Like many his age, BMX is a pastime my son has taken to. When we recently visited the bike tracks in our area a strange thing occurred.
There were a group of seven young youth headed our way and they were clearly in conflict. It wasn’t anything aggressive, but there was a clear difference of opinion. I was interested for two reasons. First, these were locals, and as a kind of community chaplain, I’m looking for points of connection everywhere, especially with vulnerable people, and that’s youth. Second, I wondered if I might be called upon to help.
So, as they approached close I asked, ‘What’s up?’ ‘Ah’ said one of them, a female who I mistook as a male, ‘We’ve stolen this bike because they said so’ (pointing to two who had broken off by that point). The others simply didn’t know what to say, visibly perplexed, though after a brief pause, the female said to another male, ‘I told you it was a dumb idea.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ said the one who had folded to peer pressure.
At this point I was astonished at the level of conscience that was going on. They knew what they’d done was wrong. They lamented their decision. Then I said, ‘You’re doing a good thing by feeling bad about taking the bike. What can you do to make it right?’ ‘We could take it back I suppose,’ said one of them. I immediately thought that this is a particularly vulnerable position to be in, for what if they got caught, and were punished for doing the right thing! – even though they had actually stolen something. I considered giving them my phone number as a validation should another adult challenge them, but then I thought that would only rescue them from the situation, so I remained silent. I just said, ‘It sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it?’ They agreed and then left.
They had benefited from my intervention, but I could tell they were holding court without it. They didn’t need to be told, just helped in imagining the natural consequences of their actions.
Conflict is not always bad. Indeed, it’s a breath of fresh air when injustice has been done. It can facilitate thought to the juncture of reconciliation, as it puts pressure on the conscience to convert dissonance to peace.
What I saw in thirteen and fourteen-year-olds was weakness of the age and circumstance, but then leadership and the ability to reflect. They knew it was the wrong thing, and even though they’d done the wrong thing, they weren’t beyond doing the hard thing to put it right.
When conflict features protagonists who can stay with the issue at hand, who resist the temptation to criticise the person, logical correctives can be suggested, agreed and implemented.
It’s better to fight for the right reasons than to pretend nothing’s wrong.
It’s better for a relationship to enter the arena of conflict when both want it resolved than to avoid it.
And it’s wonderful to watch on and see the process of conflict resolution take place when protagonists need little help.
And here is this: what point is there to insist on winning when you can only ultimately lose?
Those who enter the arena of conflict for the right reasons risk personal defeat but, virtuously, they seek relational victory:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt (from the speech
‘Citizen in a Republic’ delivered in France, 1910)
There is more to life than the issues. That more-to-life pivots around people and the peace they seek.
It is no coincidence that righteousness coalesces with peace. We cannot have peace unless we do right.
Peace is worth fighting for when conflict endeavours to reconcile what is right.