It is ‘circle time’ and the class has to decide on a cooperative game for sports day. The emphasis is on choosing a game or activity that allows for the coming together of the group in a safe and cooperative manner. Various options are listed on the board and are deliberated upon. One set of students fervently argue for playing a particular game which is unsafe. After much discussion, the teacher asserts that it cannot be considered as an option, though she is open to continuing the conversation about the propriety of the game. Disappointment slowly spreads in the class at the finality of the state-ment made by the teacher, and the children struggle to take the discussion forward.
We regularly experience such situations of conflict, especially while working with children between ten and twelve years of age. There often seems to be a wariness while getting into conversations during such situations. However, conversations have a vital role in our work as educators. Situations of conflict present ample opportunities for both, the educator and the student, to examine their ways of thinking and of relating to other people. In these conversations there is an opportunity to unravel the working of the mind of each participant. Today, children are exposed to a world that is ridden with violence, disorder and unrest—both outside and within oneself. It is, therefore, imperative for us, as educators, to inquire into the nature of conflict if we are to help them make sense of all that they perceive and experience in the world.
Going a little deeper into conflict, we realized that it stemmed from some basic mental constructs like identity, choice, denial, resistance, authority, and ownership. The manifestations of these conflicts could be internal, external or both. However, no situation can be strictly compartmentalized, and depending on the context and the people, many of the constructs of the mind listed above could be simultaneously at work. Authority and power appear to be at the root of the conflict described in the situation of the class trying to decide their cooperative game. For the educator, different images of herself that make up her identity seem to be in conflict. While she strives to be open-minded and willing to engage in a serious enquiry over the nature of games, she also seeks efficiency as she works towards the outcome of conducting a cooperative game.
Here is another situation: a student is supposed to make a presentation before a class and she appears very worried. A conversation with the student reveals that she feels unprepared, and therefore, nervous of making mistakes and being teased. The conflict here seems to stem from a self-imposed need to live up to the image that the student carries of herself and others have about her. There is an idea of how she must be seen by others at all times, and any deviation from it seems to trouble the student. “Is it really possible to be the same, fixed person at all times?” we ask her. Through the conversation we explore the construct of ‘images’ and how holding on to them affects us.
Think about this scenario where a child is alone at home for some time. She has been asked by her parents not to watch television. The child is anxious about turning the television on but chooses to do it anyway, because there is no way the parents will find out. Here, what the child wants is in conflict with what her parents want. From another perspective, the child might struggle with a choice to be made between giving in or not giving in to her desire to watch television. She may think of herself as a trustworthy individual and giving in to her desire would contradict this image that she has created about herself. Here, the child seems to have arrived at a quick resolution of the conflict and avoided the discomfort that comes with it. If the adults in contact with the child openly shared their own experiences in similar situations, it could help her understand the conflict better before seeking a resolution.
It is clear that while in conflict, the self takes over the mind, and that prevents it from seeing the nature of the conflict. When one is able to look at situations from a distance, it is seen that all conflicts reduce to a simple one between ‘what should be’ and ‘what is’. This discovery also makes us wonder if all outward conflicts are mere manifestations of inward conflicts. Is it possible to be in conflict with others while being free of all internal conflicts? In the understanding of our notions of how things ‘should be’ lies great insight into the working of our mind and the influences that act on it. This insight can be arrived at by seriously enquiring into our notions.
There seems to be an intimate relationship between conflict and peace. The dictionary defines peace as ‘freedom of the mind from annoyance, anxiety, distraction, and obsession’, which are really all characteristics of a mind in conflict. Acceptance is a term that is often used in the context of peace and conflict. What does this acceptance look like? Does it mean being completely free from ideas of how things should be? Or can we be accepting of others’ ideas while being fluid and amenable about one’s own. Perhaps the recognition of our own notions will lead us to answers.
This leads to the question of what is peace. Is it the resolution of conflict? Or is it the absence of conflict? While it is difficult to accept the mere absence of conflict as peace, it is also challenging to articulate what that state of mind is which we call peace. It might be futile to project peace as an end. Our serious pursuit of understanding conflict, and thereby ourselves, should allow peace to germinate in our being.