If* conflict is natural for people, then it is natural for people to feel the need for conflict management skills. Lacking those skills could cause a person to feel that they are missing something critical. Every time a conflict approaches on the horizon, this lack of resources could cause them to become excessively adrenalised, even when the conflict is low-level or low-risk. Adrenalisation could further lower their abilities to deal with the situation. This can shape both how people handle conflicts – what strategies they select and according to what principles – and how they judge the results.

It could very well be that “do nothing and walk away” is objectively the best strategy, with lowest risks and highest chance of success. However, if that strategy isn’t selected by individuals out of a menu of other possible strategies, then it isn’t likely to feel like a “win”. It’s more likely to feel like a cop out or a submission. You can’t “choose a peaceful solution” if that’s your only option, because then you’re not choosing at all. You’re being forced into peace.

While the practical results may be the same, the story you will tell yourself about the event will be completely different. Instead of “I very rationally and sensibly chose to disengage, yay me” you may be telling yourself that “you chickened out, yet again”. You may worry about other people’s perception of you. Do they think you a coward or push-over? What do you have to do to regain their respect? Essentially, you may be kicking yourself for not doing something riskier and stupider but more, like, epic and shit.

This isn’t a sign that there’s something wrong with your head; ask around and you’ll find that many or most people share those feelings. This is also not a sign that there’s something wrong with our collective head; this attitude has served us well as a species. We’re a lot weaker than many predators (lions and tigers and bears, oh my), yet we’ve essentially managed to take over the planet. We didn’t do that by being meek.

If you want to be able to walk away from dangerous situations AND to feel good about it, you need to have some other arrows in your quiver. Peace needs to feel like a choice, not like a capitulation. 

That’s precisely the opposite of where our society is going. We’re trying to force people into acting peaceful by not giving them any alternatives. We are depriving people of the opportunity to learn and practice conflict management skills. We’re churning out individuals who are insecure, adrenalised at the least sign of hassle, and plagued by an inner voice that calls them cowards. And then we call it “shocking” when they overreact or snap, and petty conflicts escalate unnecessarily.

*Yes, that’s an “if”, not a given. That’s what I believe and one of the main underpinnings of my thoughts on the subject. If I’m wrong on this one, then the whole cathedral falls down.


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