Co-existence and the transformative nature of conflict

Image: Yanni Panesa

My wife voted one way and her folks voted another. Sound familiar? Yeah…

They live right down the road. Not only are we close on the map, we’re close as family. As in-laws go, I’ve been fortunate. As much as I love them, our political disagreements lead to quite an… erm… shall we say, ‘interesting’, family dynamic.

My wife posted something on Facebook the other day (like many of us have been doing more so than we’re used to) that spoke against the one she didn’t vote for.

Now… Before I continue, let me say, she doesn’t do this often. It takes a lot to get her to express via the Facebooks. But she did. It wasn’t too vociferous. It was quite subtle, actually.

But her folks were obviously rattled. They brought it up in indirect ways when we got together for dinner throughout the following couple weeks. “I just can’t stand it when people voice their opinions on Facebook. It’s like, geez, get a life.”

It was a slow-building anger-fest. Both sides know they don’t agree on this topic. The choice had been to avoid discussing politics face to face.

But this wound was festering and festering.

Eventually, at a family dinner at their place (as usual) it burst like a… well… a wound that bursts (I won’t get too graphic on ya here).

I forget who brought it up first, my wife or her dad, but it escalated quickly.

My wife is a great debater. She was on the debate team (nerd) and knows how to keep her cool.

But when it comes to family, you know how it goes.

It was awkward… FOX News blared on the TV like a resounding war drum that only added to the chaos in the air. A discussion quickly turned into an argument. Talking points were used like projectiles to destroy the other. Like a football game or a UFC match where a clear winner and a loser emerge from the rubble.

I noticed something interesting that night…

The more emotional the argument grew, the more it became about changing each other’s mind.

At one point, my father-in-law said, “I’m not gonna change your mind and you’re not gonna change mine, so it’s not even worth talking about.”

Stuff it down. Stuff it down again. Ugh…

Here’s a profound concept I learned a long time ago from someone far smarter than I (though I can’t remember who):

War is not conflict. War is the inability to have conflict.

War is what happens when two (or more) conflicting opinions cannot live in the same space. War says, I can’t stand what you represent and rather than entering conscious conflict with you, I’m going to obliterate you so I don’t have to.

Ready for some what-ifs? Okay, good…

  • What if my wife and father-in-law could each share their opposing views in front of each other without the goal being to change the other’s mind?
  • What if they could instead go into this kind of discussion with the intention of growth through empathy and having their views cracked open rather than staying stuck in the limitations of certainty?
  • What if they had a pact that they could each share their opinions openly and passionately without the fear of personal attack or persuasion from the other side?
  • What if the goal wasn’t to change the other, but to transform themselves through the views of the other?

Many years ago, my wife and I started a little club with our friends. It was called Impolite Dinner Conversations. We’d invite people over and choose a theme that was typically taboo at the dinner table like ‘abortion’ or whatever have you. The rules were that everyone could say whatever they wanted, but you couldn’t call anyone out personally. You could speak your opinion, but you could not enter into an argument with another person. And you couldn’t interrupt. Oh, and there was a time limit for when you had the floor.

It was profound, some of the conversations we had. Eventually, we dropped it when we had Rory and started being lame, but we miss those dinners. Some of our friends still ask if we’re going to start it back up again. I think we might have to now.

I digress…

This is the power of co-existence. Two views living in peaceful conflict without the notion of changing or obliterating the other.

How many dining rooms are these kinds of arguments happening in tonight. A lot, indeed.

When we open ourselves to each other’s light, we exorcise our shadows.

We need to embrace conflict, not run from it. We must not worship the false idols of our beliefs. Instead, we must remain open to the other and live life with a question mark, not an exclamation mark.

Jonas writes short daily stories and preachments on the daily here in Higher Thoughts. Get one to enjoy with your coffee every morning by subscribing below.