Whether it's Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen", reality TV, soap operas or "The Last Samurai" at the cinema, there is no doubt that hostility and aggression are topics of great public fascination. Unfortunately, our involvement in conflict does not end with other people's conflicts. Whenever people live, work or play together there will inevitably be disputes, disagreements and personality clashes.
Goodwill, tolerance and understanding will go a long way in these situations, but there is always that hardcore of "difficult", irritating, insensitive, "out of order" or just plain aggressive, individuals to deal with.
Innate Human Aggression?
Sometimes, if we are really honest, we occasionally find ourselves amongst that naughty band of people spoiling for a fight! Unless of course you are one of those rare people who never feels "hot under the collar", ignored, wronged, abused, ignored, mistreated, "fighting for your rights", "needing a good row to clear the air" or feeling that it is high time someone or something was "sorted out".
At other times we find ourselves miserably suffering are on the wrong end of hostility, aggression or conflict. We may be losing an important battle, valiantly struggling against impossible odds, defeated, dejected, dispirited, demoralised - giving up, or giving in, far too often!
Considering that 98% of human genes are in common with an ape and 85% of our genes are also found in a pig, it is scarcely surprising that stressful situations, especially those perceived as threatening, will trigger some "jungle behaviour" in human beings that at other times can form quite a civilised society.
Conflict Management in Workplace & Personal Relationships
"Compromise is Defeat by Instalments!"
Like many wise sayings this one makes its point by being a little over-zealous! - compromise certainly has its place. The point here is that we can easily slip into too many compromises with the result that repeatedly no-one gets what they really want.
A skilfully conducted conflict will not only release emotional tensions, but also provide some shared communication which might result in a new and better co-creative "third" option beig generated rather than being limited to one or other product of a single mind, or (possibly worse still!) a "half-way house" in-between the products of a single minds.
"Avoiding conflict" at one extreme, and "addicted to conflict" at the other extreme can each have harmful implications for health, see the findings in this Cambridge research...
Conflict Management Strategies
An interesting study was done here, in Cambridge U.K., at the Veterinary School, into the "conflict management" lifestyle of pigs - creatures with whom we share a mammalian ancestry and a consequent 85% of our genes.
The behaviour and social interactions of a group of pigs was monitored over a long period and it was found that there were 3 main lifestyles as far as conflict behaviour was concerned.
The first "top pig" lifestyle was followed by pigs who were constantly getting into disputes with others in their community. All this experience of conflict ensured that they were good at fighting and at looking so strong such that many of their colleagues would give way to them rather than risk a scrap. These pigs thrived materially, always getting the best of the food and sleeping places, but they were prone to stress and stress-related disease. The more stressed they became, the more aggressive and self-assertive they became, and this just further exacerbated their conflict-prone lifestyle.
The second type of lifestyle was that adopted by the pigs that went out of their way to avoid conflict. They rarely got into disputes with other pigs, but at the cost of not getting their fair share of the resources available. An even greater cost was that their immune systems were depressed and they were prone to both minor and major illnesses. On the rare occasions that these pigs did engage in conflict, they usually lost, which further confined them to the rut of their adopted lifestyle.
The third type of lifestyle was shown by pigs which were willing to engage in conflict but did not do it very often. They were more flexible - able to fight when necessary and able to walk away from a fight that was not necessary or that they were unlikely to win. They were not compulsive scrappers like group 1, or passive, self-effacing defeatists like group 2. In material ways they did reasonably well - less self-indulgent than the top pigs, but then over-indulgence is not a good recipe for health and contentment. Life was more peaceful for this group than either of the other two groups - other pigs rarely picked on them and they themselves did not go looking for trouble. Most important of all, they enjoyed the best of health!
Health Implications of Too Much or Too Little Fighting
The findings of this Cambridge pig research have been confirmed in studies in animals, birds and humans all over the world. Letting people "walk all over us" gets in the way of our success, happiness and depresses our immune system. "Held-in" destructive emotions such as resentment and hatred may also be a factor in chronic degenerative and self-aggressive diseases. On the other hand, being anger-prone, conflict-prone or rage-prone is a recipe for stress, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
If you would you like to strengthen your position in the lifestyle that knows how to find and enjoy peace of mind, social support and good health, you might like to join us in our workshop entitled "Facing up to Hostility and Aggression".
Peace of Mind Leads to a Loving & Healthy Heart!
"Peace is not the absence of outer conflict - It's the absence of inner conflict!"
This wise saying was spoken at The United Nations General Assembly in resolution 55/282 which ordained that an International Day of Peace should be observed on 21 September each year. See the videos and quotes at the Stillness Path to Inner Peace.
Philosophers, sages and religious mystics have been telling us for centuries that our inclination to fight begins within ourselves. The Dalia Lama offers much wise advice on the topic of achieving inner peace of mind.
Author of this article & Stress Management Courses facilitator: Dr. Mike Meredith
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