A Safe, Easy Experiment in Conflict


Revolutions typically respond with conflict to conflict, violence, and injustice.

ReLOVEution responds to them differently.

To illustrate just one aspect of this, let me walk you through an experiment you can do in just a few minutes now or whenever you choose.

First, look around you — in your room or your car or standing on a busy street corner or sitting on a park bench. What do you see? Take a few moments. Just look around and take it all in. How does it feel?

Now close your eyes a moment and let your other senses soak it all up.

What do your mind and your heart and your body tell you about present reality right now where you are? Sit with that awareness a bit.

Now ask yourself: Where is the conflict? What conflict did you just experience?

Now multiply that answer (along with the awareness and senses and feelings and observations that informed it) by all the other people around you, or that you can imagine sitting elsewhere in their rooms or cars or on park benches, or walking through cities or forests or along beaches, engaged in play or hard work, with strangers or companions, resting, striving, solving difficult problems, or frittering away time with trifles just because they can.

How much more conflict do you come up with?

Now expand that globally and ask yourself: For every instance of conflict happening somewhere right now, in how many other places is it not happening? For every person engaged in conflict in this moment, how many others are engaged in peaceful moments — even if they’re in a war zone or surrounded by the aftermath of a calamity? How much real conflict is happening in the real moment where they are doing what they’re doing right now — experienced conflict — compared to all the other relatively peaceful experiences happening in the same moment elsewhere?

OK, one more question for this step: How much of the conflict they experience right now is physically happening, compared to how much is being visualized or remembered or anticipated, playing on inner video screens of imagination or depicted by some virtual, vicarious means?

So we’ve mentioned experienced peace and experienced conflict; and of the conflict, some of it experienced imaginatively, virtually, or vicariously, and some of it experienced physically in actual fact (and I include verbal and emotional conflict in that, both of which occur through actively physical means.)

Now try to visualize the proportions involved. If all the moments of relatively peaceful experience were piled to the height of Mt. Everest, how big would the pile of conflict-riddled moments be? And if you removed from that pile the moments involving physically expressed conflict (including acts of verbal and emotional conflict) from the otherwise imagined, projected, virtualized conflicts depicted by stories, news, TV, movies, video games, and the like, how big would the physically expressed pile be?

Just one more step will complete the experiment.

Recall a fight you were part of.

What happened before the fight started? What happened after it was over? How long had it been since the previous fight, and how long was it until the next one?

How much conflict filled the space around those fights? How much space did the actual fighting itself fill? And how much of the conflict in the space around the actual fighting was either a matter of anticipating the actual fight or reliving and retelling it after it was over?

When we pay attention to the whole picture of what’s actually going on including its context, not just the emotionally magnified parts that we’re afraid are going on or might end up going on, it’s obvious that mostly, between most creatures most of the time in almost every place, there is no conflict. Instead, with very little exception, everything cooperates. If your results from our experiment led you to quite different conclusions, then I think you’ll allow that such high levels of conflict are exceptional, and I sincerely hope that things change for you soon.

For most people most of the time, conflict isn’t just an experiential exception — it’s quantitatively minuscule and statistically negligible when we look at the whole instead of just the small part that scares us. But emotionally and imaginatively, that scary part is huge. The scary parts dominate our societies, our narratives, our thinking, and our feelings — which amounts to dominating our very well-being — whether by the shadow of their threat or the shadows of the looming defenses we erect to protect us from them.

Physically, it isn’t conflict itself but its aftermath that lasts a long time and causes much suffering in the world. Avoiding that suffering is a good reason why we emotionally, imaginatively exaggerate the scariness of conflict-riddled moments. But exaggeration isn’t always a good thing, and being dominated is pretty much never a good thing.

I’m not implying that conflict is insignificant. On the contrary, it’s obviously profound when so quantitatively little has such a huge psychological impact on us. I’m just showing you a way to estimate for yourself the comparative proportions of different aspects of conflict in terms of something quantifiable: a moment. (Minute or hour or day works, too.) Since experiences of conflict are real to us, they are real in fact — but not all aspects of conflict are real in the same ways. Estimating and visualizing them gives us some effective ways to think about them and their interrelationships, to respond to them appropriately, and to eventually manage them.

We don’t need exotic, ancient, or dauntingly complicated theories about the nature and origins of the universe and its meaning to realize that most of reality is pacific and most of our fears are imagined. Actually, all our fears are imagined, because fear itself is a function of imagination. That means correctives to fear running amok also lie in imagination; and that’s good news, because imagination is always available to us, readily accessible, powerful, and cheap.

To close, please notice one last thing: You probably felt resistance (most people do) to the ideas that conflict is quantitatively negligible, our fears are rooted in exaggerated imagination, and one way to fix an over-exaggerated fear is to use imagination as a corrective. You might even feel resistant to the mere suggestion that your fears could be over-exaggerated.

So, what does that resistance arise from: serious and thorough consideration of those possibilities, (at least some of which I’m sure this article introduced to you,) or as an instinctive or conditioned reaction? If it’s a reaction, what is its origin and what motivates it?

Consider: if you ever managed to fix an over-exaggerated fear, no matter how you did it, it required imagination. You had to at least imagine fixing it. And then you had to do something that helped you see that the problem itself was largely imaginary.

Answering those questions doesn’t require a university degree, tens of thousands of dollars and oodles of time invested in self-help regimens or guru-guided programs, nor traveling the world over to find the truth — although traveling the world will definitely lead you to plenty of truth! 😀

Answering those questions for yourself is, in the end, something only you can do — and you can do it — but we can also help and support each other as we do it. Getting a handle on conflict is not only empowering and life-enriching, (and it frustrates authoritarian expert- and leader- and guru-wannabees no end,) anyone who aspires to make real change will definitely deal with conflict. Authoritarians don’t know any other way, so we need to be ready and competent. The more you experiment with it, the more you’re going to wonder why you ever avoided it.

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