The Nature of Conflict: Stepping into the Collective Space

The Nature of Conflict: Stepping into the Collective Space: Erick Hill Ph.D

We have been blessed these past few days in Omaha.  We are enjoying temperatures in the seventies and low eighties.  Accompanied by sunny skies and cool breezes the combination makes for an altogether pleasant experience if one has, or rather takes the time, to enjoy it.

Recently I took the time to sit on my deck, taking in the pleasantness of the day while reading "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  As I was reading my attention was drawn to the legs stretched out before me.  They were of course, my legs.  I studied their imperfections, the scars of my past, bruises and other marks of age.  My imperfections are probably not unlike the imperfections you might find with your own body.  I had to remind myself that this is my body.  This is I.

Years of wear and tear, of diet and exercise, of poor diet and no exercise, of running, the rigors of military service, and of course genetics have delivered to me what appeared to be sound enough legs to accomplish any tasks but revealing to me a less than robust image of excellent health.

As I sat there I pondered, what am I to do with this situation?  I can no more separate my legs from myself, nor would I be inclined to do so over such minor flaws, than I would want to separate my head because of a momentary statement or act of stupidity.  For better or for worse we are one, literally and figuratively joined.

While this situation can sometimes become grounds for conflict, I found for myself a place of acceptance.  I must accept my body for what it does and does not do; I must accept my body for how it appears and how it does not appear.  After all, we are one.  Too often people find themselves in conflict with themselves as if their body were the enemy, as if the body was secretly plotting to overthrow the self.

I began to ponder those in my life who have been part of my conflicts.  I saw how my response to them, often in ways that later proved unproductive, came about because I viewed these people as disconnected from myself.  Yet there we were within a common space.

In conflict, it would seem that we are being called to a collective space.  Many times we fail to see this collective space as a shared space.  More often we see this as a combative space where the intent is to secure for oneself all that can be while limiting what they can contribute to this collective space.

However, imagine if you viewed this other person in a manner similar to how I viewed my relationship to my body.  At least within this arena, you and I, two separate entities are being pulled together within this collective space of conflict.  Furthermore, it no longer makes sense that I should focus my energies on attempting to separate myself from you but instead find ways that we can acknowledge and accept our connectivity at this time and place.  In so doing we begin to behave differently toward each other.  We move beyond simply seeking ways to pull from, or take from the collective space and look for ways to push into the collective space and contribute toward something that maintains our wholeness.  As long as I am focused strictly on pulling away from and taking from I am at once the poor sap attempting to separate himself from the parts of his body he no longer finds appealing.

Sidney Callahan reminds us that true common ground comes not when we agree with the views of others but are able to, "acknowledge that which is good in the position of the person you disagree with" we come to see value in what others bring to the collective space even if we might find the person disagreeable.



Erick Hill Ph.D. is a stress reduction expert and certified HeartMath provider.  As an organizational psychologist, life/wellness coach and trained mediator he works with individuals and teams to support them in realizing the best version of themselves and one another by improving communication, teamwork, and creating the promise of possibility.  Erick has been affiliated with the Werner Institute for the past four years and has taught courses on Conflict Coaching, Appreciate Inquiry, and Ally Roles.  Erick currently works for Alegent Health System and is the Director of Resiliency, focusing on stress reduction and the promotion of resiliency for clinical and non-clinical staff.

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