Throughout the course of our lives, we each encounter an innumerable amount of obstacles, or conflicts, we must overcome. Conflict enters our lives at the earliest stages and may last until the latest, whether we’re fighting a cold, fighting for our lives, or dealing with contention and day-to-day stress. Although we cannot anticipate the extent of the conflict we each will encounter during our life path, we can prepare for it. Both elements of nature and nurture are relevant when it comes to this; but where the instinctive aspects of conflict management end, skill-building is prominently learned within our cultural environment. We can indeed be taught how to effectively manage and build resilience to various forms of conflict.
Through many experiences that expose us to discord we strengthen our mental responses to stress, reinforce confidence in our self-worth, and confirm that our identity is both stable and worth defending against the forces that threaten it. This is a process of psychological conditioning, which is perhaps most pivotal during childhood and early adolescence. Considering this, it’s practical to assume major institutions of our culture, such as media, education, and politics, advocate for the conditioning and personal management of interpersonal conflicts amongst our nation’s youth.
Unfortunately, this is not the case when the average citizen turns on a television, checks the news on their smartphone, or attends a parent-teacher conference.
Surprisingly, many popularized messages regarding conflicts advocate the opposite of conditioning and management. Although at the surface the intentions seem in the best interest of all parties involved, these practices are inadvertently robbing rising generations of their personal power. Consequently, we are beginning to see the detrimental effects this is having on vital characteristics of resilience, independence, and positive self-worth in rising generations.
Responses to Conflict Determine Power Retention
The same practices that condition self-worth and identity in casual interactions are also implicit within interpersonal conflicts. Such disputes range from strictly argumentative to all-out physical. How we condition ourselves to respond during these tests largely determines whether we will retain or relinquish our personal power when faced with adversity in the future. Just as it is up to each of us to determine our positive or negative judgements of self, we also must determine if we will defend our power (and strengthen our perception of self) or relinquish it.
When I am confronted, I must choose to:
- Defend my self-worth by either standing up for myself or refusing to be bothered by the ill-spoken words of others (therefore retaining and reinforcing my power).
- Surrender my self-worth by allowing others to negatively impact my pride, attack my intelligence, physical body, or other attribute of myself (therefore relinquishing and abandoning my power).
Interpersonal conflicts, whether in-your-face arguments or backhanded compliments, happen all the time; they are a natural part of living and working with and amongst people. Often times it is better to “take the high road” in an argument and simply agree to disagree, or ignore a person’s bad attitude. This is an understandable and appropriate response to interpersonal conflict. However, when we allow the actions of others to negatively impact our core perceptions self—or even jeopardize our safety in physical conflicts—and do not make a personal defensive effort, this is ultimately an issue of power retention.
The choice to defend or surrender my safety and self-worth has an extremely profound affect on me. If I rely on another person to defend my personal self-worth or physical safety, having not first done so to the best of my ability, I am consequently surrendering that power to another person and therefore am both reinforcing a condition of helplessness and am also devaluing my essential worth. I must, by some measure, make an attempt to defend myself. Without this effort I allow myself to be controlled by others and therefore erode my independence and resilience to conflict. Whether I win or lose the quarrel is inconsequential to my self-worth and my personal power—the important point is that I make an attempt to defend myself at all. If I do not, I have surrendered my self-worth, I have surrendered my safety, and I have surrendered my power. The psychological implications of this negative response are much more severe than simply winning or losing the interpersonal conflict itself.
Mainstream Culture Encourages Us to Disrobe Our Armor
How exactly does one surrender his power during a conflict? Take the case of bullying, which has recently become a popular topic in the media and amongst progressives. Many proposed solutions to bullying by activist groups, coalitions, and organizations are horrifically encroaching to one’s possession of personal power. In fact, these newly popularized procedures actually promote the surrendering of self-worth and relinquishing of personal power.
A prominent, socially accepted conflict resolution advises bullied children to immediately notify their teacher or parents when they are bullied, or “tattle”, in order to allow an adult to intervene and theoretically resolve the conflict. Adults advocate tattling due to beliefs that most children aren’t capable of understanding the psychology behind why others bully nor have the skills to tune out negative messages targeted at them. Adults believe by mediating the conflict they keep all parties safe. Though this strategy may indeed be affective in resolving some but not all cases of bullying, this attempt at reconciliation completely robs the bullied child of his or her personal power—truly a dire and unintended end result.
The problem with this strategy of bully-intervention is that, despite its short-term success in stopping a single interpersonal conflict, it instills damaging messages about conflict resolution in the mind of a youth who would otherwise learn of necessity to stand up for himself. Psychological training of this sort has long-term implications. When a child learns to deal with interpersonal conflicts by “passing the buck” of power and responsibility to a third party, he is being conditioned to resolve conflicts by forfeiting his personal power to depend on the power of another. This quickly teaches a child a process of dependency and reinforces an identity of being a victim incapable of standing up for himself. It deprives defensive character-building skills, which ultimately fuels the growing normality of a culture of victimization.
In consequence, this strategy to stop bullying supplies a child with an unrealistic reward complex, fostering the illusory belief that through disempowerment he may solve his problems and reach the end result he desires. Not only does this belief impact a child negatively by teaching him an unhealthy method of problem solving, it robs him of valuable life experiences that will have significant affects on him as he transitions to adulthood with such illogical expectations about human behavior and entitlements to justice. Whether right or wrong, justice does not come served on a silver platter; we often times must seek it out and deal with confrontations ourselves. When a child grows up with alternative beliefs as those described previously, this creates a vulnerable and delusional adult. This is why it’s now commonplace to see grown people in communities bypass simple, respectable conversations with others (e.g. addressing a neighbor not mowing his lawn or a person lazily leaving her shopping basket in a parking stall) and jump straight to calling their HOA, managerial staff, or even the police. They are afraid to be confrontational because they were not taught to manage conflict in a healthy way; they evade discomfort at all costs.
As a culture we are choosing to ignore an absolutely critical message to healthy development: stand up for what is right even if that means getting knocked down in the process. When a child learns to stand up for himself—whether he wins or loses the fight—he is reinforcing his claim to his self-worth and therefore retains his personal power. This also conditions him to handle conflicts, build resilience, and develop problem-solving skills that promote independence and self-reliability. It is especially crucial for children to experience these lessons during pivotal years of psychological development consistent in youth; the patterns of behavior they learn while young will play a major role in their mental conditioning for the rest of their lives.
Fighting Back Against A Culture of Victim Advocators
There is something to be said about the “hard-knock” ways of generations passed. Many elders in our society scoff at the “soft” conditioning our politically-correct culture breeds. Today children grow up in a no-tolerance world where unkindness, social discomfort, bullying, and violence (outside of video games) are censored from many pivotal life experiences. This leaves up-and-coming generations with an unrealistic perception of the world around them. Although idealistic, we cannot allow children to grow up in a world where it is unacceptable to get our hands dirty, play hard, lose, win, and fight our fights when necessary.
As much as it may feel comforting to believe if we don’t tolerate or teach conflict to our children it will naturally disappear as we rise above the ways of old, the hard truth is that conflict has no filter, nor end. Conflict manifests despite stability, wealth, or innocence. It is not “fair” or “just”, which is why it will never cease from appearing in even the most controlled environments. Most importantly, conflict is a necessary part of life to experience and learn to deal with, not simply survive, because conflict comes in many forms throughout our lives, and is ultimately beneficial to building a stable identity when dealt with appropriately.
In a society where many children grow up experiencing a plush lifestyle, not having to work for the many privileges they receive and lacking hardships that restrict access to food, water, utilities, and technology, it is very easy for children to become disillusioned about how quickly our perceivably stable reality can come crashing down. This is the perfect recipe for a society that is easily controlled, manipulated, and exploited. When life throws a wrench in the gears of our privileged routines, generations grown in such controlled, censored environments will be incapable of responding to problems at hand; they will look to anyone but themselves to deal with their problems.
The issue of bullying illustrates a larger problem in the conditioning of character in today’s youth, which consequently impacts the conditioning of individual identity and self-worth, the foundations of personal power. When people are taught to solve problems at the cost of their personal power, the dangers run far deeper than a classroom antagonizer.
Children need to be taught self-defensive tactics, those verbal, physical, and psychological. They need to stand up and defend themselves, even if this means losing the fight. Children should be taught that they are capable of resolving problems amongst their peer groups. They need to learn that in order earn self-respect they have to be willing to get knocked down defending their self, that is, their innate worth embodied in their sense of identity. Without these valuable life experiences, we rob rising generations of personal power.
The same character traits built on the playground are implemented in our day-to-day activities as responsible, independent adults. We must also learn from these lessons, which are foundational to our mental development and conditioning. We must choose to practice a positive frame of mind, stand up for ourselves, and fight our fights. Cultivating and retaining personal power is a process that begins very early in life development and continues on indefinitely.
Personal power is a psychological process, built through experiences and practices of mind. The mental attributes that construct our sense of identity can be slowly built up or torn to pieces over a lifetime of experiences. Conflicts will come in many forms, and we must condition ourselves to deal with and manage them. Each serve as tests that challenge our identity, judgments of self, and retention of personal power. In closing, one point must be pressed upon us: without personal power, we vicariously think, live, and act through and for the benefit of others, and in the end for the benefit of no one.