It’s not likely that burying our heads in the sand when in conflict helps to solve matters, mend the relationship, or clarify assumptions and perceptions. Sometimes though it may be the best tact.

The expression “bury your head in the sand” apparently comes from the supposed habit of ostriches hiding their heads when faced with an attack by predators. The story was first recorded by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder. One source I found says, however, that ostriches don't hide, either in bushes (as Pliny suggested) or sand, although they do sometimes lie on the ground to make themselves inconspicuous. An interesting take on this story (without much support, however) is that ostriches are not smart and believe that if they can't see their attackers then the attackers can't see them.

When humans refuse to acknowledge a conflict it may feel like a safe place to be, as opposed to being in the eye of conflict. It may serve to temporarily settle things down. It may serve to excuse the other person’s or our own actions or words. It may mean our thoughts and feelings are not expressed or that we do not want them to be. It may result in the dissension dissipating, at least temporarily.

Whatever the reasons, burying our heads in the sand when it comes to conflict reflects the inclination to avoid – even hide – from conflict. If this is a tendency you have, check out this week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions):

  • Considering a current conflict you are avoiding, what thoughts are you burying?
  • What emotions are you burying?
  • What is comfortable about burying your thoughts? Your emotions?
  • What is uncomfortable about burying your thoughts? Your emotions?
  • What do you fear most that may be keeping you from acknowledging the conflict?
  • How does burying your head help you? How does it help the other person?
  • How does burying your head hurt you? How does it hurt the other person?
  • What are you hiding from that you don’t think the other person or others can see?
  • What do you think is obvious to the other person or others though you are trying to bury your thoughts and emotions?
  • What needs to happen for you to be able to acknowledge conflict?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

Originally posted at

Views: 119

Comment by Jillian Post on September 24, 2013 at 10:20am

Here is an approach (and resulting question) that sometimes works. It is very simple wisdom. How will I feel about this conflict after a good night of sleep? My mom used to say ... "Sleep on it". Then I try and get a good night of sleep. If the conflict is still present and powerful in the morning (or two), it is not something that I should stick my head in the sand over. It then must be dealt with ... but at least my head is clearer.

The emphasis here is that many of us react having not gotten one or more of our basic human needs met. Sleep or the lack of it has a huge impact on conflict. Just think how much worse the conflict in Syria or Egypt (one of countless examples in the world) is for those inhabitants who have been awakened several times a night by rocket fire or the fear of their children being subjected to Sarin gas. 

Since international conflict is where my head always goes ... I think about these influences. The impact cannot be overestimated and it is truly one of the more disturbing aspects of this conflict ... and rarely discussed. 


Comment by Cinnie Noble on September 26, 2013 at 1:38pm

Thank you very much for the additional question and for your other poignant comments, Jillian.

It's so great to keep in mind the homilies of parents and others who remind us that we are human above and after all.


You need to be a member of ADRhub - Creighton NCR to add comments!

Join ADRhub - Creighton NCR

@ADRHub Tweets

ADRHub is supported and maintained by the Negotiation & Conflict Resolution Program at Creighton University


© 2022   Created by - Creighton NCR.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service