Chicago is a political place, and everyone chooses sides. When I settled here years ago, I quickly learned that conflict is just the Chicago way—everyone gets in the mix, and it can be exciting. But over the past decade, conflict has become a mean and nasty sport of mud-slinging and name-calling. It is no longer constructive but hurtful and detrimental to community.
I ran into the conflict buzz saw a few days ago. I was at a friend’s house and the subject of Chicago not receiving the Olympic bid came up. My friend, the host, wanted my reaction because I was not in town when the news broke. Before I could speak, a mutual friend weighed in with her disgust at the Olympic committee, the Chicago delegation to Copenhagen, Mayor Daley, people living on the south side of Chicago, and pretty much everybody else. When she finished, no one else said a word.
But we were silent not because we all agreed or disagreed. Instead, we were simply overwhelmed. She had single-handedly escalated the scene into a living-room version of a Chicago City Council brawl. How she felt was perfectly clear, with no room for disagreement. We were automatically on the other side, her enemy on this issue. One brave soul asked, “Why does it have to be so cut and dried?” She responded that it was her right to hold her political views.
I remembered back to when I ran into my first conflict buzz saw. My grandma assured me that conflict was nothing to be afraid of but instead a process in life that produces something new. Her example was making a cake. “Eggs and sugar and flour in a bowl together are not a cake,” she said. “They’ve got have a little conflict and get knocked around until that they decide to work together and blend into batter.”
Instead of conflict being a process that we go through to grow and move forward, it has become a sport where sides just shout out their opinions, hold on to them, and fight for dominance. It has become mean and nasty, and emotional. No one wants to make a cake. And sadly, there is no resolution.
Our children are watching these tantrums and no-win fights and are forming habits that will cost them the gift of community. So I ask …
What we you taught about conflict?
How do you think, react, and respond to views different from your own?
How can we reverse direction on how we handle conflict?
Valora Starr is director for discipleship, Women of the ELCA.
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