Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
It’s been a few months since I landed in South Africa. It’s been an exciting and tumultuous time for me. Transitions can be quite stressful, and taking on one that involves uprooting to a completely new continent and culture has been no exception.
Not only was I excited to explore a new place and new culture, but I was running my business, gathering information to start a non-profit in a foreign environment, maintaining healthy exercise and workout regiments, all while finding an apartment to live in, learning what foods I can and cannot get here, and managing relationships with family and friends back home from a completely different time zone.
So yeah, I was feeling a bit stressed.
And the stress showed up all over my life. I was not as focused as I usually am, I was craving lots of delicious, unhealthy foods, I felt lethargic and unmotivated to exercise, and I was on edge most of the time.
Unfortunately, this last point had a major impact on my relationship with my wife, Laura.
As excited as we are to take on this adventure together and despite my years of experience as a communication teacher, the conflict I experienced with Laura in those first few weeks were very real. There was never any yelling or fighting, but situations got tense quickly and there seemed to be no end in sight.
However, we were persistent in keeping our cool and to keep clear, open lines of communication. There was the occasional, “I don’t want to talk about this right now,” but we would always loop back around and complete any open conversations.
After a few weeks of this, with lots of trial and error, we managed to get into a groove - we moved into a new space that provided more stability, we started getting our bearings on the food situation, and we tightened up our schedules to more easily manage our businesses and relationships back home.
Reflecting on this experience, I’ve been thinking a lot about conflict. That’s because this is a major area that I teach and coach around. It also happens to be one of my favourite topics to cover.
I love talking about conflict because it is so ubiquitous. EVERYONE deals with the same problems and the same communication breakdowns, regardless of language, culture or any other factor that makes us different from one another.
This situation with Laura gave me the opportunity to contemplate the role of conflict in my own life. Until now, I would say that, for the most part, I saw conflict as a bad thing - something that I don't want in my life. As such, I'm always looking to practice ways to not only deal with conflict powerfully but to avoid it altogether.
However, this experience with Laura reminded me of a podcast interview I recently did with Nate Regier. On it, he had a powerful insight to share about conflict:
“I wonder sometimes, is conflict more prevalent or is drama more prevalent? Because conflict has always been around and it will always be around, and I believe it is a natural energy source, probably the most underutilized energy source in the world. But drama seems to be getting more and more prevalent. We define drama as the misuse of conflict energy in negative ways.”
To put it simply:
Conflict = A disagreement among two (or more) things, people, ideas
Drama = Misused conflict energy that results in unnecessary suffering
This distinction between conflict and drama completely blew my mind. I had never heard conflict defined as a potentially creative force that can be used to move things forward in a situation/relationship. I had only seen it as I had described above - bad, unfortunate, negative, useless.
In light of these two new definitions, I'm beginning to see conflict as merely energy. Energy has no morality, no judgment to it. It simply is. It is neutral. And what you do with it can either harm or do good (or, like many complex situations, do both).
And it is for this reason that the distinction between drama vs. conflict was a lightbulb moment for me. I can see so clearly now that conflict really is inevitable and in fact, expected in life.
At any given moment when conflict is present, I really have the power to choose and skillfully manage whether it turns into drama or into a creative energy that moves a situation forward.
When Laura and I experienced this conflict, we inevitably chose, and the choice was creative, impactful, and full of love and compassion. No drama necessary.
What are your thoughts on these distinctions? What do you see is possible for you in some on-going conflicts in your life? Where can you channel the energy of conflict into creative solutions rather than drama?