A tweet went viral recently that said, “A couple sat in the booth behind me and one of them said, ‘You want to go ahead and talk about it now and get it over with?’ I haven’t been this excited in a long time.”
I believe this tweet reverberated on social media not only because many of us enjoy the thrill of juicy secrets — though that is part of it — but also because we are hungry for authenticity. So many conflicts remain hidden behind closed doors. I am in my late thirties, and the number of married peers whose marriages are struggling is astounding. The number of people suffering profoundly with mental health issues is astronomical. The number of people who feel miserable in their work, anxious about their finances and alienated from their community is flabbergasting. But most of that remains hidden, so when we get to overhear a couple at the next booth, we finally have a chance to see what we all know happens in the shadows.
The result of hiding conflict is the creation of a widespread veneer that everyone around us is doing great. The general perception that those around us are living their best lives, combined with the capitalist message that struggle is a moral failing, leads many of us to view conflict as a thing of great ugliness — something to be feared and avoided at all costs.
The family I grew up in had this view, and it has been a decades-long journey for me to reassess my relationship with conflict. The most useful approach I have found comes from the prophets of social justice and the mystics of liberating love, who I look to for spiritual guidance. The prophets demonstrate that conflict is an absolute requirement to achieve social or political change.
Frederick Douglass’s famous adage sums it up perfectly: “Power concedes nothing without demand.” Many of my fellow middle class, white Seattle progressives would do well to remember this, since I constantly hear critiques of the “confrontational style” of leaders like Councilmember Kshama Sawant, attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver and the movements in which they organize. While collaboration and compromise are often required to get policies written and passed in electoral politics, the prophets show that conflict is the appetizer and the incentive that propels the policy process to actually move forward, since those in power benefit from the status quo.
Meanwhile, the mystics show that big leaps in spiritual growth almost always come at a cost.
The mystical “dark night of the soul” is the space of emptiness and loneliness that mystics experience at some point in their lives. The “dark night” is a period of time where you must confront your demons, like Jesus did in the desert at the start of his ministry. Yet if one perseveres and approaches the struggle with honesty and integrity, one can emerge on the other side as a person reborn into a version of themselves that is more liberated and awake.
Read more of the Nov. 10-16, 2021 issue.