In recent months much of my written and spoken words have been about the concept of conflict being an illusion. Many find this confusing in today’s world where conflict is the order of the day. It would seem that conflict is not just reality, but that there is less common ground to be found than ever before.
Resolving this seeming paradox can allow not just greater understanding of our lives, but increased progress on all universal issues.
We have all seen the reality side of conflict, which frequently feels so random and chaotic as to be insurmountable. It is anything but.
We most definitely live in a cause and effect world. The reason it feels otherwise is that we simply don’t have the ability to be aware of all the causes bringing about the effects we see around us. The challenge becomes understanding the illusion side of the conflict equation. Our reasons for doing so are anything but idle. We are surrounded by very important issues that seem to threaten to tear apart society, civilization, and humanity as a whole.
The Initial Illusion of Conflict
There are really two aspects of conflict leading us to the conclusion that it is at its heart an illusion. The first of these is really pretty simple, and has the concept of Accept and Allow (Cheng Ren) at it’s heart. It comes down to the seeming conflict being in complete harmony with what is.
Each of us is a compendium of our experiences, our environment, and the priorities we have chosen in life. Our consciousness experiences these things and runs everything we encounter through the filter of that sense of self. Not surprisingly, the other seven billion odd other consciousnesses that make up humanity right now have differing experiences, environments, and priorities creating a different filter for their consciousness to utilize.
The fact that these differing perspectives are at odds with one another (in conflict one might say) is in complete harmony with what is. So our first step to experiencing conflict as illusion is to accept this state of affairs as normal, logical, and in harmony with reality. When faced with a sufficiently differing perspective, most will seek to clarify their position to those in opposition by stressing only their own priorities. That’s how we arrive in circumstances that seem to be so gridlocked that they can never be overcome.
If we can apply the concept that I’ve referred to as Cheng Ren (or Accept and Allow) we can not only come to grips with the first seeming illusion of conflict, but in doing so we can overcome it’s reality and progress toward real solutions to even the largest of issues.
Do We Really Have Opponents In Conflict?
The next understanding to reach in regard to the illusory nature of conflict requires us to take a step backward for a moment.
Think about someone that you’ve been at odds with over conflicting perspectives on a subject. You are each approaching the subject from a different angle. Usually, each of these perspectives, or priorities has merit. Therefore, each of you is actually working on the same project. With most projects, people working together will start on different aspects and then come together to finish the parts that must work together for the project to succeed. What this means is that far from being opponents, we are in fact colleagues, or collaborators with those we are at odds with.
There are times where this model needs a bit of customizing. We’ve assumed that the positions of those in opposition both have merit, just being the result of differing priorities. It is easy to see how we could be colleagues with these people, even if our priorities are quite divergent. What if some perspectives are faulty?
Some may have priorities that were formed out of dysfunction, extreme trauma, or such bizarre circumstance that they have no real bearing on the subject at hand. Eventually, these perspectives would prove to have no merit. Are these people then actually our opponents? Not in the least. They still perform two vital functions. First to eliminate false issues by forcing them to be dealt with until disproven.
The second function is a little less easy to see in this light. This happens when someone’s position has been disproven but they refuse to accept that fact. This usually takes a protracted amount of time and effort to become evident. At this point they begin to fill that second role, and may have been doing so for some time.
That is to allow the remaining individuals of differing positions to see each other’s side of things as more reasonable. In contrast to those that will not accept that there is no basis for their continued stance, the rest seem to be at least based on reason and logic. This all makes the concept of opponents in conflict to be another illusion.
Let’s take some time and apply these principles to three extreme examples of conflict and see if it allows us to make progress on the root issues.
Gun Control Vs The 2nd Amendment
These concepts only hold up if we apply them to the most extreme examples of conflict. Our first case study is a prime example of extreme conflict as well as both aspects of its illusion.
Let’s start by identifying two primary groups that seem to be in conflict with each other. All others are subtle variations on these two anyway.
The first group are those whose priority is the protection of the right to own firearms guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment in order to protect themselves, their families and their property from bad actors either in government, or on a criminal basis. Next, we have those that want to see greater legal controls on the sale of firearms to protect the public from death at the hands of any that would use their firearms to harm or kill others.
Aren’t each of these positions we are talking about worthwhile goals? Protecting one’s family is at the heart of each. Yet there is a great deal of antagonism over what exactly this means. Having spoken at length with many people from each side of this conflict, I can tell you that none want guns sold to criminals or those with mental health issues as both are dangerous to public safety.
Coming at this issue from seemingly opposing sides can, and I believe will result in solutions that will bring about a safer society with fewer guns in the wrong hands, while still protecting the rights of John Q Public to own firearms as guaranteed in the US Constitution. Where does this confidence come from?
While on the surface it may seem like we are no closer to a solution to this bitterly fought conflict, we are at historic lows in regard to gun violence. Let’s be clearer. Those lows extend to all violent crime.
Who are the colleagues and collaborators here? We have already identified the main two groups. Who are those with positions easily identifiable as not workable though? Look to the extremes.
There are individuals that believe the general public can and should be able to own any munitions used by the military. It is clearly unworkable for the citizenry to own cluster bombs, surface to air missiles, etc. as the public safety would clearly be at stake.
On the other extreme we have those that want all firearms banned to anyone not in military or police service. The workability of this is nonexistent when you consider not just farm work, hunters, those that live in remote areas that cannot count on law enforcement for protection in anything like a timely manner, and more situations than we could possibly list here.
These two extreme groups help those in the two main groups get closer as they each reject those positions as unworkable and undesirable. Neither of these groups wants their families at risk, so now they can continue to work through ways that work in their own states, counties, cities and communities to stay safe while safeguarding those rights guaranteed constitutuionally.
This all happens much faster when those involved in the conflict begin to understand that they are really working on the same issue, together.
Pro-Life Vs Pro-Choice Conflict
Probably the only issue guaranteed to raise more of an argument than our first example is the one surrounding the practice of abortion. Whichever perspective you have, it is likely that there are a great many people that share it, and bitterly.
One side is primarily concerned with the rights of the unborn, and the other with the life and health of the mother, as well as her rights to self-determination. The definitions on the Pro-Life side are varied, but the lines they wish to draw are very clear. The Pro-Choice people are equally adamant that the only lines they want drawn are by the individual woman as she and her Doctor decide.
Like most of you, I know a great many people of each perspective. They all have strong feelings about this. They all share a concern specifically about life.
I know of no Pro-Choice people that want to see unborn children die. Likewise, I don’t know any Pro-Life people that don’t want women to have the best healthcare available with the most options possible to protect her life. That being said, the battles over this issue are extreme in their bitterness and have come to violence many times.
This bitterness has resulted in slower progress in resolving this issue, and many believe it cannot be brought to an acceptable resolution for both sides. Many reasons contribute to this. They include the moral imperatives on each side, as well as the intrusion of other issues regarding differing attitudes toward contraception of various types. The tide ebbs and flows as to which side seems to be making inroads, but if you look at it dispassionately progress is being made.
What is resolution in this case? It’s a balance between respect for the life of the unborn child, and that of the mother. You cannot have one without the other. All one side, or all the other and you have an ethical quagmire that serves no one. What nature will that resolution take? Nobody can say. The stakes are high on both sides.
Globally we have seen atrocities committed with forced abortions, as well as bombings of family planning clinics. The obvious extremists are at polar opposites, and those doing the real work on this issue want neither.
This is a conflict in dire need of it’s two primary groups understanding the nature of the illusion they are locked in. Both value human life, but from differing perspectives. An understanding of the nature of their collaboration is the vital next step in the resolution of this issue.
Immigration: Open Borders Vs Zero Tolerance
This has been saved for last due to its timeliness, and therefore it’s propensity for a strong reaction. It was important for you to have the concepts firmly in your mind before we attempt to examine the nature of this conflict and its illusion.
This one beats all for illusion. Take away those that want an impenetrable wall across the southern border of the country, and those that want completely open borders. Then really talk to those on either side of this issue and you will find that they each want exactly the same thing. They just believe that their own political party or ideology is the only one that can bring it about.
They each want an end to illegal immigration into this country. They want those that enter legally and follow the established path to citizenship given priority. The details as to who qualifies for that path are at issue of course, but little else unless we are talking about the extreme positions. Sound familiar?
Right now, this conflict is a real hot point for many people, but the actuality is far from the calamitous state that is portrayed to the general population.
How can we know this? Because even before this administration took office, and as these words are typed illegal immigration is at 40-50 year lows. This is the epitome of a conflict based in illusion. All of the problems we see developing at the borders are due to overreaction to problems well on their way to resolutions. These are truly solutions in search of a problem that was already being addressed.
Here is the real beauty of this resolving conflict. The resolution was brought about by the efforts of administrations from both parties. Was there some back and forth, with aspects being neglected by one side, and stressed by the other on key aspects? Of course! That’s how collaboration works.
Application: Differentiation and Unity
Here is where we take a seemingly random turn and look at an old Zen Proverb: “Differentiation without Unity is bad Differentiation. Unity without Differentiation is bad Unity.”
Many have a hard time deciphering this proverb. Differentiation refers to our perceptions as an individual. Unity refers to our perceptions as a part of a greater whole, because we are in fact all a part of that greater whole. Let’s go a bit deeper.
When we are working to advance our own priorities within the framework of the base conflict, we are centered on Differentiation. Some would also call this ego, which isn’t always a pejorative term. If we are only centered on this state of differentiation then we are limiting our abilities within the framework of the root conflict or problem.
On the other hand, if we are centered entirely on the Unity side of things, we limit our ability to bring about resolution because not everyone will be likewise centered. Our Unity needs to be balanced by Differentiation so that there is an advocate for the priorities our individual life experience, etc., brings forth.
We should seek to live in that sweet spot where the two coexist: Differentiation and Unity. The biggest benefit we get by balancing these two aspects of our being is that while we are still engaged in conflicts, we can benefit from a more peaceful and serene existence. We need not lose our Zen so to speak. We also find ourselves far more effective. To be clear, this is not to say that the ultimate success of human efforts on the major issues we face is dependent upon our success in balancing these.
We know this because humanity as a whole has not done so and yet, we are in fact succeeding in addressing our issues together. There is an excellent TedX Talk on this subject by Steven Pinker addressing the state of the world we live in. This talk shows that in spite of the seeming impasse we are at on so many topics, we are steadily making progress. You can watch it below at the end of this article.
Now stop and think about how much progress we could make if more of us sought to maintain that balance between Differentiation and Unity. Think how effective our efforts would be if we Accepted and Allowed others Differentiation and welcomed the reality of Unity even with those we disagree strongly with.
If each of us applies the concept of Cheng Ren it will allow use to attain that balance. Accepting what is, and Allowing it to be what it is will enable us to bring about needed change within the framework of what we would formerly have considered conflict. We can live far more productive lives that are also filled with far more peace, serenity, and fulfillment.
We need not feel that if we don’t do this perfectly that we will doom our efforts within our endeavors. As cited above, we are making steady progress across the board while most feel hopelessly gridlocked in conflict.
Don Miguel Ruiz admonished us in his 4th Agreement to “Always Do Our Best”. This will be different from day to day, but allows us to get every benefit we can from seeking to balance Differentiation and Unity while applying Cheng Ren to our lives at every level.
It is possible to find a measure of peace while living amidst global pandemic, economic hardship and societal disruption. Perspective is key, without minimizing the impact of any of what is occurring in today’s world.
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