The nature of people is that they often need little reason to fight one another. Having been a writer for a gaming website, EGMR, for the past five years and priding myself on brutal honesty and critiquing of the industry over softball PR, I’m no stranger to conflict, especially on the internet. If you understand that only a handful of things on the planet are actually black and white then you’ll know that conflict can be healthy just as it can be destructive. Ideally, it should be healthy if the intentions going in are right. After all conflict doesn’t have to be a fight or intense hostility, it can simply be a disagreement. And disagreements are often the best ways to learn alternate viewpoints. But over the past couple of weeks I’ve realised that there is something at the core of most bad conflicts and why they happen, and it’s a fundamental flaw of many people I’ve come to meet in recent years. I now regard it as the most irrational cause of conflict.

What is this irrational cause of conflict that I’m referring to? Well, it’s the never-ending fight over difference. Whether that’s to do with perspective, lifestyle, opinion or taste or whatever, difference is a breeding ground for terrible conflict. And for no other reason than because people, for some reason, have a bloody hard time accepting anything or anyone that differs from their beliefs or views of the world. Whether it’s emotional insecurity, resistance to or fear of change, the arrogance of man to believe they’re ‘right’ or figured things out or just the desperate need to pick a side and stick to it is anyone’s guess. I sometimes wonder whether people choose to be ignorant or close-minded because it’s too difficult to consider all the contradictions, exceptions and differences, and questioning their beliefs too provocatively could cause the whole fickle structure to collapse. Either way the one certainty I have is that fighting over difference is irrational.

Let me paint you a picture using a little anecdote. I’m a religious person, but I have a couple of atheist friends whom I respect and coexist just fine with. One of these friends was telling me about an argument he heard that religion is the leading cause of conflict in the world. Now, at that point I could have got all stuck-up and heated and shot down that notion with defiance, but I make a point of being open-minded at all times because that’s how you’re able to learn and accept other views. I instead offered that I do not believe religion can be blamed, because psychologically people find more upset in difference. It’s a root of the conflict. I mean, if people can be killed and publicly discriminated against over something as utterly irrelevant to your life as their skin colour or fucking sexual orientation, then it’s little surprise that people would go to war over religion, which are beliefs about life, the meaning of life and the way of living it.

Here’s the thing though. There are seven billion people in the world. Difference is one of the things that define life and people. There are very few things the entirety of the world collectively agrees on. There are very few things that are black and white. Plus we’re now well into the digital age, where people of all cultures, creeds and beliefs can interact at any time. This is the wrong time to get stuck in your beliefs and be close-minded. I’ll guarantee you now that I have learned nothing from people who only ever agree with me. If I wanted that I would pay for servants. The only way you can grow your knowledge and expand your perspective is by engaging with those who have alternative viewpoints, or those who wish to discuss rather than accept or exist without question.

However. None of this means you have to change your views on life or religion or politics or whatever. You don’t exist to be a social chameleon. But if you don’t want to erode your brain matter or be part of the problem, then understand that if you wish to be steadfast about a belief you have, then you need to be accepting of others who disagree with or oppose that belief. You cannot argue with someone if you aren’t ready to hear anything contradictory. Then you’re just reciting a monologue to yourself. It annoys me on a daily basis how hostile people can get to anyone who doesn’t share their perspective, or who says something bad about their beliefs or even just something they like.

Furthermore it is utterly irrational to enter into a hostile conflict with someone over difference. If you simply stop and realise that you’re trying to force someone into seeing things your way, and the other person is doing the same, you’ll understand the futility of such an engagement. Understand that I am saying this from experience. I used to be confrontational in the wrong way, heatedly arguing (not getting personal or insulting anyone, mind you, just getting a bit too heated), but actually engaging with the people I did not agree with and seeing their perspectives led me to realise that it is possible to participate in a debate without actually changing your fundamental beliefs. And you’ll still get something out of it. Whether it’s to exchange opinions or pick up a new idea or two, or simply just to understand another person’s perspective on something, healthy, open-minded debate leads to personal growth. No one ever learned anything or grew as a person from throwing hate speech over difference. It’s fine to disagree. It’s fine to debate. It’s even fine to argue passionately. Just don’t get personal, intolerant or hostile over difference.

There really would be less pointless conflict on a daily basis if people could only learn to accept difference. In order to do that the understanding that many conflicts begin and end with difference is necessary, as well as the idea that a discussion does not have to end by changing someone else’s perspective unless that person is factually incorrect or horrendously misguided. But I guess the latter is often what one poor sod thinks of the other during conflict, isn’t it?

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