Discover more from Civic Renaissance with Alexandra Hudson
Can conflict be good?
The secret to how conflict can strengthen relationships
If you’ve thought about ordering my book, The Soul of Civility: Timeless Principles to Heal Society and Ourselves, being released in just TWO months—now is the time to do it!
Here’s what some of the greatest thinkers of our day are saying about The Soul of Civility:
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A free year of Civic Renaissance (a $70 value)
And with a purchase of 20+ copies, enjoy a private virtual workshop, a $5000 value
I have a confession to make.
I’m not very good at personal conflict.
At least, this is true for me historically. I like to think that I’ve grown and continue to grow in this area. In the past, I’ve often felt that it was easier for me to walk away from a conflict—and even a relationship—rather than talk about a difficult subject or work through an issue together.
It felt safer to leave a friendship than to face someone I’d hurt—or perhaps worse—admit that someone had hurt me.
As a result, looking back, I realized that I held on to all relationships loosely—part of me always held back from being fully present in any relationship. I was always prepared—should conflict arise—to walk away.
I feared that conflict invariably meant the end of a relationship—so I might as well be the one to leave first.
There are several obvious problems with this.
First, it’s an unhealthy mode of interaction that hurts others. A decade ago, in the fall of 2013, I had a spiritual crisis that helped me for the first time see and feel the hurt that I had caused others by walking away.
Second, it’s an unhealthy mode of interaction that hurts myself. Also during my 2013 spiritual crisis, I felt keenly the emotions of walking away from relationships that I had previously not allowed myself to feel. Emotions were unsafe. They couldn’t be controlled. They were sources of vulnerability and shame. So I buried them.
But you cannot do that forever, I learned.
At least I couldn't.
Third, I realized that, in having one foot out the other foot in any relationships I was in—in being willing to walk away the moment things got difficult—I failed to fully develop essential skills of flourishing with others.
In life together—in a democracy—one can’t just take their marbles and go home the moment there is discomfort or disagreement.
Life with others means that we will disagree, and we need to be able to do so in a way that isn’t apocalyptic.
Fourth, in never bringing my full self to any relationship—in always holding something back in case I had to make a quick escape—I never allowed myself to be fully seen, known, and loved. It ensured my relationships never penetrated the veneer. My flight from others reflected a flight from self: I didn’t want to allow others to fully see me because I was afraid of what they might find—that they would see me in my truest self, and find me wanting. In realizing all this, I realized that though I had many friends and family members who loved me, I had—quite voluntarily—only ever tasted, and never truly imbibed, the good life, the stuff of human flourishing, which is comprised of life with others in relationships and community.
As I explore in my book, civility is the art of human flourishing. We become fully human in relationship with others. And without being in full, authentic and true relationships, I was prevented from becoming my truest and best self.
For me, historically, conflict often spelled the end of a relationship.
But recently I’ve enjoyed reflecting on an interesting idea: instead of spelling the end of a relationship—instead of being simply a “necessary evil” in life with others—can conflict actually be good?
Is it possible for conflict to strengthen our relationships with others?
How conflict can strengthen relationships
I’ve been entertaining the idea that a rupture, a disagreement doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship—a radical idea for me in and of itself.
It’s not about whether you fight. It’s about how we fight, and whether we reconcile.
Looking back, I realize I had persons in my life who didn’t always model conflict well. It was defined by avoidance of, or anger at, the disagreement.
But what if we told ourselves a story about our disagreement being a means of showing our respect and love for others?
This is how I define civility in my book—respecting someone enough to disagree with them, to tell them a hard truth, instead of papering over difference with mere politeness.
There are two ways that conflict can bring out the best in us—and strengthen our relationships. Let’s look at them in turn: how we fight, and whether we reconcile.
How we engage with others amid conflict matters
Keeping our priorities in order in the heat of a conflict is essential. We have to remember that we care about the friendship more than winning an argument.
It’s ok to take the hit—to not get the last word, to let the other get something off their chest. We don’t have to hit back where it hurts most. Choosing to love and respect the other in the heat of the moment—when we are most neurologically malleable —is a powerful way to form new, healthier habits of engaging with others through conflict.
This doesn’t mean being a doormat. Quite the opposite. It means having the inner strength to maintain our ideals when our animalistic instinct tells us to bite back. We’re choosing to rise above that temptation and choose to nurture the relationships in the long run rather than embrace the immediate gratification of getting the quip in.
That’s true courage, true strength, true love.
It’s choosing to engage the disagreement with curiosity—what experiences have they had to cause them to hold this view?
It’s electing to see it as an opportunity to understand one another better.
It’s this approach to conflict—seeing the other as more important than a short-term victory—that can strengthen our relationships.
Whether we reconcile matters
The Christian New Testament says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph 4:26)
Sometimes, in the heat of an argument, we say things we regret. Whether we own that and apologize is an essential part of why or whether a conflict can help make a friendship stronger.
There have been several times in recent months that I’ve reached out to reconcile with people I’d previously cut off—I’ve apologized for my role in the conflict, for my rashness in ending their friendships, and we’ve reconciled. The fruits of this have been lavish and abundant. I’ve felt internally stronger because I know that, in doing so, I’m living outwardly the ideals I hold inwardly about the friendships being more important than ego.
The soul longs for reconciliation. It longs for wholeness. Walking around hobbled by bitterness and grudges drains us. Are there areas in your life where can you plug your emotional leaks and reconcile with people around you?
Life is going to require very important conversations about subjects we are passionate about, and disagree on.
It’s ok to have emotion. It’s ok to bring passion and conviction to a conversation.
In fact, it’s essential.
As I explore in my book, it’s actually truly respectful of both ourselves and others.
Norm and tone policing during a fight—“don’t raise your voice!”—is the realm of mere politeness.
Civility requires we bring who we are—including our values—to the table. And not leave them hiding them in a closet.
Life together is hard. It’s unbelievably rewarding. Also very fragile. It’s worth the work, I’m learning.
I hope this helps you consider how your next conflict—which, again, is bound to happen!—can help bring out the best in you, and strengthen the relationships with those who matter to you.
If you found this post helpful, you’ll absolutely love my book The Soul of Civility—and I hope you buy it and claim your $700 worth of thank you gifts, too.
Thank you for considering order my book—and thank for being part of the Civic Renaissance community!