Thoughts on Conflict

We live in contentious times, and discourse will only become more impassioned in the coming years. Political tremors are upending the status quo around the world, precipitating intense debate about the principles our politicians espouse.

This conflict is probably good for us, though that may not seem to be the case, right now. Airing these issues, big and small, will hopefully help us find more stable, less volatile footing. Which will be necessary if we’re to successfully face the environmental, technological, and other potential threats that have been growing in urgency.

Wherever you happen to fall on the political spectrum, this type of conflict can be draining: psychologically, emotionally, and physically.

Listed below are a few things I’m trying to keep in mind, myself, to ensure I have the energy to step up and do something when warranted, but also to ensure I’m informed enough to recognize when that moment has come.

1. Remember that there are people on the other side of your issue who are just as passionate about their position as you are about yours. This ideally informs how we deal with each other: not as horrible people taking clearly good or evil stances on things, but as human beings who have come to different conclusions about something, using different resources, tapping into different personal experiences, and listening to different interpretations of things that have happened.

2. Remember that there are such things as absolute facts, and an uninformed opinion is not equal to an informed one. This isn’t to say we aren’t all entitled to believe whatever crazy thing we like, but it does mean that if 99.99% of a community of experts says something is true, and .01% says it’s not, chances are the first group is right. There’s always a chance that some big conspiracy is taking place, but that’s almost never the case, and it’s prudent to check ourselves when we find ourselves waving flags for irrational positions.

3. Remember that there are as many ways to fight for a cause or against an issue as there are people in the world. Not everyone needs to, or can march, not everyone needs to, or can, give money. Some people will quietly work from behind the scenes, posting and retweeting nothing that gives away their ideology. Others will do little except that, spreading information they think is vital to those who may not otherwise see it. If we all do the same things, we won’t benefit from our various strengths and weaknesses. If we belittle others for not standing up for things in the same way we do, we demonstrate our own lack of perspective and capacity for strategic thinking. It’s important to understand the difference between a concrete act and a symbolic one, but it’s also important to recognize that both are necessary if you hope to make things happen and maintain momentum.

4. Remember that fighting for a cause is a marathon, not a sprint. There may be moments that require increased volume and effort, but it’s not ideal to participate in an unsustainable way. If you’re feeling drained, step away from the action till you’re back up to full capacity. If you’re feeling sick and tired, get more sleep, eat some healthy food, work out a bit, do some things you enjoy. Self-care isn’t for the weak, it’s for the smart. Don’t use this concept to excuse yourself from participating in something that’s important to you, but keep yourself healthy and ready for whatever comes next.

5. Remember that you’ve been wrong before, and you could be wrong now. I try to remind myself of this particularly when I’m feeling most certain of my ideas and ideology. Continue to check your facts, continue to engage with opposing views, continue to allow that you might learn something opposed to the dominant narrative to which you’ve been subscribing. Changing your mind when you learn something new, and allowing that information to influence your actions is not a weakness, it’s a strength. It shows that you’re more concerned about doing right than being right.

6. Remember that what’s dominating your attention is almost certainly not a new thing that’s never happened before. It’s happened in history, it’s maybe happening now, halfway across the world, and occupying the attention of some other group of people. We can learn from the experiences of others, contemporary and historical. We can use these other instances to predict what may happen next, and to come up with potential solutions. This is also a good reminder that people elsewhere have issues we should care about, even if they’re not taking place in our own backyard. Global awareness isn’t a waste of time. In many ways, we’re all in this together.

7. Remember that conflict makes for good television. Which is to say, some of the drama, some of the cliffhangers, will be more about keeping us tuning in and clicking than about actual, real world events we need to worry over. This isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of drama happening, but rather a reminder that our communication channels are incentivized by their monetization methods to keep us engaged. Watch out for anyone who uses your emotional puppet strings against you, and reward those who give you the information you require to make cold, rational decisions for yourself.

8. Remember to imagine what happens next. Imagine what the world can look like if we’re able to do things better. If we’re able to overcome this current round of obstacles. Focus on this as much or more than the doom and gloom, because simply not failing, not losing everything, isn’t exactly a win. If you want to build a better world, you have to focus on winning in the right way. I think most people would agree that even if one side isn’t completely wiped from the planet, there’s still no real winner in a nuclear war. The same is true in other conflicts, as well. Focus on winning the right way, and do some real thinking about what that means, and what it looks like in practice.

This is going to be a bumpy ride. Take care of yourself, and each other, along the way.

This essay was originally published in my newsletter.