Imagine an elephant in a room.

Larger than the average car and about as heavy as one. Definitely more difficult to wash. It lifts its tail up occasionally to deposit a large blob of dung onto the expensive Persian carpet it stands on.

Now imagine someone you have a disagreement with, and that they are standing in the room with you, on either side of the elephant. I know, I know, this is a rather literal interpretation of the phrase “elephant in the room” (idiom. a problem or difficult issue that is very obvious, but is ignored for the convenience or comfort of those involved. [citation needed]), but bear with me, please.

In almost all fields of human interest, there seems to be an inevitable period of clash and a good deal of knocking about before the dust settles. At the risk of stating the obvious, clashes come about due to differences of opinion between different people, or groups of people. These clashes are easy to resolve when there exists a hierarchy which allows disputes to be settled by a higher authority. But, in the real world, does this actually “settle” a dispute for good? Nope. There is no way to fully resolve a disagreement without dialogue between the opposing parties, and a compromise that allows them to find a middle ground on which both, or all, of them agree.

However, when the field of interest is relatively new, there is, in fact, no “right” way in which things need be done. This is both good and bad — good, because it allows for experimentation and new ideas to be introduced. Bad, because it makes resolving conflicts that much more difficult, as each person involved has widely varying points of view.

Every person is entitled to their own point of view, which may seem illogical or baseless to others, but makes perfect sense seen in the light of their sum life experience. It is this point of view that influences them in taking a stance on a certain issue. This also means that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to look at something, just different points of view and how much they are similar to, or different from, each other. Based on varying life experiences, some people may have diametrically dissimilar points of view. Tolerance for difference of opinion also varies; some may accept an almost completely different opinion from their own, while others may not be able to see any point of view other than their own. The ability of a person to have and express a point of view also varies, from being a total yes-man or disagreeing with someone on all points regardless of their actual opinions, to having a healthy level of disagreement with someone with whom they otherwise share similar opinions with.

So how are conflicts resolved? And how can they be avoided?

My opinion (completely my own, and I don’t want to force it down anyone’s throats) is this: conflicts are inevitable, and a necessary condition for growth. Each and every conflict is nothing but an opportunity for both parties, and the area of interest itself, to grow. With each disagreement, more voices are accommodated, and the field itself becomes more accommodating. There is no use in trying to avoid conflict, and the longer it is put off, the greater harm it causes to everyone involved. Besides, it also is a test of whether the field will be able to thrive and endure, if it can survive a clash between two of its proponents. On the other hand, this does not mean that every disagreement is necessary, either. Sometimes, all that is required is a healthy dose of perspective. Is what you wish to argue about really that important? Will it be good for the people who will be affected by this? If this is the case, then well and good. Otherwise, it might be worth while rethinking whether voicing your difference of opinion is really necessary.

However, if you are convinced that your difference of opinion is completely valid, you can do whatever you damn well please.

One common factor between opposing factions in an organisation, or field, or whatever, seems to be a reluctance to openly acknowledge that there, in fact, exists a difference of opinion. Instead, they do whatever they intended to do in the first place, while at the same time waging a cold war, and/or subtly (not so subtly) making their disagreement with the other camp known. To what ends this is done is hard to make out. After all, coming back to our metaphor: the elephant exists. No amount of wishing it away or pretending it does not exist can make it go away. The only way to remove it is to acknowledge the existence of the elephant and cooperate with each other in taking it out of the room. And sometimes, the only way to take it out is by admitting to your own shortcomings, accepting mutual differences, and using each others’ strengths to your own common advantage.

I’m not saying it’s necessary to take the elephant out of the room. After all, maybe both of you actually like the elephant in the room. Maybe taking it out will tear down the room. Maybe the logistics of taking the elephant out are absolutely horrendous compared to leaving the elephant where it is. But in most cases, there is little doubt that taking the elephant out will be beneficial to both parties in the room with the elephant. Not the least because elephant dung stinks.

Everything that’s ever been written about human relationships and society seems to be akin to a car that goes fifty kilometres forward and then fifty kilometres backwards. You get back to your starting point at the cost of a few litres of petrol. What has been said does not necessarily apply in a specific situation, because not all situations are the same and there might be circumstances that make your situation different from what has been discussed. However, just like the car trip, where you see things you wouldn’t have seen otherwise when you go on it, even though you didn’t actually get anywhere; when you read something another person wrote, you get to see things from their point of view. What I say might seem completely pointless to you, or exactly the same as your own point of view, but when you read it, you have the opportunity to widen your own point of view, by looking at things from another perspective. You see things you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. On the internet, especially, you get to see perspectives you would never have come across otherwise, since no one knows where you come from, and whether you actually are a dog or not.

So, in conclusion? Please don’t engage in conflict, except when it is absolutely necessary. Please do try to accept others’ points of view, except when it is impossible to do so. Please do acknowledge the existence of a problem, except when doing so will cause more harm than otherwise. Thank you very much.

Addendum: Whatever I’ve said is probably redundant. Common sense should tell you as much, and probably much better than I have, here. Then why is it so difficult for disagreeing people to reach a compromise with each other?

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