Archive for July, 2010
Someone pointed out to me the other day that he thought my hierarchy of needs was missing something.
And in thinking about it, I realized that the hierarchy of needs is more specifically the hierarchy of needs for growth.
So while conflict is a very real force in life, it’s not actually a force that is necessary for growth itself. In fact, it’s the opposing force that inhibits growth.
And that’s totally ok!
It’s ok because the conflicts we face in life are what make us different, unique, snowflakes, as they say. Each unique conflict we face – from our parents being distracted by a friend just at the moment that we start to fall off the climbing structure at the playground, to the challenges we face in our marriage when the upstairs neighbor blocks the path to our backdoor with her car, to being gossiped about on someone’s blog, to being sued in court by people who you love, to having slugs eat all your cucumber plants – all form our self into a particular shape that is not like any other individual’s shape, because their conflicts are always at least somewhat different than our own. Even with identical twins, the minor conflicts in life can create significant changes to their shape, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. And those unique shapes are the puzzle pieces of the universe, which all fit together to create one very complex pattern that puts us humans in complete awe when we look at it all from above and beyond.
This diversity of conflict is what creates art in all it’s many forms. The variety of conflict that different individuals experience allows us to have songs such as Simon and Garfunkle’s Cloudy, as well as Lateralus from Tool. Conflict gives us both da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Guernica. Conflict gives us both the Frog Prince and Hamlet.
Conflict gives us Ghandi spinning cloth and Batman the Dark Knight.
So while conflict isn’t at all a need for growth, it is, quite clearly, something that exists, and it does give us a chance to create something of value, when we are getting what we need to grow reasonably healthfully.
We don’t need conflict, just as snowflakes don’t need to be unique, and anyone giving us conflict intentionally is definitely not helping us grow (no matter what the “tough love” people want to believe), but conflict can be used to our benefit, when we approach it with creativity.
In other words, when we are generally taken care of by the world, including being given the freedom to express ourselves, we can learn to appreciate and embrace the conflict in our lives as an opportunity to turn the negativity into positivity by expressing our unique selves in some creative, artistic way, so that the world becomes even more awe inspiring.
And when we focus on creative approaches to responding to the conflict that is most universal to the people we care about, we make the world a much better place for everyone.
Slaying the dragon isn’t a metaphor for harming another individual who you don’t happen to like, instead slaying the dragon is a metaphor for overcoming your fears enough to stand up for what you believe in and move forward – over, under, around, or through any obstacles that are in your path. The point of the mythological story is that the dragon isn’t real. The dragon is really just your irrational fear, which can be easily sliced through once you begin to believe that you are your own hero.
How you interact with the other individuals you meet in life depends on how you see your needs as compared to the resources that they appear to offer. If you believe that they have something that you need and can’t easily get anywhere else, you will be likely to take it from them.
And if you believe that other individuals might welcome something that you have in excess, then you will be likely to give it to them.
Often this works out splendidly, with everyone getting something that they need, input-wise or output-wise.
But conflict can often happen when our our perception of someone else’s intentions turns out to be very different from their their perception of their intentions. When someone isn’t really freely offering something to you, or when your offering to them isn’t welcome, then they tend to react negatively, physically, emotionally, and/or intellectually pushing you away, as they try to protect themselves from you and your perceptions.
This is completely normal and healthy for living things. Sure, it’s sometimes frustrating, obviously, but it’s the way things are supposed to work, as it gives us the feedback we need to learn about how the world works.
But there is another level of conflict that can cause even more problems than a simple misunderstanding between individuals (which itself can spiral so far out of control as to cause wars if not investigated with healthy curiosity and reason). And that even more difficult level of conflict is the “inner conflict” that sometimes happens when my own thoughts turn out to be unwelcome to me. When I believe that I am “wrong” about my assessment of someone else’s intentions, I might decide that my own perception isn’t a welcome offering to myself, and I might react negatively to the thinking part of my mind, and push myself away from me (!) to protect myself from me and my perceptions. And because of the passion and intensity that this most personal kind of conflict causes, it can create an even more insipid and subtle form of “war” that seeps out from individuals and infects whole cultures, and can take on the form of white collar crimes, political messiness, all kinds of discrimination, and the all too common mini-battles of road rage and the highly dramatic internet ranting as seen on many, many web communities (culminating in the ultimate negativity of 4chan/b).
When I am mad at myself, it makes everyone else’s lives less joyful and peaceful.
It’s been said that we fear what we don’t understand. If so, our reaction to that fear is made even more intensely painful and dangerous when what we don’t understand is our own selves. Which is why many of the main elements of Buddhist meditation, especially the process of focused, compassionate, non-attached, observation of one’s own thoughts and feelings, are so valuable to the whole world. Having the opportunity to appreciate, welcome, understand, and accept all of oneself allows one to defuse any old inner conflicts and simple misunderstandings, which allows one to be more peaceful, both on the inside and on the outside. This way simple misunderstandings stay simple, which makes it much easier for you to get past the confusion and reach clarity and healthy understanding of yourself and others, so that you can better function with the reality of life, and be more effective in taking only what you need from what is freely offered, and offering what you have more than enough of to anyone who needs it. :-)
And, of course, ultimately, we will all be better able to see clearly and understand when our environment offers us what we need to be physically healthy, because our brain is a part of our body, and needs nourishment to function well enough to create the most realistic perceptions possible, and be able to react most compassionately and positively with forgiveness and understanding when our own perceptions differ from other people’s perceptions.
So, yeah, I’m going to eat more kale, so that the world can be a little more peaceful. :-)