The management of conflict in today's society

Prof. Rafael Cerqueira Fornasier, Pontifício Instituto João Paulo II para Estudos sobre Matrimonio e Famìlia, Universidade Católica de Salvador, Brazil



Last April, the World Health Organization (WHO) drew attention to the increase in cases of domestic violence in the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly against women. In Brazil, there is an increase in violence against the elderly, in addition to the increase in the rate of violence in general compared to the last two years. The Director-General of WHO, on April 3, stressing the increase in violence against women, suggested that the stress and tensions linked to family confinement during the quarantine period, loss of employment, decreased contact with relatives and friends could be risk factors. Add to that the fact that, from one moment to the next, the rhythm and the family lifestyle have been completely changed. In the case of the poorest families, usually with more children in the countries of Latin America and living in small houses and in precarious conditions, the challenge of managing and organizing family relationships is much greater.


In the current circumstances, family life clearly reveals what characterizes it structurally, which marks it in a dramatic way, and with which contemporary society always has to learn to deal: the conflict.


The performance society, with its excess of positivity, expressions of the philosopher B.-C. Han, who seeks to maximize efficiency at all times, including in human relationships, may have generated a simplistic idea of resolving conflicts and tensions or eliminating them by increasing the private space of individual freedoms, in which family ties obviously tend to lose its relevance and place. In this context, it is understood that freedom is less relational and more self-referential, without the risk of laborious interaction with the other, which raises, among other things, the figure of the anonymous social spectator, too curious about the life of others, but distant from it.


Actually true freedom in society and in the family is not and will never be an isolated act, but, on the contrary, needing the presence of others, in which the relationship is not only an abstract concept, but a lived reality, such as topos, place or space of being in common, challenging the parties involved in this relational sphere to decisively assume that between two as a promise of opening and growing individual spaces. The space or relational topos of conjugality, parenting, filiation, fraternity, society and, we can also say, that of religiosity requires to be generated, promoted, cared for, transformed and transmitted and that implies, happily or unfortunately - depending on how understand the issue - not a few tensions and conflicts throughout life.


The conflict is often perceived and assumed from a negativity perspective, perhaps because it generates a certain annoyance, discomfort, unpleasant and tense situation in the subject and among the subjects, which can lead to violence and homicide. In a context of high competitiveness in which only its destructive effects are seen - and this is put always a spectacle - one can be led to an attitude of absence of necessary confrontation at the root of the conflict itself and of solving the problem in question.


Throughout human history, the quest to overcome conflicts goes hand in hand with the conflict itself. Just as the deliberative process of democracy, which aims at conditions of mutual cooperation, seeks to overcome conflicts through the interaction of conflicting interests in the public debate, the family, in any case in westernized societies, is more horizontal and democratized today than in its hierarchical and vertical form of a not-too-distant past, it is challenged, as an agent subject, ethical subject, to find ways to face and overcome conflicts and tensions, both new and old, in a negotiable way, present in their relationships. Therefore, it is necessary to rediscover the positivity of conflicting relational dynamics, or the positive aspect of the conflict itself, and its constructive and functional character in an attitude of cooperation. This means that the conflict itself has the capacity to resolve the tension between the contrasting factors, providing well-being and not only discomfort as one usually tends to think. The effort to resolve the conflict goes through a third way, which implies the acceptance of the existence of a certain polarity, taking into account that the needs of the human being have a certain antinomy. This antinomy needs to be accepted in order to avoid a division between the poles, favoring one more over the other. It is, therefore, a matter of accepting the dilemma to find a possible way out of the impasse. It is easy to see that in the midst of family crises of all kinds, which mark the history of a family, all kinds of conflicts are present. The crisis and the conflict have this aspect of positivity in common, insofar as they enable common learning, mutual growth, and a relational maturation in favor of generative bonds.


Conflict or conflicts, in particular those among family members, involve the dynamism of passions (pathos). Just remember that stressful situations caused by uncertainty regarding the post-pandemic future can trigger fear, sadness, anger, which, when influencing the way of acting in the family, can, depending on how these passions are managed, cause serious relational difficulties within the family. On the other hand, if administered with a good dose of rationality (logos), which obviously requires that a path of growth of emotional maturity has been made or that a path of growth of emotional maturity is being made, conflicts allow an opening to seek what is just to be accomplished (ethos). In fact, family relationships raise the possibility of acquiring the capacity to manage bonds both in terms of feelings, in particular those that are more reflective, such as trust and hope among its members, and that of justice, expressed by loyalty, fidelity, responsibility, reciprocity, etc., permeated by tense and conflicting moments. This implies knowing how to deal with the condition of the contemporary human being, who tends to decompose the constitutive elements of the human experience, fragmenting and, sometimes, dividing the experience of rationality, affectivity and ethics.


The conflict is not equated only with the coercive force of the law, in a movement from the outside, by the State entity, to the interior of the people and their families. This is configured in a momentary solution to provide the containment of the passions involved in conflicting relationships, which, in addition, reinforces a certain passivity of the family, seen as an object and not fully assumed as a subject. To take care of the relational space, valuing family and family actions, something more is required to deal with conflicts. An inner ethical transformation is required that anthropologically bases the application of the law itself. The social and ethical reflexivity of the family, which makes it a subject, has an importance that is still little or not explored here, and can be adequately developed by the family itself, by society and by the States.


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