I can’t stand the idea of all people getting along every minute, every hour, every second. I can’t stand the idea of living in a country, city, community, circle of friends or family in which we all are echo-chambers for each other’s ideas, feelings or beliefs. I don’t believe in the commercial-like partnerships: all smiling, holding hands and hugging all day long. I believe in conflict and opposite ideas, I believe in challenging ourselves and each other. I believe in the power of Why? when we are asked to do or to feel something.
In communism, we were taught to follow and never challenge or question. If the direction came from above it was to be followed, no questions asked. It did not come naturally to a very vibrant and intelligent people but after jail time and years of hard work in salt mines for the more outspoken, resentfully, we all obeyed. I remember my father coming home from two or three days of meetings exhausted physically and mentally. They never had a voice. All they had to do was to sit for hours in huge halls, listen to the most idiotic speeches and from time to time, at the signal of the security services people strategically seated among the participants, jump on their feet, applaud vigorously and chant the name of the leader. The less you yelled and applauded, the less chances you and your family would survive in the respective jobs for another month, and the more chances you’d meet with the “friendly” security service personnel assigned to watch over you. And this is how an entire nation was apparently fascinated by the speeches filled with grammatical errors and demented ideas of a shoe maker with little school.
While every communist institution and mass media outlet was teaching us to follow and not to question, my father was doing quite the opposite within the walls of our house. I have never been a follower. I always had my own way of doing things and dealing with things and a stubbornness that the educator in my father had to mould somehow. As we could not discuss the regime inside because of the listening devices planted here and there in the house, we were talking about anything else: life,dating, school, people and characters, relationships, you name it. To me, the best part was not the subject discussed but the fact that my father, a very strict person whose word we all, including my mom, were supposed to obey, was allowing me to challenge his ideas. You can imagine that I embraced this opportunity with open arms! I would stay up as long as was necessary to wait for him coming back from work and while he was having his late dinners and the usual glass of wine, start the most animated debates on the most random issues. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty, sometimes I would end up in tears, unable to argue my point of view. In the end, I learnt so much about life, trust, people, characters, family, relations, and so much more. The most important things I learnt were :
- The way we handle the smallest conflict says a lot more about the person than a long time of happy times
- We all should have people in our lives to challenge us as only through challenges we evolve and progress
The story of Alice Stewart should be told in schools. A scientist in the 50’s who made a connection between the higher number of cancers among children of affluent women as opposed to lower numbers for those of not so wealthy women. The culprit: the easier access to X-rays while pregnant for the women in the first category. To prove her point she enlisted an epidemiologist whose only job was to find ways to challenge and dismantle any of her findings. Although he miserably failed to proving her wrong, it would take 20 more years until X-rays were forbidden on pregnant women. The part that really impressed me was the possibility of making a successful team with somebody who never accepted her truth. It is also true that it would have probably taken humanity way longer to ban X-rays if Alice, would have broken down in tears, crying “you hurt my feelings” at the first sign of disagreement or challenge.
A poignant similarity between my two worlds, is basically the same way conflict is handled: by avoidance. Back while I was growing up, conflict was not permitted. Questions were out of question because they generated ideas. The communism did not like people with ideas. In the first world countries, conflict is avoided because it makes us uncomfortable and brings feelings of unhappiness. For a short period of time, it also creates an environment that cannot be controlled and in a world that has learnt to behave and do things only through guidelines and best practices, uncontrolled is not the way to go. But what to do when human nature takes its tall on us and we find ourselves in the middle of a conflict?
Leave it on TV to teach us how to deal with everything. Do you want conflict? Turn on any of the Real Housewives franchises and you’ll find conflict galore! There is no episode that goes by without at least one fight. Unfortunately, this is the worst example ever of handling conflict, and as it is the only one accessible to everybody, it is the only one that is learnt and propagated. But about them, in another post…
I like to believe that I taught my son to ask the question “Why?” as frequently as possible, as it is the only way we can create better ways of living and become better people. As dr. Linda Brodsky was saying in her article Conflict Creates Progress–Don’t Let the Unpleasant Get in the Way of “Better” : “We have been lured into believing that behavior that “goes along” is better than behaviour that challenges. I do not agree. If we don’t challenge ourselves and others to question what we do, why we do it and how we do it, then we are stuck in the mistakes of today without the hope of a better tomorrow.”