Conflict Is A Canyon

You don’t have to be divorced to know conflict.  We have conflicts with people in all areas of our lives:  our parents, children, coworkers, cashiers, neighbors, friends, friends-of-friends, random people on Facebook… this list goes on…

There are different ways to deal with conflict.  Some conflicts can be avoided.  Sometimes people dig their heels in and compete.  Sometimes they back down and accommodate.  Some conflicts are solved via simple compromise (although that usually isn’t ideal).

Most of the time, true peace and healing (for both sides) comes from collaboration.  That is, when both sides are willing to sit down and dive deeper into the issue in an effort to find understanding and creative solutions.  As a mediator, I see this process in action.

Collaboration.  That’s what I want to talk about right now.

Last weekend, I did a really incredible thing…

I was fortunate enough to spend Mother’s Day 2019 in the belly of one of Mother Nature’s greatest creations.  At 6:30am, my friend and I began a 6-hour/7-mile hike into the Grand Canyon.  It was a beautiful, magical, awe-inspiring, hot, sweaty, painful, torturous journey.  And after completing the hike out the following day, I took some time to reflect.

I came to the following conclusion:  

The Grand Canyon is a great metaphor for conflict. 

Here’s what I mean…

Descending into conflict:  South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail

  • It’s a big divide.  Generally speaking, conflict means parties are separated by some kind of space, and there’s no bridge to cross over to the other side.
  • It draws spectators.  Conflict brings a crowd.  Sometimes people even pay to watch.
  • There are many layers.  Conflict is often built up over time with mini-conflicts building upon each other.
  • There’s a lot of heat inside.  The bottom of the Grand Canyon is about 20 degrees warmer than the top.  The same can be said for a heated debate.
  • It’s dangerous.  Getting too close and taking the wrong steps means you could get hurt.
  • Those who aren’t there don’t understand. The emotional impact cannot be explained with words or depicted in digital images.

Makes sense, right?

But wait, there’s more!

Like I said, conflict can only be truly solved by getting closer… by going into it.  By collaborating.  And then…

  • You have to be prepared.  For my trek into the canyon, I needed to be educated about where I was going, what I could expect, and how to care for myself along the way. I packed food, water, and the things I’d need to spend the night at the bottom.  When confronting conflict, we also must gain information and practice self care.
  • You have to be committed.  Know your goal.  Quitters don’t get bragging rights.
  • You have to leave your comfort zone.  (See photo of the South Kaibab Trail)  When descending into the canyon of conflict, you have to go somewhere you’ve never been.  From the top, you can’t see the bottom.  You have to move carefully, mindfully, and you have to take it one step at a time… all the while, that anxious voice in your head is having a bit of a meltdown.
  • Things change.  When I began my hike, it was 32 degrees outside, and it was probably 80 at the bottom of the canyon.  Along the way, the trail changed, the scenery changed. People who were once close to me moved farther away, and people I hadn’t known before moved closer.  When descending into a conflict, similar things can happen, metaphorically speaking.
  • There’s struggle.  By the end of my hike down, my body ached and my mind felt a bit scrambled.  It’s hard work, no doubt.
  • Your perspective changes.  From the top of the canyon, I looked down and thought, “that’s a really big hole.”  From the bottom, I looked up and thought, “that’s a really big hill.”  Conflict looks different to different people, from different angles.  This exploration gives you new insight and allows you to see the same old thing with new eyes.
  • You can find peace.  I spent the night at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon.  There was no reception, no phones, no internet, no news, no drama.  At first it was uncomfortable, but I adjusted and was able to settle in.  As my frustration melted away, I connected with fellow hikers and found comfort and community in a strange place.  Imagine going into a conflict and finding an unexpected connection.  Imagine being able to relax and enjoy the moment.  Imagine seeing yourself in someone else.
  • You change.  Hiking the Grand Canyon was a transformational experience.  I learned.  I grew.  I hurt.  I healed.  I laughed.  I wept.  I came out of the canyon a different person than the one who went in.  And I’ve seen the same thing happen to people who come to the mediation table.  When we explore conflict, we gain wisdom.

Mother Nature can teach us so much 🙂

Of course, I realize that not everyone will have the same perspective and same experience as me.  There’s a sign at the rim of the canyon that reads:

“After your first experience backpacking in the Grand Canyon you will be left with one of two reactions: either you will never hike again in your life, or you will find that your life up to this moment has been meaningless, and you will be forever enslaved by thoughts of returning to this torturous paradise.”

In my list above, I stated that you can find peace in conflict.  Not everybody does.  Some run away from the experience, screaming and swearing never to try again.  And like I said in the beginning, some avoid conflict entirely because they find the environment too dangerous to venture in to begin with.  Each situation is a bit different, and that’s OK.

Another major factor in hiking the Grand Canyon is that it’s imperative to know your limits.  Same goes for conflict.

Not every attempt to find common ground will result in a prosperous peaceful new relationship.  But there’s something to be said for the personal growth that comes from making the effort.

Whether a canyon or a conflict, I encourage you to explore it a little deeper.

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