There are many, many wars going on right now. Some, like the 44 military conflicts, create suffering on massive scales, and large losses in life. But there are many, many other wars. Gang wars, sectarian conflicts, internal conflicts that have not yet gotten violent, conflicts between political parties, as well as the internecine conflicts between sub-factions social groups, and, sadly, between people in a couple who love each other. Conflict, including everything from the small, private conflicts we live each day, to the huge conflicts that kill thousands, seem to be simply… human. We can’t seem to avoid it. We haven’t managed to avoid it for any of our history as a species.
I spend a lot of my day talking to couples (or members of ex-couples), and writing about relationships. My (relatively new) work as a relationship geek and coach has given me insight into why conflict gets out of control. And in thinking about what’s going on in the world, I actually think that it’s all the same stuff, just vastly expanded in scale. What happens in couples, especially in what we call “high conflict” couples, where each person blames the other for everything, is exactly what’s happening in the world today.
The problem is, blame is never a useful thing. It never gets at the root of the problem, and never solves anything. Even if you are able to get to a sort of settlement, blame will rear its ugly head yet again, and a new cycle of conflict will start. Blame is completely useless in healing conflicts, whether it be conflicts between partners, or conflicts between countries.
If a couple is locked in conflict, it’s easy for a cycle of blame to start going. One person blames the other for an affair, for instance, while that partner blames the other for being cold and withdrawn. Then that partner blames the other for being critical… you get the picture. This is about as useful as the cycle of blame in Israel and Palestine. There comes a point where “who is to blame” is a completely useless path to walk down. And the problem is, especially when it comes to global conflicts, there seems to be no other conversation. Hamas is to blame because they are shooting rockets into Israel. Israel is to blame because they’ve been cutting off Gaza for years… etc., etc., ad nauseum.
So what is the right path? The right path is two fold: self-responsibility and compassion. Where blame doesn’t help, taking self -responsibility does. And we’re not talking self-blame here. We’re talking looking deeply at yourself, and seeing what’s there, and what you are really responsible for. For that person that might have had an affair, it would be taking responsibility for their feelings of alienation and loneliness, and acting on them. I think that a really big thing that people need to take responsibility for is acting out of fear. Some of that fear is immediate, and some of that fear is historical and cultural. But it is fear nonetheless, and acting out of fear never has good results – it can never heal conflict.
And compassion is actually really simple. Not always easy, but simple. And compassion always starts with ourselves. So much misery is caused by lack of self-compassion.
Of course, Israel and Palestine, Russia and Ukraine, and many other conflicts are not between equals. So the burden of self-responsibility is most heavy on the party that has the most power to effect changes in the relationship. But compassion is important for both sides.
I’m glad that I am able to help couples heal conflict. I wish there were a way to help countries do the same. Human beings have a hard time with self-responsibility and compassion, and it just gets worse the larger the collection of humans there are.