I pay attention when the same idea starts coming at me from different directions. This past year the universe and wise humans have been conspiring to remind me that conflict in and of itself is not a problem. The electricity of tension, and of naturally-occurring difference, make conflict essential and generative in our closest relationships. Conflict is a force in learning, growth, and advance of every kind. In her tremendous book, High Conflict, Amanda Ripley writes, “People who try to live without any conflict, who never argue or mourn, tend to implode sooner or later as any psychologist will tell you. Living without conflict is like living without love: cold and, eventually, unbearable.”
So what if the great aspiration we might begin to hold in and for our distressingly hyper-polarized communities is not to see the conflicts “solved”? What if the calling is to hone our skills — and there are definable, teachable skills — at being present to conflict in a way that is life-giving?
This, to me, is the great relief of delving in this week's show into the way Amanda Ripley sees the world. She’s a journalist who has also become a sought-after conflict mediator — and a singular voice of curiosity and clarity on a dynamic that vexes us all: even the news we rely on, journalism we deeply value, has come to demoralize and to feed the tangle of polarized conflict we are in, all around.
“High conflict” is what this is. The conflict itself has become the point, and it sweeps everything into its vortex. Amanda drew this term from the realm of divorce courts in the 80s. A high conflict divorce, for all the variety case-to-case, is one in which the children always lose. And for all of what divides our communities and societies right now, we have children together.
This hour is full to the brim with ways of thinking and acting to break this pattern of distress one interaction, one life, at a time. There are questions to ask others and yourself; ways of disarming; ways of staying curious so something actually new can happen. For starters, there is this lesson which Amanda says she still has to relearn every day, and which I love: “In high conflict, any intuitive thing you do to get out of the conflict will almost certainly make things worse. So now I try to take my first intuition, and just ask myself, ‘Could I do the opposite? What would that look like?’ Because that's how you step out of that dance.”
Enjoy. And thank you thank you for all your notes last week. We’re so glad to be back with new shows, and it means the world for them to be so gratefully received. I can’t wait for you to experience all that is ahead.