If You Want Change, Become Comfortable With Conflict
Are you desires compatible?
Many people want to change the world. They also want to avoid conflict. These desires are not compatible. If you want to change the world, you must prepare for conflict.
Think of the public figure you most admire. A person you aspire to be like. Got someone in mind? Good. Now, look up what their haters say about them. Odds are it is not nice. That means that if you succeed in becoming like the person you most admire, there will be people who say the same things about you. Remember, this person is ideal. It might not easy to attain their level of success. Fall short, and who knows. It could be worse.
Most have incompatible desires. They want to travel, but also want to lie around the house. They want a partner, but also want all their time to themselves. They want kids, but they also don’t want responsibilities. Achieving your goals requires aligning your desires to what you want or at least choosing one as the higher value.
One of the most common incompatibilities I see in those who like my work is a desire to change the world, combined with a fear of conflict. In some, these desires might stem from the same place. If someone wants a kinder world, they will want to change the one we have now, but might also not want to confront the lack of kindness they’ll encounter if they engage the existing world. I suspect that the reason many avoid conflict is because they want to remain safe and don’t see conflict as safe.
Conflict can actually make people more connected if the conflict is resolved. If you and a partner or friend have a fight and reconcile after, the relationship is stronger as a result. Relationships without conflict are relationships without intimacy. A close relationship where you and the other person never disagree or have different perspectives is impossible. Safe relationships are those where the other person will stay connected to you and look out for your needs no matter what conflict arises.
Where two desires conflict, look for a way to fulfill the underlying need behind both of them at the same time. You can find safety in conflict. The people I know who are strong enjoy the pain they feel in the last few reps before exhaustion where the muscle is built. Likewise, those who create change pursue well-chosen conflicts and remain centered amidst them.
If you’re not yet comfortable with conflict, look at your beliefs around it. How does the idea of conflict feel to you? Is it possible conflict could feel safe? What do you think will happen if you engage in conflict?
There is a stoic exercise where one imagines the worst-case scenario. For each person that could be different: losing friends, getting canceled, being called a bad person, violence, death, etc. Whatever that worst-case scenario is for you, take it through your imagination all the way through to the end. Then ask: Now what? What would happen if all that came to pass? What would it mean if that was true? What are you really afraid of?
Once you’ve done that, imagine the opposite. Suppose you never express your truth or engage in conflict. Imagine that things just keep going the way they are now for another year, decade, or your whole life. Nothing ever changes. Then what happens?
Compare the two scenarios. Which is worse? Can you live without ever expressing your truth? What are you willing to risk for change? Decide now what conflict is worth the risk and what is not. It’s okay to decide either way, but at least now you can either say that you actually aren’t willing to change the world or you’re willing to do what it takes to create the world you want.
Courage will become easier with each conflict you resolve. Courage does not mean the absence of fear, but the choice to move forward regardless of fear. There might be an element of risk. That’s okay, as long as what you seek to gain is worth the risk. What are you willing to stand for in the face of conflict?