Why Does Conflict Happen?

One might say that conflict happens because two people disagree.  But the real reason is more basic than that.

Why do people disagree?  Because they have a different perspective on how or why something should be done.  Why does this have to cause conflict?

Because the bottom line is:

We Want People To Do Things Our Way


1.  It’s more convenient for us.
2.  That’s the way we’ve always done it.
3.  It violates our sense of right and wrong.


Let’s think logically for a minute.  Why should we expect that the rest of the world should always do things in a way that is convenient for us?  This is a little self-centered.  If you want things your way, and others want things their way, then there is always going to be somebody who is inconvenienced.  What’s wrong with that?

I don’t like it.  OK, so you don’t like it.  So what?  Just because you don’t like it, does that mean it’s wrong?  To get upset because you’ve been inconvenienced is illogical, because the only reason to get upset is because you think you deserve to not be inconvenienced.  That makes you more important than others. 

The only reason to be upset because we are inconvenienced is because we feel we have a right to have everything go our way.  No one has that right.  Inconvenience happens to everyone, no one has the right to have everything their way. 

It takes some practice to start thinking of inconvenient things or events as non-negatives.  We must consciously correct our thinking to get rid of the erroneous beliefs or unrealistic expectations which cause us to view events as inconvenient.


Just because you have always done something a certain way, does that mean other people don’t have a right to do it differently?  You may feel that the reason you have always done it that way is because it is the best way. 

But each person has the right to decide for themselves what is “best.”  We don’t have the right to expect other people to think our way is best.  Everyone is entitled to their own ideas and habits.

Belief System

You may have been taught by your parents, teachers, or religion that certain things are right or wrong.

In real life, every individual decides for themselves what they are going to accept as right or wrong.  One person’s belief system may allow for behavior that another person’s belief system deems as wrong or inappropriate.

Although you have the right to decide for yourself what you believe is right or wrong, you do not have the right to impose that belief system on others.  You don’t have a right to expect that others agree with your belief system.

You may say, “Right and Wrong is not a matter of opinion.”  Yes, it is.  Different societies, cultures, and sub-cultures make different decisions about what is right and wrong for their group.                     

It is possible to respect a person without agreeing with their belief system.  When we disagree with someone, we often begin to have feelings of discomfort toward them.  We do not feel at ease around them.  Why? 

We feel they are wrong.  To de-escalate conflict, we must realize that there is no right or wrong where personal choices are concerned.  But if you still can’t rid yourself of the idea that the person has made a wrong choice or beliefs, realize this: It’s OK to be wrong.

It’s OK to be wrong.
  We want other people to make the same choices as us because we believe our choices are right, but the bottom line is,

It’s ok to be wrong.  Don’t persecute people for making wrong choices, and don’t make them feel bad for not choosing the same way as you.  This is all about RESPECT.    Respect other people’s right to make wrong choices if they want to.

And....it is not your personal responsibility to point out their mistakes to them.  You don’t have to try to explain to people why you think they are wrong, you don’t have to try and change them.  Just be responsible for your own beliefs and choices. 

When I disagree with someone, I don’t say, “I think what you believe is wrong” or “I think what you did was wrong” because that is basically attacking the other person.  I try to say, “I believe differently than you do in that area” and I always try to end the discussion with “but I think we can believe differently and still respect each other.” The other person may not feel the same way, but at least you have done your part to live and let live.                

You are letting the other person know that you are not judging them or their choices, you have just made a different choice.

The bottom line is, we don’t have the right to expect things to always be convenient for us, and we don’t have the right to expect that others should always do things our way or agree with us.  We do have the responsibility to respect others, no matter what their choices, and to be responsible for our own beliefs and choices without judging others.

How is thinking this way going to reduce our level of conflict or stress?

Because when something happens to you, you feel stressed because of what you believe about the situation and yourself.   If you believe that you have a right to not be inconvenienced, then you will be angry or upset when something happens that inconveniences you.  If you expect things to happen that inconvenience you, and you realize this is normal, you will not be stressed by them. 

If you think that only your belief system is right, and you feel upset or stressed when someone does something differently than your belief systems allows, you are really disrespecting the other person, and placing yourself on a higher level than that person.  You see yourself as better than them because your belief system is right and theirs is wrong.  This is incredibly arrogant.  You have the right to decide how you will live, and what you will accept as right and wrong, but you must realize that what you choose is only right for YOU, you cannot hold others accountable to standards you have set for yourself.  They are your standards, not the whole human race's standards. 

So, when something happens, and you feel in conflict with that person or stressed because of the choice they made, or just upset because of what happened, realize that you feel upset because you feel entitled to have things your own way, or you feel entitled to not be inconvenienced.  And these are unrealistic expectations. Also realize that when you judge someone else, you are creating stressful thoughts that will ultimately cause you unhappiness.

If you do not have unrealistic expectations about how things should be, then you will never feel stressed about the situation, or in conflict with another person.

It's because we expect that things should be a certain way, and when they don't turn out that way, we are flustered, upset, and feel stressed.

Do you see that by changing your expectations, you change whether or not you feel in conflict?

Think about your last conflict.  What were the expectations you had that caused you to feel that way? 

Let's take an example. 

You are at the grocery store with your two or three-year old.  They are sitting in the cart and you are pushing them through the store trying to get your shopping done.  The child is crying and begging to get out of the cart.  You keep telling them to be quiet and continue to do your shopping.  But you are feeling stressed and the conflict between you and your child is escalating.  You are starting to get angry with him/her.  Why?

1.   You have unrealistic expectations about how your child should behave.

2.   Deep down, you feel entitled to do your grocery shopping without being inconvenienced.

3.   You believe your child is wrong, and you are right.

Let's take a look at these one at a time.

Shopping carts are incredibly uncomfortable to sit in.  My child was able to tell me this when he was old enough to talk.  It is also incredibly boring for a child to sit for an hour or two in that cart with nothing to do.  So they are uncomfortable and they are bored, and no matter what they ask you, you say no.  No, you can't get out.  No, you can't touch that.  No, you can't have something to eat.  No, we can't go home.  I am going to punish you if you don't behave.

Why is it that we expect children to "behave" under these circumstances?  That is an unrealistic expectation.  You as an adult have a goal, and you feel you have the right to force your child to do things they don't want to do just to achieve your goal.

There are ways to accomplish grocery shopping without all this conflict.

Let your child walk instead of putting them in the shopping cart.

But you say, "I can't do that, he'd be touching everything."

Yes, probably so.  That means it might take a little longer to get done.  So what?

"I can't stay at the store all night, I have other things I have to get done."

Then don't bring your child to the store.

"But I don't have anyone to watch him."

Then bring him, and change your expectations.  It's your expectations that are the problem, not the child. 

You have an expectation that grocery shopping is supposed to be a certain way.  How about making it a fun adventure for you and your child, not torture?

Tell your child you are going to play a game.  There are some special items hidden in the store, and he has to help you find them.  He can only touch the special items, and when he finds them, he can put them in the cart and take them home.

Let him help you put them in the cart, walking along side until he gets tired and asks to get in the cart to rest.  At that point, a snack to eat or a drink while you finish would probably work.

And if they touch everything as they go down the aisle, so what?  That's what kids are supposed to do, explore their environment.  If you are going to take them into an environment where they can't do that, don't expect them to behave in a way that you deem to be "appropriate."

I stopped long ago making my children behave according to other people's expectations.

Expect that children are going to behave like children.

Expect that there are going to be interruptions in your life.

Expect that things are going to get broken or spilled.

Expect that children are going to get bored and tired before you do.

Expect that your child is going to want out of the cart, and plan ahead what you are going to do.

Expect that, in order to respect your child's needs, you may have to leave the store before your shopping is done.

If you had a best friend, and they were shopping with you, and they said to you, "I just can't continue with this.  I am too tired, I don't feel well, I am hungry, and I am uncomfortable being here.  I need to leave."  Would you respect your friend and their needs enough to say, "Ok, we'll go, I can finish this another time."  Then why wouldn't you respect your child's needs enough to say the same thing?

It's because we are bigger and stronger than our children and we feel we have the right to force them to do what we want.  But force is not right, not with other adults, and certainly not with our children. It is possible to live a life without coercion or force of any kind.

Don't put what you want before what everyone else wants.  Respect that other people may have needs that are in conflict with yours.  Do what you do so as to respect everyone's needs.

As adults, we usually take the incredibly arrogant position that we are right and our children are wrong.  Just because they are children, that does not mean they are wrong.  And just because you are an adult does not mean you know best.  It does not mean your way is better than your child's.

When you enter into a situation, do not have any expectations about how it should turn out.  Know what you want to accomplish, but be fluid in the way that you respond to the situation.  Realize that there is no certain way that the situation must turn out in order for it to be "right".  Change the way you are dealing with the situation as the situation changes.  Don't expect things to be convenient, don't expect things to be comfortable.   Expect that you are going to have to alter your beliefs and actions as the situation changes.

You may say, "Why should I have to alter my beliefs and actions, but I'm not to expect others to alter theirs?"  Because you can only control yourself, you cannot control anyone else.  So don't expect that others are going to change.  You can only change your own thoughts, beliefs and behavior.  We get stressed because we think others ought to change.  Why should they?  If you don't like the situation, the only thing you can change is YOURSELF.  So to make yourself have a lower stress level, you must change what you think or believe about the situation.  That is all you can do, or you will spend your whole life with a high stress level, upset about other people's behavior, or the circumstances life deals to you. 

You will have a higher risk of heart attack, you will be more likely to develop cancer, and many other diseases.  Your unwillingness to change your thoughts and beliefs will kill you physically in the end.

It doesn't seem fair.  I'm supposed to change but the other person doesn't have to?  Stop and think about it.   Each person is only responsible for themselves.  You are not responsible for other people's choices.  You cannot change another person.  It is unrealistic to expect that other people should change just because you want them to.  Why stress yourself out trying to get someone to change?  Because you think your way is right?  Arrogance again.

Even if you are right, you can't expect other people to understand that, or to change their minds.  Why spend your life trying to make people agree with you?  You are not necessarily 100% right, everyone makes mistakes.  Just remember this:  it's OK to be wrong.  We are under the mistaken impression that people have to do things right all the time.  Well, that's an erroneous belief.

It's OK to be wrong.  First of all, right is just a matter of opinion.  But even if there were a way to tell just exactly what "right" is, it doesn't mean everyone has to choose the "right" way.  It's ok to be wrong.  Let people be wrong if they want to.

Ok, I've said enough.  This is a way to be mentally healthy. 

Depression - unrealistic expectations about how life is supposed to be or how others are supposed to treat me.  Feeling that there is nothing I can do to change my situation. Well, it’s not the situation that needs to change, it’s your own thoughts about the situation.

Anxiety - fear about what will happen if things don't go "right"

Mood disorders - people have decided to take control of their situation and manipulate it in response to the extraordinary circumstances of their lives.  Unrealistic expectations plus disempowerment plus strong training that things must be done “right” lead to mood disorders. Rather than deciding to change their own thoughts they decide to manipulate the other person or situation.

So what are our guiding principles so far?

Don’t argue with reality.
Expect people to behave exactly as they do.
Expect things to be exactly the way they are.

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