Making Meanings: Conflict (Guest Post)

I requested one of my friends to write for me and she did. A short intro of the writer: Ruchika is a student of International Relations at JNU. She is one of those people whose intellectual prowess will never fail to amaze you. You can have a debate with her on anything and everything and it is guaranteed that you will take away something interesting from it. That’s just the magic of people who are really passionate about learning the ways of the world. So here is Ruchika making meaning of the word “Conflict”.

One of the famous reflections of Johan Galtung on conflict lies in contradiction. Is it the real essence  of what is known to be the most pervasive and inevitable aspect of human society?

Conflict is a complete word, a concept complete in itself. It is present at every level; defined whether at micro level as between two or more individuals or at  a group to a macro level as between states or nations. It is not only restricted as an outer phenomenon but something that prevails within also.

To capture its roots, one can look for the most basic words like opposite, negation, etc., but the most appropriate one is contradiction.
Everyone has a well defined or maybe a basic idea of what he/she wants or desires. Human beings live with certain goals, life and goals are inseparable. Without a goal life ceases to exist. One of the last goals of a dying human may be goallessness itself, eternal rest. Where there are goals, there will also be contradictions within the same individual or between them.

When these contradictions occur within an individual, they are termed as dilemmas and contradictions with other individuals are termed as dispute. My goal of staying out late at night is in direct contradiction with my parent’s who fear my safety and want me to be back before it gets dark. At my level, I can disagree with them and can enjoy late night fun with friends which will in turn put me in a serious conflict with my parents who will then punish me. I can be grounded. Or I can agree with them and will do what they want me to but in that scenario, I will be in a conflict with myself as i might feel being left behind. The idea of conflict exists at such a basic level and can take form of very complex conflicts as like the Israel-Palestine conflict with multiple grounds of contradiction or a conflict among regions as the one between global south and global north.

This high interdependence of goals and contradictions is the reality of society. Everyday is a struggle to put these goals into place which in turn will lead to many contradictions. We work hard to achieve these goals in a framework of socially constructed rules and standards. Goals are independent, there origin has basis in the ideas of freedom. When these goals are formulated inside, they realise no such human made boundaries. They are just bare thoughts. Though, goals sound like a serious long term commitment kind of a thing but they can be very simple. Like, I can have a goal to drink cold coffee or to watch a TV show. Its after the origin, when they pass from the internal level, problem starts.
One just cannot think of a goal and get them fulfilled. It passes through a series of contradictions. The idea of rafting sounds amusing to me and I wish to go for it. This idea was planted in my mind as I got more and more exposure and met new people and learnt about a lot of new things.  I find it fun and if I just think at my level, I would want to try it. But soon contradictions start as i know its a risky sport and might cost me my life. Would i still want to go for it? I am in a conflict with myself.

The idea of being absolute does not exist in the present world. Even the origin of a very basic idea in my own mind cannot be termed as absolute. My freedom itself is not absolute as I can’t have an absolute goal and would work for its fulfilment. We are born in a constructed world and this constructed world draws us into its constructed socialisation. So with our birth, the process of constructed thinking is repeatedly being fit in our mind by the social agents. We are constantly reminded that there is a limit to our every goal, one cannot have everything in this related world. At my own level, a fear is inbuilt as one is not born alone. This will make me have contradictions with my own self as what is constructed will fight for its autonomy as it had since beginning over what is developed with time and understanding. Mostly, the constructed wins the game and what is developed is left for further understanding.

When the origin is full of contradictions, conflict is a necessary outcome. Dilemmas are the natural outcomes of human mind and if one is not struggling with oneself, that would be surprising.

Similarly, these self conflicting individuals when live with each other in a society, disputes tend to arise. This is the realm where your freedom is related with others and further contradictions come into picture. At one level, you are already in a conflict with yourself than with already limited choices, one has to accommodate further contradictions. The incompatibility of goals in a society is the daily cause of conflict. The restriction on celebration of Valentine’s Day by some fundamentalist parties is one such issue of contradiction. They call it a part of western culture and an attempt to pollute the Indian civilisation. The attachment of nationalism and national identity to a particular practise reflects the high intolerance on the part of society. This leads to conflict between individuals who want to exercise their right to love and those who want to restrict them in the name of culture.

Such disputes can be avoided by accepting the dominant norm. Let nothing show on the outside, not even in the depth of your soul, and people will love you because you never challenge them. But if that becomes a habit, then your ‘sanguine personality’ can become a problem for you yourself.

The achievement of harmony at both levels is a difficult task. Peace is an artificially constructed concept, conflict is natural. It is a part of our natural existence in society. Unsatisfaction of goals leads to frustration in individuals. This frustration reaches the maximum when these goals form the basic needs which include survival, identity, freedom, wellbeing. Negotiation is possible when goals and values are concerned, but not with basic needs. Basic needs have to be respected, they are non-negotiable. When these are insulted, conflict occurs. Conflict demands everything, our emotions, thoughts and directs them. It can take the form of violence, insulting basic needs, verbal violence or physical violence.

It would be incomplete to look at conflict with only a negative stance. Conflict opens the door for further improvements. These contradictions against the dominant trends pave the way for changes which are more receptive of freedom. Conflicts have made people realise that there is a problem with the structure itself. When a husband beats his wife in a room, it is a form of personal violence but when one million husbands keeps one million wives in ignorance, it is a case of structural disability. Conflicts strike at the weak points and have the capacity to cause change.

It is more suitable if these contradictions are channelised to an appropriate end. They should not be abolished but should be understood and listened for better trade offs. Their cause of origin to be questioned for the formation of an inclusive society.

A Reply:
It took me three attempts to read and grasp the complete meaning of the passage and every time I read it I realized something new. I could relate to it all so much and apply it on my life as well. And in the context of today, considering the present Government’s intolerance and in general of the people, this piece makes so much sense. Conflict is important and inevitable. Everyday I have a new conflict, with my conscience, with people or with myself and it is a necessity to make decisions and to frame your own personality. It is an integral part of life and thanks for making us realise the importance of something so huge in such a succinct manner. 🙂


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