Making Peace with Conflict
The Hidden Perils of Harmony
Tick, tick, tick, tick . . .
I hear that familiar opening of 60 Minutes and travel back, instantly, to the 1970s. In that era, the popular TV show was only a few years old, and it held a grip on our Sunday nights at 7pm. We hurried to finish dinner so we could assemble in the family living room to hear what original hosts, Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner, and their cadre of reporters had to offer.
I enjoyed this shared time with my family and usually found the stories and revelations compelling. But there was one exception: I often left the room when the “Point/Counterpoint” segment aired. As a high schooler, I couldn’t see the point of pitting a liberal against a conservative to discuss an important issue.
Incredulous, my parents would ask, “Why don’t you like it?”
“Because all they do is argue and they don’t really get anywhere,” I replied.
These were the same parents who thought I’d make a great lawyer. What do lawyers do? Argue! No thank you. I’d already heard enough arguing in my household—between my older siblings, and between my father and brother—to conclude that it was unproductive.
My conclusion fueled the belief that it was better to tolerate things than engage in conflict. My resulting logic was that it was better to preserve harmony than vent one’s disagreeable feelings.
I was wrong.
Today, I know it may be better to vent than smolder. Before you unsubscribe from this blog in disagreement, hear me out! This is not an advertisement for untethered expression of rage. Instead, it’s an acknowledgment that failure to express a dissenting opinion can wreak havoc. Saying nothing when there are paragraphs bottled up inside could result in a lack of congruence, compromised authenticity or physical ailments. However, sometimes elective silence is the most self-preserving choice!
Clearly, there’s no one right answer as we explore the potential merits of conflict. Take note of the point/counterpoint in this sampling of quotes on the meaning attached to silence:
“I shall assume that your silence gives consent.” ~ Pluto
“Silence is true wisdom’s best reply.” ~ Euripides
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Silence is a source of great strength.” ~ Lao Tzu
“Distance doesn’t separate people, silence does.” ~ Jeff Hood
Selecting these opposing quotes, I nodded in agreement with all of them. Did you? Perhaps I’d add a “depends on the circumstances” while nodding. Now, some might just call that wishy-washy. I like to think of it as making peace with the inevitability of conflict. When there are two opposing sides, the make or break of that disagreement is meaningful engagement with an allowance for disengagement if the two sides aren’t ready or able to come together.
The million-dollar question is: How do we do conflict, constructively? I’m sure there are loads of books on the subject, and videos that demonstrate peacemaking skills, and motivational speakers who’ve got their ideas, too.
It is this skill set that I wish we were all required to master before we got out of high school. How might we have fared differently? Individually? In pairs? Families? Nations?
I will always stand for peace (my heart is with you, Ukraine) but I see how peace-at-all-costs is very pricey too. I see how that stance can diminish rather than enhance joy.
I may’ve hated Shana Alexander arguing with James Kilpatrick on 60 Minutes but here I am, today, welcoming your points or counterpoints on this topic in the comments below. My parents must be chuckling. Feel free to send me a note if you prefer.
Comments on this blog post are welcome — see the bottom of this page. No need to log in, just type your comments in the box, and press "Comment." Your comments will appear pending moderator approval.
I couldn’t hide my preferences in this collage, made years ago. In this age of so much conflict over so many issues, I offer its message as a counterpoint. Click here if you'd like to follow me on Instagram.
Why Assemble a Life? An Interview with Author and Artist, Martha Clark Scala
What motivated me to write Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself)? Check out this video to find out. Comments and feedback welcome!
Prompts For Joy
Click here for a point/counterpoint that baseball fans, especially, will find hilarious.
Click here for a politically incorrect spoof on 60 Minutes’ “Point/Counterpoint.” (Be forewarned: this may be offensive to those of the female persuasion.)
About the Photos
Above: Fog vs Sun. Bodega Bay, CA. Photo by Martha Clark Scala.
Next: Harmony Collage by Martha Clark Scala.
Below: Geoffrey Clark's photograph of his sun- and cat-loving wife, Martha.
"A collage of words and images, artfully presented, a story artfully told. I have given this book as a gift, I have read it four or five times (okay, I was the editor--but even if I weren't I'd recommend this touching story by a sensitive writer/poet who longed to better understand her father). Martha blends love, loss, images and humor into a memorable palette."
—Darlene Frank, Writer/Editor/Creativity Coach. "Tour Guide" for Spirited Voices: A Writing Journey into the Deep Imagination.
My father's photo of Mom can be found in Chapter 12 of Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself). This memoir is loaded with color photos (and some black and white) on just about every page. A visual feast.
Get the Limb Monthly
If you are not already a subscriber to this Out on a Limb blog, click here to get on my blog mailing list. (It's free, and the blog is sent out monthly.)