Although it may be in an unconscious or automatic way, there is a marked tendency to attribute an adverse meaning to the term “conflict” , which has been accentuated more significantly in recent decades in today’s society.

This negative conception is causing individuals to present more and more difficulties in their adequate management and coping. Thus, a pathogenic functioning is being normalized by which either the conflict is avoided or it is chosen to solve it in an impulsive, reactionary and/or aggressive way . An interesting exercise could become the following question: what is the cause of such a tendency?

A globalized and capitalist society

At the last turn of the century, society is undergoing a great transformation at a very fast pace. As a result of globalization, in recent decades it has become possible to transmit and exchange any kind of information between any two points on the planet almost immediately and at low cost. Inevitably, this has had consequences on the economy, on national and international policies and on the values that the population has internalized in its development, both at the level of each individual and more collectively.

With globalization it seems that physical and symbolic borders have been eliminated , a fact that may lead to the conclusion that there are no limits, that everything is possible, that the more the better.

These expressions are the basis of the capitalist system in which we are involved (trapped?) and which is promoted by the main media, in the sense that it prioritizes the quantitative over the qualitative and, therefore, favours competitive individualistic attitudes instead of those more cooperative and empathetic, as well as emphasizing values such as individual freedom or the satisfaction of personal or self-centred desires over generous behaviours oriented to the common good.

Along with globalization and capitalism, technological development, exposure to constant change, as well as increasingly frequent and habitual multicultural coexistence are other factors that are causing today’s society to be much more complex than in the past.

Everything as a whole can generate in the individual a feeling of permanent uncertainty , where a need to be continuously adapted to this dynamic functioning is perceived. The capacity to adequately manage such uncertainty becomes a challenge for individuals, since it requires an effort of psychological coping that sometimes cannot be done in a natural and satisfactory way, causing some personal emotional and/or behavioural affections.

Under such circumstances, the phenomenon of “conflict” is an unpleasant and aversive obstacle to be solved, which makes it difficult to follow the accelerated pace imposed by society. A conflict, to begin with, implies time, it implies the need for reflection and analysis and this seems to have no place in the schemes that govern the globalized and capitalist functioning.

And it is as a consequence of this biased perception of “I want it ALL and I want it NOW” that increases the probability of exercising attitudes of violence and aggressiveness (in order to reach the proposed objective) or also of flight and avoidance of adversity, as indicated above. These generalized forms of confronting conflict, which do not seem psychologically adaptive and effective, are not subject to particular or specific situations but are found to be institutionalized, forming part of the current social structure.

Meaning of the terms conflict, aggressiveness and violence

Faced with such a scenario, it seems essential to recover a rational and realistic notion of what the word “conflict” implies in order to recover the possibility of adaptive coping.

If we look at the literature published by experts in the field, authors such as Fernández (1998), argue that the conflict should not be confused with its pathology, violence . For this author the conflict is simply a situation of confrontation of interests that produces an antagonism between various parties. Cabanas (2000) adds that such a situation can be resolved in a non-violent manner.

It follows that the conflict should not be confused with a problematic entity in itself, which is not necessarily a confrontation but consists of the establishment of a discrepancy of positions. The fact that there are divergences of perspective is inevitable, natural and inherent to the human being since each person is incontestably unique in his or her own subjectivity.

On the other hand, violence is learned, not innate, and mediated by the environment . In the words of Fernández (1998), in violent behavior, force, power and status are imposed against the other in order to harm him/her. Thus, violent behavior responds to a voluntary and conscious act to achieve the satisfaction of a specific objective.

Nor should violence be equated with aggression. The definition of the frustration model proposed by Dollard, Doob, Miller and Sears in 1939 indicated that aggressiveness is an impulsive behavior in which the consequences of such action are not considered. This statement is complemented by Auran (2003) who adds that aggressiveness is a defence mechanism to reaffirm the survival instinct.

Therefore, also has a positive adaptation component , being another natural phenomenon. When one does not know how to channel this aggressiveness properly, it becomes violence and that is when it becomes problematic. Finally, a distinction must be made between aggressiveness, a disposition or tendency, and aggression, which becomes the concrete act by which aggressiveness is expressed.

Therefore, the key point behind the above definitions lies in understanding that conflict and aggressiveness, natural and adaptive elements, must not lead to aggression or the exercise of violence, both of which are learned principles and therefore avoidable.

By way of conclusion

After what has been explained throughout the text, it is therefore concluded that a change of perspective is necessary in the connotation given to the existence of the conflict. This can be a valuable opportunity for reflection, decision making, change, as well as dialogue and agreement.

Conflict allows for the strengthening of the critical spirit, the analysis of situations in a deeper way , and can foster an empathic and other-oriented functioning.

However, this increasingly positive attitude must also be combined with other types of processes that likewise question the extent to which the values promoted by today’s globalised and capitalist society are making it difficult to adopt such an introspective and cooperative attitude.

Bibliographic references:

  • Fernandez Garcia I. (1999) Prevención de la violencia y resolución de conflictos: el clima escolar como factor de calidad. Madrid: Narcea.
  • San Martín, J. (coord.) (2004) El laberinto de la violencia. Causes, types and effects. Barcelona: Ariel.
  • Tedesco J.C. (1998) The great challenges of the new century. Global village and local development. In G. Pérez Serrano (coord.) Contexto y socioeducativo de la educación. Seville: University of Seville 19-51.