Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Spirituality of Conflict

"Harmony"
-in my meditation garden-

Yesterday as I sat in a restaurant having lunch, the couple at the table next to me got into an argument - voices were raised, fingers pointed, when suddenly the woman grabbed her companion's hand and said, "Honey, you know what happens whenever we argue, let's just be nice to one another." They both smiled and from all appearances all was well again.

As I observed that couple who resolved their conflict by being nice to one another, my suspicion was that that all was not well with them even though they were being nice. It was obvious that this kind of stuff happened a lot between the two of them and that they had somehow agreed not to talk about problems when they surfaced, just smile and be nice - a sure formula for ultimate disaster.

I recall something the well-known psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck wrote many years ago in his books about building relationships. Dr. Peck suggested that there is a big difference between what he called "pseudo-community" and "genuine community." He went on to say that unless people in relationships were able to successfully deal with and manage the inevitable conflict that always arises, there could be no genuine relationship.  Dr. Peck observed: 

In a pseudo community people operate according to the rules of an unwritten book of etiquette. The rules of this book are: Don't do or say anything that might offend the other person. If someone does something that offends, annoys, or irritates you, act as if nothing has happened and pretend you are not bothered. If some form of disagreement surfaces change the subject as quickly and smoothly as possible. It is easy to see how these rules may make a relationship appear to be smoothly functioning, but the rules also crush intimacy and honesty and the longer this lasts the more tattered the relationship becomes.

That couple next to me yesterday at lunch were almost perfectly following the etiquette of this book of rules.

I suppose there are many reasons why people feel the need to avoid conflict at all costs in their relationships. For one thing, once conflict emerges it very often leads to attack and counteract- everyone proving they are right and the other is wrong.  I also think that people are "nice" to one another because they want the other person to "like" them, and so they will go to great lengths to avoid doing or saying anything that may result in "not being liked." 

But "attack and counterattack" in order to win a battle and putting on a "nice" face in order to be held in high esteem are always "acts of the ego" that isolate us from others and separate rather than connect. And since the primary purpose of the spiritual journey is to be "connected," since spiritual practice is all about building, maintaining and mending relationships, successfully managing inevitable conflict is always and ultimately a "spiritual practice."

Human beings are never "perfect," we all have our own warts and wounds. We make mistakes, we hurt one another, we often do not understand one another - this is simply part of the human condition. When   we can be vulnerable enough to honestly and respectfully share our disagreements and our disappointments, and when we are courageous enough to go beneath the surface to face our mutual imperfections, healing always happens and bonds are strengthened. 

I've been thinking about that couple yesterday who brushed everything under the table and decided instead to be "nice" to one another. I think that may have missed a "holy opportunity." 











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