Today I want take a close look at what underlies conflicts and why it is important to deal with them.
Now before I continue, look at the picture below. What do you see?
Some see two faces. Others see a vase. Both images are present. Just because you don’t see it does not make it less present. This applies to when you find yourself involved in a conflict. Just because you don’t see the other person’s point of view, does not mean it’s not present, irrelevant. It is their point of view. A point of view based on experiences, interpretations (flawed or accurate) and values.
I’m going to use a situation that leads to a lot of conflict between people. You have dinner plans with a friend. The person arrives fifteen minutes late. No phone call. No text message. Nothing. They arrive all smiles and not bleeding. Now some of you are saying, “So what.” Others are seething and saying, “How rude.”
Why the different responses? Think about it. No cheating! Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean you can fake ponder. Think about it.
Okay. Which do you think is the reason for the “So What?”
a) The person is dense.
b) The person doesn’t have a watch and doesn’t know the person is late
c) The person does not consider being late a transgression.
I hope you picked C. Many people view tardiness as a transgression. Tardiness is interpreted as passive-aggressiveness or lack of respect for another person’s time. And the list can go and on. The point is the person waiting VALUES promptness.
The person waiting can do one of two things. Say nothing while s/he fumes internally or say something (nice or scathing). Either way, a conflict is occurring. But we will look at the silent approach. Next week we’ll talk about the confrontation approach.
In your silence you grapple with your thoughts: “Should I say something? What if I say something and they get mad? They don’t respect my time? They do this all time! I should’ve lied and said 15 minutes earlier. I bet they have a good excuse. If I ask they may think I’m making this a big deal. There never late, how odd.”
These statements represent internal conflict. You’re making sense of what happened. Now, resentment likes to breed in the dark corners of our thoughts and interpretations. Not all of them. Just the ones that make us negatively question motives. Resentment is a poison that slowly erodes the foundation of relationships, causing structures to crumble. Your thoughts lead to emotions, emotions lead to behaviors. You think you’ve been wronged, you get mad, you yell, talk, or say nothing. You think it’s no big deal, you are happy, you eat dinner. The conflict starts in your mind before it actually happens.
So what does this mean for writing? I’ll give an example of how perceptions and interpretations can make for provocative story telling. The past month I’ve been reading the Percy Jackson, Last Olympian Series by Rick Riordan. The books follow half-bloods, children that are half human and half Olympian gods. I will discuss the conflict that is driving me bonkers in the story. And I mean bonkers in the best way.
Percy does not recognize his good friend Annabeth likes him just a smidge past friendship. When she finds him talking to another girl, she stomps off. “What’s her problem?” he asks someone.
Good ole external (interpersonal) conflict. But why? Here’s some backstory. Annabeth is the daughter of Athena. Percy is the son of Poseidon. On historical principle alone, Annabeth should loathe Percy. Second, Annabeth liked another boy, who has gone rogue. But what does she do with those warm feelings? And now that Percy is on the scene and she likes him, really likes him, things are REALLY confusing. Percy is kind, funny, strong, and knows how to get out of a jam. Look at that juicy internal conflict. Each time she sees him talking to another girl, she is envious and mad at herself for caring. Percy likes her, but knows she likes this other person. So here are two people who like each other, but refuse to say or do anything about it. Over time, Annabeth pushes Percy away. (Here’s that unspoken internal conflict breeding poison). And Percy becomes more confused and angry.
So you see? If your perspective is truly important to you, staying silent is going to be a problem. In your writing, if you are using this approach, make sure you show the person’s perspective. Allow the reader to experience the conflict.
Next week I’ll talk about some good and bad ways to handle conflict.
So tell me your thoughts: What things do you value? What books do you think show this style of conflict well, not well?