Rewriting my understanding of conflict and confrontation

Running from the fight doesn’t make your life easier in the end

Image supplied by: Nahira Gerster-Sim
Nahira reflects on learning to embrace conflict in her life.

From elementary school to university, I’ve evolved from a shy, uncertain girl to a confident and
outgoing woman.

I used to dread meeting new people and going to new places—but now, I enjoy making friends and thrive in unfamiliar environments.

I used to shrink in my seat in hopes that teachers wouldn’t call on me to speak. Now, I actively seek out public speaking engagements.

Despite gaining this newfound confidence my shyness didn’t vanish. Although on the exterior I maintained a carefully composed display of smiles and poise, mountains of uncertainty remained under the surface.

And this uncertainty manifested in chronic conflict avoidance.

Running from any form of confrontation became a core part of my personality and affected my relationships with others.

Though avoidance was my trademark in high school, I’ve recently taken more control over my actions.

My conflict avoidance manifested as multiple behaviours.

I refused to engage in disagreements. I detached myself from drama, and steered clear of any situations that hinted of tension or confrontation.

While I could be a good listener—and mediator if needed—I habitually distanced myself from fights amongst friends and family. If a conversation started getting heated, my reaction would be to laugh uncomfortably and excuse myself at the next possible moment, leaving too many issues unsolved.

Despite having an opinion, I preferred to abstain in debates. Whether the subject was what to eat, where to hang out, or about people my friends disliked, I volunteered little to the discussion.

One friend jokingly compared me to Switzerland, saying I fit the description of the neutral and
anodyne nation. I felt proud of that label and that I’d somehow succeeded in becoming the model, inoffensive friend.

Conflict avoidance didn’t just appear in my personal relationships; it also invaded my academic work. When I had an opposing opinion from my peers in group work, I conceded to the majority view
without protest.

When it came to my own assignments, I hesitated to stand up for myself. I can think of at least three instances in the past two years where I’ve disagreed with a TA’s marking scheme. Whether looking for clarification on a comment, or wanting to contest a grade, my aversion for confrontation dominated my academic interests letting assignments fall to the wayside without further discussion.

While it took me years to realize how problematic this was, I wasn’t silent in every situation.

I spent most of high school fighting the BC government to lower the voting age. I had no scruple about going head-to-head with politicians, berating them for their shortcomings and demanding that
16-year-olds be allowed to exercise their constitutional rights.

Somehow, this passion for justice overrode my insecurity of raising my voice.

I felt comfortable speaking out about social issues because they didn’t have the same immediate, personal consequence as arguing with a friend.

In advocating for youth enfranchisement, I had a platform to exert the confidence that I couldn’t in my everyday life.

While I can’t pinpoint the moment my thinking shifted, at some point last fall I recognized how counterproductive and harmful my actions were. Whether I missed one too many opportunities to challenge a grade or witnessed a fight that strengthened a friendship instead of ruining one, I knew I needed to speak up.

I presumed straying away from situations of confrontation would keep friendships. In reality, it hurt them. It can be scary to contradict someone and speak up for yourself. With all the negative connotations around conflict, it’s no wonder that myself and many others avoid it at all costs.

It’s crucial to see conflict from another perspective. Friendships, family, partnerships—they require commitment and tenacity. Overtime, I realized there is value in disagreement.

Embracing conflict shows you respect your bond enough to work through problems. People value those who can stick through the hard times, sometimes fighting for a friendship requires fighting with a friend.

In academics, there are many benefits to asking questions or raising concerns about assignments. TAs may have missed a detail, and professors might appreciate a learning opportunity for themselves.

Furthermore, my own writing improves each time I request clarification and get a greater understanding of where I could grow.

We’ve been told at some point that success can’t be achieved without obstacles and failure. While that be a good mantra for being resilient, it also applies to everyday interactions.

Relationships might falter because of conflict, but they can also strengthen as a result of confronting
and resolving problems. There are moments when it is necessary to voice your beliefs, regardless of
the consequences.

Conflict and confrontation shouldn’t be sought after, but they are valid and useful in some contexts. Whether it’s a relationship or an assignment, growing a backbone and disagreeing can be worthwhile.

I have yet to fully break the pattern of avoiding conflict. However, as I continue to navigate university and young adult life, I’m prepared to face any issues that arise head on.


Conflict, personal growth

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