Causes and Resolution of Conflict Part 2
Ignoring the Higher Purpose
Another cause of conflict is ignorance of a higher purpose around which people can unite. It is a universal principle that everything has an individual purpose, by which it maintains its own existence. Yet this is not its ultimate purpose, for every being is meant to exist for a purpose greater than itself.
For example, we need to maintain our health for our own well-being as well as for the sake of those we love. Both the individual purpose and the whole purpose are vital and should complement and support each other. Part of the challenge of life is learning to develop the proper relationship between the individual purpose and the whole purpose.
Taking care of ourselves allows us to contribute to the whole purpose, and the whole purpose should support each individual. Looking after ourselves is not wrong, unless it conflicts with the purpose of the family. Looking after the well-being of our family is not wrong, unless it conflicts with the purpose of society.
To be a person of mature character requires learning how to give priority to the whole purpose. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our personal purpose or desire. This means learning a way of life in which we are concerned about others and seek to contribute to a greater whole. We call this unselfishness. Problems arise when we put the individual purpose above the whole purpose. Someone who does this consistently is selfish. When our personal gain harms the well-being of others, we quickly find ourselves in conflict. Selfishness is the essence or beginning point of conflict.
Unselfishness means living for others. This is the basis of goodness. Qualities of character such as humility, self-control, and fair-mindedness bear fruit in generosity, forgiveness, and service to others. These all express the fundamental attitude of living for others and placing the whole purpose above the individual purpose. People who embody such altruistic qualities are recognized and honored in every culture. These qualities are the basis for lasting, harmonious relationships and lay the foundation for peace.
Selfishness is completely the opposite of altruism and is the basis of conflict. It means living for oneself at the expense of others. Certain vices are universally condemned, such as arrogance, prejudice, greed, lust, exploitation, and vengeance. They have one common characteristic: they place the self at the center of all thoughts, feelings, and actions. Violence, murder, and war are the fruits of such vices.
We generally act out of concern for developing ourselves, our relationship with others, or our relationship with our environment. When we act according to universal principles, we accomplish our life goals and experience happiness and peace. Acting out of ignorance or disregard for such principles can cause much suffering.
Sometimes, conflict can be turned around by identifying the underlying purpose of the action, giving people proper guidance, and redirecting them.
People who fight a lot with each other may eventually become good friends, as they realize that they enjoy the same kinds of things and have some of the same goals. There is a famous story of enemies becoming friends in ancient China.
During the “Spring and Autumn Period,” approximately 2500 years ago, a man named Lin Xian Ru rose to the top position as advisor to the king, through his dedication and intelligence. Then Lian Po, the country's top general, took offense. He refused to recognize Lin's position or submit to him. He sought every opportunity to offend the person he considered to be his rival. When this was reported to Lin, he refused to use his power against the general and kept praising him to others. The positions of king's advisor and top general were on the same level of importance. Lin realized that if there was conflict at the top levels of the nation's leadership, an enemy country could sense the nation's weakness and invade it. Eventually, Lin's words of praise were reported to the general by a friend.
When the general realized what kind of attitude Lin held regarding him, the general felt deeply ashamed and carried a bundle of thorns to Lin as a symbol of repentance. He removed his shirt, knelt in front of Lin, and handed him the bundle of thorns as an invitation to strike him. Lin's heart was moved by the general's symbolic offering. The phrase "carrying thorns to ask for forgiveness" has become a traditional Chinese expression for deep repentance. Because of their common devotion to their country, the two men reconciled and became close friends in the service of their country.
Accumulation of Conflict
When we work together in harmonious giving and receiving, the result is greater unity and new development. This is the foundation for everything to exist, act, and develop. Through interaction, the essential nature of a being develops. If the core is unselfishness, the expansion is harmonious. If the core is selfishness, the expansion is conflict. When selfishness prevails within the individual, then conflict will start in the family.
Conflicts arise in a marriage when spouses place their own happiness over that of the other. Self-centered love focuses only on satisfying our own needs. Husband and wife may argue over money, children, in-laws, leisure time, devotion to career, etc. We may be tempted to set aside our marriage vows and parental obligations in order to satisfy our self-centered desires. When selfishness prevails within the family, conflict will start in society.
Conflicts in society occur when one group or nation pursues its self-interest over the greater good. Social conflicts can have accumulated existential, emotional, political, economic, and ideological causes -- or simply be due to antagonistic interests. For instance, colonial powers invested a lot in their colonies, but it was mostly for their own sake, and this caused conflict and resentment among those who were colonized. These resentments persist until today.
Our internal contradictions do not necessarily begin with ourselves. Some of them we inherit from those who came before us. We are not just individual entities, but are the products of history and our ancestry. We naturally inherit some of our ancestors' characteristics, both physically and psychologically. Some of their achievements and some of their burdens come down to us and influence us. It is well known that certain family tendencies are inherited. Addictions such as alcoholism and gambling, and tendencies towards infidelity, physical abuse, and incest seem to be passed on from one generation to the next and cause repetitive patterns of conflict.
Our cultural and ethnic environment has an impact on us as well. The social or cultural situations into which we are born will influence the development of our character. We pick up certain attitudes, beliefs, and habits through our culture. We also inherit the cultural limitations and burden of crimes committed by our ethnic group, race, or nation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was part of a group that had reasons to seek revenge. However, he was dedicated to spiritual values and was moved by the example of Mahatma Gandhi, who won the freedom of India from Great Britain. Like Gandhi, King applied the principle of non-violent resistance to fight racial injustices in the United States.
King appealed to the conscience of both whites and blacks. The thirst for violent revenge was voiced through another prominent black leader, Malcolm X. King told Malcolm X and others like him that if they become like the white oppressors, they would be already defeated. King was also convinced that racial violence would destroy the integrity of both white people and black people. He advocated non-violent resistance as a strategy to restore the basis for civility and, ultimately, goodness. For him, faith in common values was more important than the color of skin. Through King's leadership and his example of forgiveness and unconditional love, he could move the hearts and consciences of many white Americans to recognize the inherent value of every human being and to redress the wrongs they had committed against black people. The civil rights movement that King led was able to win many rights that had been denied black Americans for centuries. As he said, “We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.” King set the example of loving the white people, who were in the position of enemy. This helped bridge the gap between the races and opened the way for a more peaceful resolution of race relations. In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, King stated, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”[i]
[i] King, Martin Luther, Jr., “Address Delivered in Acceptance of Nobel Peace Prize,” December 10, 1964.