I've worked with many communities and without exception there has been conflict on every one. You might think there'd be more conflict in a group about parenting than one about, oh, science fiction & fantasy, but you'd be wrong. I mean, there's a lot of conflict on Parenting. It's just perplexing that there are so many fights about literal fiction.

Surrealist sword battle between peace signs

At a base level, people come into conflict when they care about something they share, but don't agree on some aspect of that thing. People care about how to raise children and they also care about fictional stories. Often conflict comes from differences in what people value about those topics. So parents might disagree about whether homeschooling is a good idea and sci-fi1 nerds disagree about whether a Terminator is stronger than an elephant.

Laugh if you like, but the difference between these concerns aren't frivolous. While there isn't a practical purpose to the Terminator vs. Elephant question, most people don't genuinely need an answer to the home-school question either. They want to know how judgmental/superior they should feel about their neighbors. Quite often the value of a topic comes from somewhere inside a person rather than some external place. Fiction speaks to us in mysterious ways.

There are many strategies to dealing with conflict:2

  • Accommodating
  • Avoiding
  • Compromising
  • Competing
  • Collaborating

I've run into a strategy recently that isn't on that list. I call it Excluding. The idea is that if someone in a group disagrees, the group will be more unified if that person leaves. It's a straightforward way to end conflict and it just works—temporarily. Somehow each time a group gets rid of one problem, a new disagreement pops up. It's strange because if these people aren't happy with the group, why do they stick around?

Exclusion doesn't work in the long run because there's always another layer of disagreement. That's not to say there aren't toxic people who really should be excluded from a group. Rather people who disagree most might not be the most toxic people in a group. Subtly, groups change over time and that means there are always new friction between people. If a group settles on exclusion for managing conflict, it won't be a growing group.

Truth is, the only groups that don't have conflict are those that are too young or insignificant. Since conflict happens when people care about something (otherwise they don't bother to push disagreements), conflict is a sign of maturity and significance. It's the symptom and result of people working together on a common goal.

It is possible to drive conflict underground with authoritarianism or a culture of surface unity. That's a vital part of how a military function. Most people don't want to kill other people, so discipline and commitment to a higher authority must be enforced. You better believe the conflict is still there, though. It's just expressed in ways that are compatible with a culture of discipline.

Ultimately conflict is healthy for a group. The people who care about it aren't satisfied with the stratus quo because every group could stand to be improved. If a group were to somehow obtain perfection,3 I suppose it wouldn't have conflict and wouldn't need it. But until then, it's better to find ways to manage conflict rather than dismiss or hide it.

  1. They also disagree about whether it should be science fiction, sci-fi, SF or speculative fiction.

  2. When I first encounted this concept, I took the test and ended up solidly in the "Avoiding" category as my main conflict-resolution strategy. After publishing this post, I took another assessment a reader recommended via email. Now I'm getting "73% Problem Solver", which is effectively the "Collaborating" strategy. I also prefer Avoiding (67%) and Compromising (64%) over Accommodating (43%) and Competing (8%).

  3. As a Christian, I believe the church will be perfect after the end of this broken world. But never make the mistake it's perfect now!