Our daily lives are full of situations that may lead to conflict. You’re standing in line and suddenly someone sneaks into line three people in front of you. Or the cashier tries to charge you more for something you know costs less. Or your boss gives you an impossible job to do because he woke up in a bad mood.
We all have the freedom to choose which of these conflicts we respond to. Sometimes we “fight fire with fire” because it seems fair or reasonable. Other times we let it go because it’s not worth spending energy on something so unimportant.
“Man discovers himself when he is measured against an obstacle”.
-Antoine de Saint-Éxupery-
However, there are people who cannot make that choice. Or, rather, they choose in advance to renounce any situation that implies having to confront another person. They not only escape from debates, but also from making a claim, demanding, or putting an end to any behavior that causes direct conflict. What is in them is more than fear. What they experience is a feeling of helplessness that is beyond reasonable.
Sometimes they aren’t even aware of their fear. They simply say that they prefer peace and not fighting. If they work in a group, for example, and some of the team members shamelessly do not do their part, these people will do their work just to avoid a dispute. They’ll do work that’s not theirs, anything to keep from fighting.
The strategy of avoiding conflict
Avoiding conflict is a valid strategy, as long as you’re avoiding a greater evil. If you know that the other person is absolutely uncompromising on something, it’s worthless to turn it into a conflict. Or if there is a rule that you don’t like, but you’ve been warned that you can’t change it, it’s reasonable to let it go.
However, there are many other times when something more important is at stake. Your rights, for example. Or your dignity, or the respect you deserve. In those cases you lose much more by not initiating a conflict than by avoiding it.
Consciously, you know that an injustice is being committed, something is being done illegally or a demeaning act is being condoned. Even so, some people stay silent and try to continue as if nothing had happened.
The consequences are serious, not only because an offensive act has happened, but also because it effects our emotional balance. No matter how much someone tries to follow their own path, without paying attention to the injustices against them, something inside him will rebel.
This will result in frustration, intolerance, anguish or perhaps even physical illness.
On the other hand, this type of attitude nurtures twisted social relationships. Today you let it go, but tomorrow it does not stop. The abuser will not stop because no one is resisting.
Quite the contrary: they will feel they have full reign to continue business as usual. Avoiding conflicts does not mean solving them. It doesn’t even mean getting around them.
Avoiding, eluding, going around… These are behaviors that most of the time have been learned and instilled in us. It makes us believe, falsely, that restraint, repression or silence are valid and even desirable responses.
But a child is not born repressing himself. A baby does everything but repress herself. It is the environment that teaches her to do it because, ultimately, this way the environment exercises more control over the child.
Those who avoid conflict do not get greater peace in return. What they do is “hold onto” and “accumulate” conflict. What usually happens is that the reservoir fills up, until the last drop breaks the dam.
That’s when the silent one explodes and terrifies people around them. Sometimes these explosions, after a long restraint, have very serious consequences.
Being silent before injustice, first of all, only destroys your self-esteem. Without realizing it, you feed the idea that you’re helpless. And every time something happens you feel less capable.
You also cause damage to your body. Those who contain themselves too much are very likely to develop stomach problems, ulcers, muscle problems and autoimmune diseases.
Some conflicts should never be avoided. Nor is it healthy to go to the other extreme and react in a confrontational way to every little problem. There are ways to sort, process and resolve conflicts. Just as you learn to avoid them, you can also learn to manage them.
In fact, conflict is positive because it allows you to grow, mature and gain independence. In addition, those who look conflict in the face are usually more satisfied and happy people.