When writing a story they say if you don’t have any conflict, you don’t have a story. The struggle of overcoming obstacles is what drives the characters along their journey. Writers spend quite a bit of time trying to come up with new and inventive ways to get our characters into, and then out of, trouble. But my youngest son asked me the other day, why do so many bad things have to happen in stories? That got me thinking about the different aspects of conflict and the fact that while some of us try to avoid conflict, the truth is that our society is fueled by it. Just look at any headline news story. Are we hardwired to respond to conflict?
While thinking about the subject an interesting thought occurred to me. I thought about all of the things in life that bring people together and about the things that tend to divide us as a society. Many of those things are one and the same and they are the source of much conflict in our own lives. Religion, politics, sports, race, gender, and class are just the tip of the iceberg. How ironic that the very things that unite us in life are also the things that divide us.
You cheer for your favourite sports team which makes all the others the enemy. You believe in one religion which automatically dispels all others. If you align yourself with a certain political party then all the others are dismissed as phooey. By choosing to associate with one group there is, by nature, a separation from other groups. It leads to an US VS THEM mentality that can go too far.
We like the “US” group. They are the same as we are. They think, act, and maybe even look the same as we do. They are our tribe, our people. We treat them with love, respect, friendship, and understanding. Any transgression by these people will be quickly forgotten.
But for those who are part of the “THEM” group, watch out, for they oppose everything the “US” group stands for. They think, act, and look different and we don’t like different. No, different must be bad. How could anyone act, think, or be like “THEM”? It’s easy to hate and disrespect someone who is different from you. They are not accepted like the “US” group is, their transgression will never be forgotten. They are easy targets because they are different, they must be the enemy. We don’t understand them and we fear what we don’t understand so we attack them.
Now don’t get me wrong. Relating to others like us in group situations is a normal and necessary part of being a human being. We need a sense of friendship, community, and belonging. Wanting to be a part of something that is bigger than ourselves is not only desirable, but important. Like-minded people can accomplish great feats in this world but they can also be responsible for terrible feats. Anytime being part of one group makes all others the enemy trouble will follow.
Having a different religion or political party or sexual preference doesn’t make you the enemy, it makes you a person with a different way of looking at the world. Let me say that again. Those with a different view from yourself are just PEOPLE with an opinion that opposes your own. They are not necessarily wrong, they are not a target, and they are certainly not the enemy. And we still have to all live together on this big blue bowling ball. I cannot even believe the news anymore with all the hatred and intolerance.
The very things that bring us together also cause us to be divided but when did we get like this? When did we learn to thrive on so much conflict. When did we become so intolerant of anyone different from ourselves? I think we’ve always been this way. Wars, class structure, borders, political parties, sports teams, gender, race… . They are all just examples of how we sort ourselves into groups and by being a part of one group we are automatically different then the other groups. Differences lead to misunderstanding, misunderstanding leads to intolerance, intolerance leads to hate, and hate leads to unspeakable acts. It’s easy to attack an enemy and not think of them as a person.
We have all the tools we need to live in a world with less conflict but we choose not to use them. We have chosen not to change as a society. Open-mindedness and tolerance would go a long way to reduce conflict. But conflict drives a good story and we do love a good story so that must mean that we love conflict. And while conflict does make for good stories for authors to tell it doesn’t reflect all that well on us as people. Are we just hardwired to not get along like siblings locked in a perpetual rivalry?