Friends are the people we want to be around. But it is not always that easy, it’s not all about a smooth road which veers to our every whim. Because maybe, friendship is fundamentally about conflict.
I want to do something. Someone else wants to do something else. We search for harmony in our relationships, but the life we live pays testament that it is conflict and not harmony that usually wins the day.
It can be mundane, it can be trivial, it can be easy and it can be hard. It could be what to do with a final Saturday in the summer sun. Or maybe who we include in certain activities.
The practicalities will often be verbalised, the differences clear. But many of the areas of conflict will go unspoken, they will simmer under the surface. We will continue as though there is no disagreement, that everything is hunky dory.
But I am committed to getting through it. And I am determined to not let my tendency for isolation to let me flee from challenging situations.
I’ve been away with my friends a couple of times over the summer and each time the fun and harmony was sprinkled with a dose of conflict. And perhaps I was more to blame than most for the disruption. While I may not have handled the specific situations particularly well, they did cause me to think about how much space we allow for conflict in our friendships.
There’s a memorable line in the film “Good Will Hunting” when Sean is telling Will about his relationship with his wife: ‘The little idiosyncrasies that only I know about: that’s what made her my wife. Oh she had the goods on me too, she knew all about my little peccadilloes. People call these things imperfections, but they’re not. Ah, that’s the good stuff.’
We think that the best a relationship can be is one with complete harmony and an absence of problems. This simply misses the point. We live in a world where relationships are broken and we are fuelled by selfishness and greed. If our pursuit of relationships, both romantic and platonic does not take this into account we will end up both disappointed and spurred on to build a facade of perfection that does not exist.
Maybe because we have a certain intentionality in romantic relationships we accept the need to ‘get through conflict’, but even this misses the point that it is a never ending challenge. Things do not get better once you’ve argued and made up once. But in friendships there is rarely the acknowledgement of the need for hard graft.
It also seems a bit too eager, to go into a group of friends and start off the conversation. And you can come across as the fun police, especially if you want to say something unpopular. But sometimes these things need to be said, there needs to be room for the dissenting opinion to be voiced. Because it is just in the circumstances that it is not given space that peer pressure takes its toll. When other people are doing something or saying something and you just go along for the ride.
There’s two different categories of conflict here, there are those which are based on subjective preferences, where some form of compromise needs to be found between people with myriad different opinions and views. There’s often not a solid right or a wrong thing to be done. Should we go to the beach or the park on a sunny day?
But there is a second category, and within the church sometimes we consider ourselves exempt from this. We live under the assumption that in our interaction with the wider world we have to be on our guard against temptation, but among our church friends all is fine.
I think I am more tempted to behave in a manner dishonouring to God around Christians. Maybe it is because I don’t take such care, but also because to suggest that something is wrong is not only about my beliefs and values, but I am explicitly questioning theirs.
So how do we create the space for these kind of conversations to take place? How do we let ourselves be challenged when we are behaving in an inconsiderate way, are we too protective of being in the right that we squash any challenges before they are spoken?