In the West, the approach to conflict has been to use it as a tool to get what we think we want. Thus, lawyers, psychologists, coaches and other professionals charge (a lot!) of money purporting to tell us how to “win” in conflict, or at least how to manipulate a conflict situation to our advantage. When we are unable to manipulate a situation to our advantage or “win” in conflict, we do everything in our power to suppress or escape the discomfort that is arising from the conflict situation.
Trying to “win” in conflict or get what we want is an exhausting battle. It requires us to constantly manipulate other people and circumstances outside of us. Yet, regardless of how cunning we might be, all circumstances in life by their very nature are in the state of constant change (just take a look at your first grade picture and then compare it with what you see in mirror now!). The very moment we “get” what we want there is the next thing to “get”. We may also realize that what we thought we wanted, is actually not what we wanted at all.
Trying to “win” conflict is like going up a river in a canoe with no ores. At times we might actually muscle our way up the river, only to be pushed back downstream again.
However, there is an alternative to going against the stream. The alternative is not to get a faster boat or bigger oars. The alternative is also not to read more books or attend seminars about becoming better at swimming against the current. One true alternative is to stop trying to escape the present moment – to let go of what we think we want.
Fundamentally when we – even just for a moment – stop trying to get what we want in conflict we open ourselves up to new possibilities and ways of responding. It does not mean that we give up and become passive towards life. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. When we momentarily stop trying to get anywhere we change our focus from where we think we want to go to, to where we are, right now. After all, this moment is the only moment in which we can take the next step. But if we are not even present now, what are the chances that the step we take is the “right” one in this particular situation at this particular time.
Only by being intimate with this moment, noticing what is right here, right now, can we perceive what our current situation in a conflict asks of us. When we respond appropriately to the situation at hand (which requires us to relinquish our want in that moment and instead fully feel whatever is going on within ourselves whether it is pleasant or not) we get what we truly need (which is not necessarily what we think we want) in a way that does not require taking or manipulating it from someone else.
Fully feeling what is happening inside of us in conflict situations whether pleasant or not is a doorway to understanding our own needs and separating them from what it is we think we want. There is always more than one way to fulfill a need in conflict but when we blindly focus on one or two wants, we block out the other possibilities that could fulfill that need.