On Conflict

Have you ever had that weird effect when you’re lying in bed and you can feel yourself floating up in a sort of out-of-body experience, but simultaneously you can feel yourself sinking down into the earth? And you’re not sure if you’re as big as the sky or you’re just a tiny particle of sand. You’re both. Well, that’s how I feel when I think about conflict.

Today is ANZAC Day. War is part of human nature it seems, and however harrowing it was (and still is), and however poignant the war memorial or any ANZAC Day ceremony – I cannot help but feel an indifference to the whole thing.

I’ve sat through my fair share of ANZAC Day ceremonies, as a member of a brass band. I’ve marched behind veterans, I’ve laid wreaths and I’ve played hymns to honour the dead. But it always seemed to me that the ceremony was more about the glorification of war and the deification of lost soldiers than anything else. The ongoing preoccupation with re-framing a massive military defeat as a heroic act of national pride, coupled with our current state of freedom being a direct result of the exorbitant loss of lives always seemed tenuous to me.

I went to visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in May last year, as part of the LBWR Leaders Forum program and the tour we had with a wonderfully well-informed and contagiously passionate volunteer guide affected a lot of us. Part of me was drifting up – I’m so far removed from large-scale conflict, that it’s too hard to get a handle on the abominations against humanity that happened in the past and continue to happen every single second across the globe. It seems so far away from my safe and privileged everyday life.

But what I did notice was that the emotional connection to war – the sadness and condemnation, the pride and appreciation – were elicited by the individual human stories of the war, and by the storytelling prowess of our guide.

This might sound weird, but I rely a lot on conflict. Because it’s what drives great drama. Humans seem to be awesome at doing two things – fighting and telling stories. And so naturally the best stories are the ones that have a central conflict. That’s why war stories are so affecting – because they have big political conflicts and they have tiny personal conflicts.

Dramatic conflict can be internal – where a person is fighting with their own conscious, moral code, past decisions or decisions yet to come (Think Hamlet), or external – where two people are clashing over ideology, memory or property (Think Taming of the Shrew).

Conflict brings out the best or worst in people, it shows us people at the most volatile, vulnerable and creative. That’s why it’s a pleasure to watch. It’s not, however, a pleasure to be involved in. It feels like you are waist-height sunk into a quagmire and the more you squirm the faster you sink.

I know this feeling first hand because in a couple of days time, I will be spending two hours in mediation with my husband, whom I have been separated from for 5 months. It’s unfortunate timing, I suppose. This Sunday would have marked our sixth wedding anniversary but instead a cruel reminder of what high hopes we had in joining our lives so intricately together by spending two hours taking it all apart. The mediation is a process of placing our own selfish feelings to one side and working through the points of conflict to a resolution which is in the best interests of our two children.

I don’t know what the outcome will be. There may not be one for some time. But, if nothing else, I’ll have some great content for a future play.

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