a central support for managing conflict.

In response to a question in a recent workshop, I’ve also become increasingly interested in the roots of the word conflict, and in particular what insights could be offered by discovering more about the word conflict. That, we could reach beyond our own individual associations and with curiosity find out more about how others have come to define these energies that operate in our day-to-day relationships.

According to the Etymologeek website the origins of the word conflict are as follows:

English word conflict comes from Latin con-, Latin fligere, Latin confligo, and later Latin conflictus (Collision, clash. Impact.)  (https://etymologeek.com/eng/conflict/97509845)

con – Used in compounds to indicate a being or bringing together of several objects. Used in compounds to indicate the completeness, perfecting of any act (ibid)

fligere – to strike (www.wordsense.eu)

Confligo – Argue or disagree, clash or collide, contend, combat, engage (https://etymologeek.com/eng/conflict/97509845)

Another online source suggests the following Latin derivation and associated meaning for the word “conflict”:

early 15c., “to contend, fight, struggle,” from Latin conflictus, past participle of confligere “to strike together, be in conflict,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see con-) + fligere “to strike” (see afflict). Meaning “be in opposition, be contrary or at variance” is from 1640s. Related: Conflicted; conflicting. (https://www.etymonline.com/word/conflict)

This subject is worth a book and more probably, but for the sake of this article I am going to draw a couple of personal observations from the above that speak to my own view of “conflict”.

Many writers, theorists, philosophers, sages, have developed ideas that refer to a greater whole in which we humans live. Whether this might be as inter-connected beings living in an inter-connected world, or perhaps as aspects of nature existing in a wider universe. As a gestalt therapist, I am acutely aware of an interpretation of the German word gestalt as, configuration, in respect of a greater whole. Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious reference something more than us as individuals or individual communities. It seems to me that much of scientific exploration is an examination of the interconnectedness of life and matter. The dialogues between J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm in the early 1980s were, to an extent, deconstructing the idea of the individual.

With this idea of wholeness in mind, I bring conflict back into focus and refer back to a definition of “con” from earlier, “….bringing together of several objects” and “…to indicate the completeness”, and from confligo, “to engage”.

In the articles I write I try to maintain an aspect of the practical, how can people apply what I’m writing about? What I’m pointing to in this article is both the necessity and inevitability of conflict. We need difference, we need an amount of conflict, to foster engagement and build this sense of wholeness. Without there being a place where difference can meet, including a place for conflict, we cannot create this sense of cohesion, the fragments remain just that, fragments.

Why is it important to state “the necessity” of conflict? I often find that conflict manifests in much more destructive ways because there may be a view held that “I shouldn’t be in conflict”. This can engender feelings of profound* embarrassment, guilt, shame, which can in turn hinder healthy contact and engagement and make denial and blame more likely. I would contend that the more we can welcome in an amount of difference and an understanding that healthy conflict is possible here, the less likely it is that habitual and destructive conflict including abuse, violence and war, will emerge.

What I’m hoping can emerge from this article is not an action or a new behaviour, but more the possibility for each of us to have a different internal relationship to conflict. One that may be that little less, “Conflict! Right, I’ll show them”, or “Woah!! Conflict!! I’m out of here!!” and perhaps more, “Oh, conflict, what’s this about? How do I want to be with this?”

Where I’ve found myself as I come to the end of this article is reflecting on familiar themes of awareness, responsibility, empowerment, and the interplay between these and the experience and manifestation of conflict. A matrix that weaves together the work I do as a psychotherapist, a mediator, and a conflict transformation specialist.

*as discussed in previous articles, guilt, embarrassment, shame are important prosocial experiences that promote healthy, functioning relationships and community. However, when they are experienced more intensely, without support, they are likely to polarise and lead to relationship breakdown.

An article by Nick Adlington

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