Two people are in conflict if they cannot agree on something. Sometimes the source of the conflict is a minor issue, sometimes a major issue. Sometimes the involved parties can have a rational discussion about the conflict, and sometimes they act irrational, being verbally or physically abusive.
The common thread here is the inability to resolve conflict—inadequate conflict resolution. If we can’t resolve conflicts, we tend to keep immature behavior like bullying. People that bully other people haven’t learned how to deal with conflict. And those that get bullied and turn that anger into violence also haven’t learned to deal with conflict.
The ability to resolve conflict in civilized society is probably not an innate ability. We have to be taught how to do it. We need to see positive role models in our parents, family members, employers, teachers, and fellow citizens. Even in the best of circumstances, conflicts are often times difficult to resolve. If we have not had proper “training,” we tend to overreact to conflict with bullying, yelling or hitting. When children see these exaggerated responses, they will understandably tend to mimic them as the way to deal with conflict. Adults (parents, family members, employers, teachers and governmental leaders) must set the proper positive example. If adults cannot do it, how do we expect children to do it?
Now, it’s easy to say, “Don’t overreact!” We all will overreact to conflict at some time. When we do, we need to forgive ourselves (for our own mistakes) and we need to forgive others (for their mistakes). Without forgiveness, we can never learn conflict resolution. Without forgiveness, we are stuck in the past and cannot move forward.
There exists a significant impediment to our personal and collective ability to accept and extend forgiveness—the inability to engage in rational discourse. Our current political climate does not allow rational discourse. What do I mean by rational discourse? I would define rational discourse as the ability to engage in a meaningful dialogue (listening to conflicting views and expressing one’s own views) in a sensible fashion without demeaning the other individual(s) involved. Let me break it down to a few key elements.
- Meaningful—coming to the conversation with an open mind, not a closed mind
- Dialogue—not a monologue
- Listening—able to be quiet and truly hear what someone is saying
- Sensible—calm and cool without “hot-headed” emotion
- Without demeaning—accepting our common humanity, not placing oneself above others
But I don’t see any of the above in current political exchanges. I think that our current type of “irrational discourse” has been brewing for decades. We label people—democrat vs. republican, liberal vs. conservative, Tea Party member vs. socialist—and usually use the terms in a negative way. We call others idiots, criminals, and liars often with no rational basis in fact. We assume that we know them by what we presume they stand for. We engage in conversations, but we are never really engaged. Our pre-conceived notions do not allow us to listen and process information. We often shout our views without really considering their impact on all concerned. We have taken away our ability to engage in rational discourse in the social arena. And we are the worse for it.
The progressive inability to engage in rational discourse severely hampers our ability to resolve conflicts and more importantly practice forgiveness. Our impressionable youth of today will view these heated exchanges and adopt this inappropriate behavior as the norm. They will not be able to understand the process of forgiveness. They will think that “ye who yells the loudest” is right and doesn’t have to worry about the consequences.
No one has a monopoly on wisdom. The most difficult task in our lifetime is learning the practice of forgiveness. If we cannot engage in rational discourse, we will never be able to forgive ourselves, to forgive others and to do it now. We will never make meaningful strides to improve ourselves and to improve our community.