One of the most important factors in a successful novel is an interesting conflict and a unique resolution. Without a conflict, there is not much of a story to keep our interest going or to show how the main characters grow and change to overcome their circumstances.
Conflict in real life is not something most of us enjoy, but it happens nevertheless. How we deal with conflict is a challenge that both shapes us and reveals who we are.
I personally will try to bend over backwards to avoid a conflict. I will go the extra mile, do the extra work, suck it up and go on – most of the time. It seems to me that the best way to deal with a problem is to meet it head on, but the timing and the atmosphere has to be right. Even with addressing issues head on there are ways to go about it which leave everybody with their dignity and self-respect intact.
Talking things out privately is a far better solution than two or more individuals talking about each other to everyone else and never coming face to face with each other. Sometimes it can be that the root of a problem is really based on a misunderstanding. As human beings we interpret situations through the filters of our life long experiences. We often have prejudices or pre-conceived notions in place without even realizing they are there. Because of these, we may misinterpret or misread a situation, or someone on the other end may misinterpret or misread what is attempting to be accomplished because of their background.
As the old saying goes, “There are two sides to every story.” Usually, both sides of a conflict think they hold the ultimate truth.
Human relationships are messy business. We function or dysfunction first within our own families, then our circle of friends, our work, our church, and then the community beyond. We as individuals, nor anyone else in our circle of contacts is a perfect person. Even when we think our motives are absolutely pure and clear, if we look closely enough we may find that there is some selfish motive or some personal desire that defines our relationships with everyone else.
In the last few months it seems like I’ve been bombarded with information from or about people in conflict. Some of the situations are with family, some because of internal strife in marriages, some with friends, some with church, some with other professionals, and some within the community. I often try to listen and hope that the person who is troubled will be calmed or find their own solutions by talking things through. We all deserve to be heard. We all deserve to have the right to our opinion respected. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and worth.
If one party is trying to speak the truth as they see it and the other party refuses to listen to that perspective, then why should the first party listen when the roles are reversed? Trying to cram our views down someone else’s throat never turns out very well.
The greatest problems arise out of a lack of communication. Attempting to talk things through requires actually listening to what is being said by all in a mutually respectful atmosphere. If respect doesn’t take place between people, rifts grow wider. Hurt feelings, grudges, and animosity develop.
Consider what happens when negotiations between two countries break down. Tensions and threats develop that can linger in a region for years and decades. Worse yet, wars can develop in which both sides pay a terrible price just because they couldn’t sit down together and come to some mutual agreement.
In factories, when the working people and management can’t communicate, it usually results in a strike – a loss of working hours, product, and cash all the way around. Both sides stay at the table with moderators and mediators until the problems and terms are worked out to get people back to work and things once again running smoothly. It would be nice if ordinary people in ordinary situations were forced to sit at the table together until they could peacefully work out their differences.
As a former classroom teacher I have seen many conflicts arise between individual students or little groups of students. It appears that even children vie for the position of “top dog.” My solution to continued squabbling was often to assign warring individuals or factions to have to work together on a project in which I was sure they could be successful if they would just lay their hostilities aside for a little while. It was always a joy to see them rethinking their anger or their prejudices once they had done something good and productive together.
When marriages break down it is usually because one or both spouses have thrown up walls so high and wide that no matter what positive effort one spouse might try to make, the other one will not accept it. When friendships break down it is usually based on one person feeling slighted because the other one had to have their way.
“My way or the highway” mentality usually results in that person finding out they are alone. Even people who stick with them get sick of that attitude eventually.
There are people who make careers out of assisting corporation heads or stock holders work through conflict and find a resolution. I would not want to be one of those people. I don’t like conflict. I hate what it does to people when they refuse to work things out.
If only we could all realize that conflict is actually an opportunity to grow and examine our own mindsets, while also considering those things in others. We all have a right to our opinions, even when they are misguided. We all deserve the right to be heard.
I have often heard that the wisdom of some Oriental cultures advises to leave our enemies (real or perceived) a way to save face. That means that even if we get our way, win our point, have things work out the way we had hoped, we must still try to treat the one(s) on the losing side with dignity. By doing this, they can redeem their honor and may become a lifelong friend instead of an enemy.
In a novel, the writer’s task is to take the main characters’ conflicts and work them out in a creative and surprising way. In real life, I believe it is possible for living breathing human beings to do the same thing if both sides of a conflict truly want a resolution.