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A Lesson on Conflict

I had a conflict the other day, nothing major but a conflict nonetheless. I am a “nine” on the Enneagram. If you know much about the personality type system called the Enneagram, you know that “nines” are considered the peacemakers. We don’t like conflict. At all. Sometimes we will do ridiculous things to avoid it.

So after feeling twisted up by that conflict, I wondered, “Is conflict necessary?” Of course, I know it’s all around me, but is it necessary for our spiritual growth? I pondered all of this while standing overlooking Davis Creek watching a yellow butterfly float by.

I’m still not sure if it’s necessary, but I do know that it’s inevitable. So how do we deal with it without running away from it, without coming unglued, without obsessing over it, with a little more peace and ease? Here’s what came to me as I followed the curvy creek bank.

People tend to think a conflict is either all their fault or none of their fault. There is very little in-between. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle. For me the first step is to ask myself in a loving, non-judgmental way, “What part did I play in this? Is this situation calling me to change in some way?” This is not to be self-deprecating or to place guilt on myself. Instead it is to stay in a continual state of growth.

We all know there is only one person we can change in this world, so that’s the person we need to attend to. We may realize we could be more patient, more understanding, kinder, clearer, more open-minded. Sometimes all we can change is how we respond to someone.

Carl Jung believed that we all carry around our own personal “complexes”. Complexes are the wounded parts of us from the past that flare up from time to time, especially when someone bumps into them. If someone’s parent left at an early age, his complex may be a fear of abandonment. If someone was abused, her complex may be a feeling of powerlessness.

These old wounds from the past can manifest themselves in this moment in time. What if we just paid attention to that during a conflict? If a conflict seems to have a high emotional charge, what if we realized that maybe we are bumping into that person’s complex? Or maybe they are bumping into ours? I am not saying we should excuse everyone’s actions or stay in the path of someone’s destructive behavior, but maybe we would take it much less personally if we realized that is not all about us or this exact moment. There is often a complicated undercurrent at play we know nothing about.

Marianne Williamson wrote in her book, A Return to Love, “The places in our personality where we tend to deviate from love are not our faults, but our wounds. God doesn’t want to punish us, but to heal us. And that is how God wishes us to view the wounds in others.”

What if we looked at people this way? Instead of seeing people as difficult or needy or annoying or whatever, we saw them as wounded. What if we saw ourselves this way? How would this change our experience of conflict? We notice some people’s wounds more than others. They seem bigger and tend to fester more. But the truth is we all carry around our share of woundedness, and we all are in need of healing.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a lover of conflict. I may always experience a little pang when it arises. But my reflections on the creek bank helped me to see that it is manageable, that ALL things are manageable. It’s funny how a simple butterfly floating by can make you realize that everything in life is manageable.

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