Transforming Conflicts

How conflict can give rise to greater artistic expression and the vital need to seize the opportunity whenever disharmony arrives at our door.

Loosely speaking, a conflict can be described as an event where incompatible actions collide. What this involves ranges invariably from a prolonged stand-off to a heated debate about individual rights, but it can be agreed that what underlies all possible cases is the fundamental need to avoid violence at all costs and instead carry out some form of passive, lasting exchange. Broadening the concept of ‘conflict’ into a wider scale, it can be seen that there are conflicts in life happening inconspicuously all the time: the range of sounds resonating in our aural spectrum when in a busy environment; chemical reactions within our bodies fighting against foreign bacteria to combat infection; the differences in values that determine the daily exchanges between opposing political parties.

More often that not, what is normally associated with conflict is the idea that it precedes some kind of crisis; that the potential disharmony it brings will only lead to more negative consequences in the future. However, the Japanese word for ‘crisis’ reveals something rather more significant in how we can come to perceive things – combining the characters for both ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. The combination of these two characters expresses a more profound understanding of what forces are at play when a crisis or conflict occurs. Focusing on the dangerous aspect, for example, whether it be falling out of favour at work, disharmony in a close relationship or even an inner-conflict regarding our own personal interests, it is all too easy to focus singularly on the destructive element that can manifest. Taking the second element into consideration, however, introduces the idea of stepping forward and seizing the opportunity to take something broken and reconstruct it into something of greater value and meaning, being present to the potential it may hold.

This innovative attitude to transcend violent or negative reactions to problems can be expressed no better than through the Indian philosopher and leader of the people, Mahatma Gandhi, who promoted the belief that the battlefield of non-violence resided ultimately within the human heart and that learning to transform this element of humanity would lead to the most constructive way to build lasting peace. This effort to undertake a level of self-mastery exemplifies the attitude for using a conflict to create new answers and propose potential solutions. Without first doing this ourselves, we cannot be expected to effectively lead other people and inspire them to do the same thing too. On a very human level, the desire to form a synergy with those you are in conflict with may at first seem an anathema, but by simply being willing to listen attentively to the other’s perspective, the foundation for building a new level of mutual appreciation and understanding can be established. Beyond this, what matters is not necessarily a designated end-point or closure, but the formulation of a culture of ongoing exchange that encourages more differences to be explored and collectively understood.


But what can this mean from a creative standpoint? Discovering things in our lives that are seemingly out of joint can potentially present the arrival of new artistic challenges. Without tackling them head-on, we are avoiding the opportunity to connect with something that is both relevant to our artistic voice and connected with the fundamental values that drive us to want to create in the first place. Having the awareness to recognise any incongruences in our lives is a very direct way to further understand oneself and iron out any creases that could potentially be inhibiting our true artistic voice to be expressed. Being introspective in this way not only helps with understanding our own problems, but also the issues that connect us all so remarkably and profoundly with each other, meaning that coming to the realisation and finding a solution to one of our own personal problems could be the first step towards healing a conflict in our close society or community. From this process flows the inspiration that we can use to form the tapestry of our original creative work, adding to the fabric of significant ideas and possibilities that can potentially move society in a positive direction.

Turning to the realm of literature, dramatic conflict has long be known as a masters tool when it comes to storytelling and playwriting and there are countless examples throughout history of where this has been put to great use. William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is full of interweaving character conflicts that culminate to great comedic and dramatic effect. However, it is when conflict gives rise to greater realisation and understanding that it can be seen as having a truly positive and pioneering function within the arts. Rick Deckard, the protagonist in the story ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?’ by Philip K. Dick, undergoes a series of inner conflicts that open the way for a greater sense of responsibility in his relationship with the replicant castaway Rachel. While documenting conflict may allow for great analysis and allegory, exploring what goes beyond this and the impact it can have in our future actions can ultimately be extremely empowering and inspirational in moving the world forward in it’s collective understanding of the human condition.

In the words of the American Philosopher and Psychologist William James ‘The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it’ and it is in this fashion that we can strive to share our own realisations as we seek to master ourselves, sending out the best possible message along the way to those who are also seeking to achieve the same thing too. Regardless of how challenging it may be, deciding to turn a conflict into a cause for greater universal understanding is ultimately a sure-fire way of leaving a lasting legacy to future generations, inspiring a more considered, inclusive and creative world that values the act of mutual respect and exchange above all. And there’s no better place to first observe this happening than in the battlefield of our daily lives.

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Ed Hunte

Poet and Columnist at Global Poetry. United Kingdom

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