Conflict and the art of burying your head in the sand … and missing out on life

“People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that.”


“Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

The potpourri huntDo you love or hate conflict?

Dr Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’ suggests that conflict is essential for growth.

All my life I’ve avoided conflict. I grew up in a happy family where conflict was avoided as a rule. In fact, from my father’s perspective any disagreement was personal and would turn into a fight where the opposing opinion was preferably quashed. For the most part this was fine because we really did have a somewhat idyllic, happy family life and carefree upbringing. When I got to my teens, I naturally began to disagree. However, I learnt that it was safer (avoiding conflict), and I thought healthier, and best to keep these opinions to myself. I don’t remember a single instance where we had healthy debate at the table where differing opinions and ideas where welcomed and bandied about safely without a blowup or misunderstanding. This is not a finger-pointing session at my father or my family who I love dearly, but rather an observation of the powers that have shaped me and my historical, somewhat epic fear of conflict and even my tendency towards ‘people pleasing’.

God and life have had other plans and I’m currently undergoing a series of unwelcome, unsolicited lessons in conflict. My ‘tagline’, ‘Overcoming life’s hurdles one prayer at a time’, really is the only way I survive. In typical God style, the things I’ve prayed for have generally put me in the midst of conflict rather than taking me out of it. Lately, I have found that God is no longer content for me to bury my head in the sand where I’m comfortable and warm, but to place me right in the middle of the ugly mess.

My case in point: Through a series of disastrous building works that lasted a year, Hubby and I had to put out ‘fires’ with unhappy neighbours and deal with incompetent artisans – that took quite a bit of negotiation and conflict resolution. Then in my freelance work, I was forced to have a meeting with my editor and raise some pretty strong complaints and hope I haven’t jeopardised my position. Other work tensions mean carefully trying to listen to people and make difficult decisions.

Personally, Hubby and I have had to face some big disappointments. I began with my default reaction – picking myself up, dusting myself off and telling myself “I’m fine”… That didn’t work for very long, and I was quite unprepared for the messy, ugly cry and the welling up of self-defeating thoughts I’d stored up safely in my heart and thought I’d locked away.

As I’ve prayed and hoped for breakthrough in these and other problems, instead of their being miraculously resolved, pain and tear free, some pretty difficult issues have exploded in front of us – it’s been messy! Wherever I look, instead of miraculous, happy solutions, situations are, like nasty pimples, coming to a head, and all their festering contents pouring out.

I love the scene in the film “Shall we Dance” where Susan Sarandon’s character, Bev, contracts a private detective, Devine, played with comic excellence, by Richard Jenkins, to find out if her husband (cue Richard Gere) is having an affair because he’s been acting strangely and when he comes home, his shirts smell sweet like potpourri. A priceless dialogue ensues:

Devine: It’s possible, it’s possible. It’s possible we could find your husband neck-deep in potpourri, investing things… Not likely (giving his assistant, Scotty, a knowing look).
Bev: sighs
Devine: Look, this is what we’ll do. We start out gently, we look for the potpourri, and if we find it, and it smells like flowers, then two thousand ought to cover my time, but if we find the potpourri and there’s something big and stinky in the pot, then you and I renegotiate, okay? That sound good?

Whether it’s God we are asking for help to intervene in a difficult problem, or hiring a private detective to find out a secret, or asking for honest feedback in a work appraisal, or having that difficult, honest conversation with a friend, at the very least we should be prepared that on the road to a solution we may find ourselves in a conflict and “something big and stinky” may have to come out along the way. And, most importantly, that’s okay.

In literature and film it’s the conflict, not the solution which drives the action. Every page and every scene of a good narrative has our hero overcoming some challenge and learning valuable lessons about him/herself and others along the way. What an adventure. I’ve always appreciated the value of conflict in a narrative, and yet never appreciated it in real life.

To think that as the heroine of my own story, I’ve sought the adventure, while at the same time trying to keep myself out of the fray – tut tut tut.

Rookie mistake.

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