Conflict comes because two people are searching for the truth and think they have contradictory information.
War comes because someone wants another person to agree with them regardless of the truth.
At the root of this, for me, is the way in which we become attached to ideas about ourselves and to our own actions. If we have an unhealthy relationship with ourselves, we are likely to go to war instead of having a healthy row.
For this argument there are two opposing positions to take in life:
One: all you say, do and create is an expression of you, and what happens to these expressions happens to you.
Two: Once you have said, done or created something, that thing has a separate existence from you – it’s nothing to do with you any more.
Just to give them names, we can call type Ones Clingers, and type Twos Refusers.
Being an extreme Clinger can be very painful and difficult. If you play a song, draw a picture or write a story and someone says it’s crap, that can hurt. Not only is it upsetting that the work is attacked, but it feels like we are also called crap, that we are crap by extension.
Being an extreme Refuser tends to make you an arsehole. If your creation is offensive, immoral or upsetting you will blame the audience for being over-sensitive, prudish or weak, and will go on being an offensive and amoral twat regardless.
As with creativity, so with action. Our words and gestures are acts of creation as much as a painting or song.
When Clingers act, they then wait to be judged on that act. Will people see it as kind? What if it doesn’t work as planned? What selfhood have they committed to by acting in this way? They can become so concerned about how the act is perceived, and how they will therefore be seen, that they stop acting altogether and become passive, often depressed people. While they believe all their ‘trouble’ only hurts themselves, they are like the infuriating bastards who drive at 30mph on 60mph roads – their excessive caution bogs the rest of us down too.
Once a Refuser has acted, they move on. Like the idiot who pulls out in front of you and then drives off oblivious as the ten-car pile-up they caused bursts into flames, the Refuser has no interest in consequences. I did what was best, if people don’t see it that way I can’t make them, and don’t care anyway. So blind are they to the destruction they cause that Refusers can easily become sociopaths and remain convinced that they are saints even while everyone else is trying to get them locked up.
War comes because we fight over what we Cling to, or Refuse to accept.
The Clingers will usually find something, sometimes an art-work or other artefact, but most commonly a belief. They will find a cult, creed or object they identify with and then Cling to it. In Clinging they quickly grow to see the object or belief as synonymous with themselves – an attack on it is an attack on themselves.
The Refusers may also find a belief, but are as likely to create one. The central difference for Clingers and Refusers is that Clingers will display the beliefs instead of themselves, they hide behind their cult. For Refusers, they will want to shape the cult so it is more like them, they are shouting about themselves and disguising this as the message of the cult.
Once these identifications have happened it is impossible to discuss the object or belief rationally, because you are no longer discussing the object – you are discussing the person themselves, through the distorting lens of the object.
These are the conditions for war.
People who have identified themselves with a set of beliefs cannot be in healthy conflict – a state of disagreement and discussion which seeks to advance knowledge.
For conflict to take place, both parties must be willing to let go of old ideas when found mistaken. Clingers and refusers cannot do this because they see it as letting go of a part of themselves and therefore becoming less of a person.
Conflict requires that both parties can take in new ideas and beliefs. Clingers cannot because they fear change – after their initial grabbing of beliefs they are locked in to that choice. Refusers cannot do this because they see it as being inauthentic, not being ‘utterly themselves’ is an unacceptable compromise.
So we have a war, as at least one side seeks to maintain their beliefs by force. It doesn’t take two aggressive sides, as Clingers and Refusers see the mere existence of other beliefs as a threat.
You cannot have a war over how things are, because they are only one way. To have a war you must have a system of belief which refuses to accept how things are. You cannot build such a system on reality, because that would be self-defeating – reality will not change or become conflicting things to please anyone. Ergo you can only build such beliefs on fiction – and the only place on Earth fiction exists is in the human mind.
All war is thus self-evidently a war over things that are all in the mind.
Most of us are at least a little more balanced – but often, in particular areas, we are more extreme than we wish to admit. While being balanced and reasonable at work, one can still be an arrogant toss-piece in the book-club, poetry group, brass band or whatever.
While forceful and determined as a humanitarian campaigner, one can still be an indecisive, gibbering crap-house when it comes to raising the kids.
We do not need to become perfect beings, we only need to come closer to the middle – if we must Cling, then we must Cling gently, if we must Refuse, then we must Refuse politely. Most of all, we must know and accept that we do these things.
What we create does become separate from us, and a criticism of it, is not a criticism of us. However, we are responsible for taking care with what we create, and not just acting however we please.
We will rightly be assessed by the ways in which we act and speak, but no individual action or speech can summarise us, and no-one else can know the whole of us that went into the act they may criticise.
Instead of Clinging desperately, or Refusing thoughtlessly, we can Allow mindfully. We can Allow ourselves to be good artists and Allow others to dislike our creations. We can Allow ourselves to be responsible for our actions and Allow them to have their own ‘lives’, just as we allow children to be themselves and be tied to morality and politeness.
As mentioned, all our words and actions are moments of creativity in the art of self-expression. We sculpt ourselves every day, in every gesture, act and word, and we can re-create who we are at anytime by acting and speaking differently. If we act differently for long enough, it will no longer be an act, it will become simply who we now are.
Knowing we are so flexible, we can change ourselves slowly and simply by adopting the new self we wish to be. The more we can Allow ‘what is’ to be ‘what is’ without trying to Cling to what we wish it was, or Refuse what we can’t accept, the less effort it will take to ‘be ourselves’.
In all of this, never mistake a healthy conflict and all the learning and friendship it can bring, for a childish war and the needless harm it can do. Yes, war could kill us all very quickly, but a total absence of conflict will stagnate us to death.
So – I’m thinking of starting a cult. What Cult should it be, and what would be the motto / tagline. (go nuts if you want, what rituals / dress / hymns / rites … )