News Tip

Is Conflict Bad?

This post expresses the views and opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily that of The Sun Times News management or staff.

by Carolyn Stilwell

A neighbor complains about where you planted your tree, our coworker doesn’t respect the work you do. The noise from the apartment upstairs is just too much to handle, kids make fun of each other on the playground. Conflict happens all around us all the time. Often we shy away from conflict and worry about what effect it will have on us and our loved ones. But why is that?

Take a moment and imagine all the words, phrases, and feelings that come to your mind when you think of the world “Conflict”. Think of your most recent conflict; one you’ve seen on television or the news. I bet most of the words and feelings were negative including “anger”, “fear”, and “shame”. We are often raised to believe that conflict, any conflict, is “bad” and that we should avoid it at all costs. And why shouldn’t we? Conflict is often uncomfortable, painful, and at times dangerous. These truths cannot be ignored. However conflict can also be a bridge to many beautiful outcomes.

Now think about how conflict can be positive. Anger can be positive when it leads us to seek justice. Fear is our body’s way of keeping us safe. Shame can help us learn from our mistakes. Conflict can expose things that need to be addressed and force us to be better people.

Conflict is neither good nor bad. It simply is. It exists whether we want it to or not. Without our judgments, conflict is neutral. It can be helpful to think of conflict as a can of gasoline. In the right hands, with the right outlook, it can be used to power a car and take you to visit family or get groceries. But if you treat that gasoline with anger and fear, it can be used to burn something important. Our anger and our fear are like the match that ignites conflict into the scary and dangerous thing we all fear. When we learn to approach conflict with the intention to create good things, then we are more likely to get positive outcomes.

Managing conflict productively is not an easy thing to do. In a future column we’ll cover different approaches to conflict and when you should use them. By changing your approach to conflict, you can help change the way conflict affects you.We would love to hear from you, if you have a question or comment, please email us at

This column is the first in a series created by the Restorative Justice Committee of Chelsea's One World One Family organization. The series invites readers to reflect on individual and community challenges such as conflict and crime, and the approaches we take to meeting them.

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