Conflicts: Lessons from Beetle Bailey
Why would someone fling insults at you? For the past few weeks we have discussed eight different reasons and how to deal with each one (see INSULTS: A COMIC STRIP LOVER’S GUIDE).
Sometimes when people attempt to insult you, they are being clumsy at letting you know they have a conflict with you.
Here, it looks like Lt. Fuzz insults Sarge because he has a conflict with Sarge. That is, Lt. Fuzz has a desire that sergeants under his command are physically fit. Interfering with Lt. Fuzz’s desire is the fact that Sarge appears to be fat. Lt. Fuzz seems to think that Sarge is guilty of not keeping himself in solid fighting shape.
Notice that the first letters of the three conflict components (DESIRE, INTERFERENCE and GUILT) spell the word, “DIG.” The word “DIG” helps us to remember to DIG for the conflict by looking for the DESIRE, INTERFERENCE and GUILT.
If you are to become a master at dealing with name calling, insults and teasing, when someone is trying to insult you, you must prepare yourself so that you will be able to DIG to find out what the conflict is all about even under the stress of being bombarded with belittling comments. To become skillful at this takes some practice.
Last week’s post provided followers of this blog some practice for digging for the conflict by using a major conflict from the Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet (see post titled CONFLICTS: LESSONS FROM ROMEO AND JULIET). Today we will have some fun using some Beetle Bailey comics to sharpen our skills and to deepen our understanding about what it means to have a conflict.
As a fun way to develop the skill of coming up with conflict descriptions, please read the Beetle Bailey comic below and then see if you can describe from Sarge’s perspective the conflict he is having with Beetle in two sentences.
In formulating your two sentences, it is important to be aware that Sarge’s look of concern on his face when he hears Beetle’s stiff muscle excuse doesn’t figure to be genuine. Any regular reader of the Beetle Bailey comics knows that Beetle’s character, although lovable, is one of laziness and perpetual excuse- making.
Sarge, painfully aware of Beetle’s laziness, in all probability is acting concerned just to play along with the excuse, while at the same time, harassing Beetle until he gets to work.
With this in mind, there are several two-sentence conflict descriptions that people might provide here. Here’s an example that I like: Sarge desires that Beetle gets going but interfering with his desire, hears Beetle making an excuse to stay in bed. Because Sarge is aware that Beetle has a long history of being lazy, I’m guessing that he believes that if Beetle doesn’t get going he would be guilty of pretending to be injured to avoid his responsibilities.
Why do I like this description? It’s brief, and it’s consistent with the model of conflict we will be learning about on this blog—The DIG Conflict Model.
The Pattern for Describing Conflicts
The conflict statement we just used to describe Sarge’s apparent conflict with Beetle is in a form that doesn’t assure that a conflict exists; rather, it provides us a standard pattern that allows us to briefly describe the situation as best we can with each of the three conditions of a conflict in a familiar place. Once we form the statement, we can see better if a conflict does or does not exist, although we rarely can be absolutely certain.
When there are only two parties involved in a conflict, the pattern can be described as follows:
the other party involved and the interfering act.
The first two sentences are composed, as best you can, from Party A’s point of view. In composing these two sentences, you are to imagine that you are Party A, and you are doing the best that you can to briefly explain your position. We will be frequently using this two sentence pattern throughout this blog.
Being Specific is Good
If I was able to ask Sarge to briefly describe his conflict with Beetle, suppose he answered, “Beetle is acting like a jerk.” The fact that Sarge’s answer is brief is good. But Sarge’s answer just tells us that he doesn’t like some way that Beetle is behaving. Sarge’s answer would be more precise if his answer stated what specific act he desires and the specific act that is interfering with what he desires—i.e. gets going, versus stays in bed. His answer would be even more precise if it also provided enough information so that we understood that Sarge would view Beetle as guilty if Beetle carries out the act that would interfere with Sarge’s desire.
Conflicts and Problems
Whenever we discuss conflicts, it is important to make a distinction between conflicts and problems. To begin, every conflict contains a problem. The problem for Party A is how to achieve what he or she desires given the likelihood of someone acting in a way that prevents achieving the goal.
Although every conflict contains a problem, every problem is not a conflict. To illustrate this, let’s go back to the scenario involving Sarge and Beetle.
Earlier I made the case that one reason this is probably a conflict is that Sarge probably believes Beetle is just pretending to be unable to move so he can get out of work. Knowing Sarge from observing him over the years, I’m guessing he is very likely to think Beetle is guilty of shirking his responsibility of working hard even if he is a little sore. But let’s change this scenario a little. A doctor confirms to Sarge that Beetle has broken both of his legs. So you can vividly envision this, let’s say Beetle got his legs broken as a bomb went off in Afghanistan while he was trying to save several of his buddies.
Sarge, when he first hears Beetle can’t get going today, assumes that Beetle is just making up some excuse. Because of this assumption, Sarge believes he is about to engage Beetle in a conflict, but as soon as he sees a medic working on Beetle’s seriously mangled legs, he changes his mind.
Because Sarge no longer thinks Beetle is guilty of shirking his responsibility to get to work, he does not believe that in this situation he has a conflict with Beetle. Does this mean that Sarge no longer has a problem? Even if Sarge completely clears Beetle of any wrong doing, the work that he had desired Beetle to do still may need to get done. In some situations, this is so easily handled that no problem can be identified.
In the above two boxes, Sarge explains to his general that his outfit will be short-handed until a replacement can be assigned. Such a familiar routine for an experienced sergeant could not be categorized as a problem. But let us consider another example. Suppose the work that Beetle is assigned to do on the day his legs are injured involves repairing some jeeps that the general requires for an urgent mission. Now when Sarge realizes that Beetle is out of commission, he has to figure out how to still get the work done. This may be a fairly small problem or a very difficult one involving a great deal of stress.
As these variations on the Beetle Bailey scenario illustrate, even if a conflict suddenly disappears, a problem may still be left in its wake. The problem may be somewhat smaller than the one contained in the original conflict, about the same, or more serious. A problem becomes a conflict when Party A perceives that the other party would be guilty of doing something wrong if he or she carries out the incompatible act.
A Conflict, to Exist, Must Refer to Something that will Occur in the Future
Imagine Beetle getting a punch in his skinny nose.
For some, the act of getting punched is enough to declare that a conflict exists. The punch, they say, is the conflict. But if that’s so, why not just view the punch as a punch and nothing else? What does the concept of a conflict add to the punch? Hmmm.
Consider what would happen if you got punched by Sarge, and a fraction of a second later Sarge suddenly grasps his chest, screams in agony, falls to the floor, turns white, and dies of a heart attack? Would you believe you have a conflict with Sarge? Most people, under this set of circumstances, would answer, “NO.” A proper definition of a conflict must account for this.
In the DIG Conflict Model, the cause of the conflict is not that you were hit, but rather that you perceive the existence of all three conflict conditions.
One of these conflict conditions is—Party A perceives that the other party is likely to act in a manner that is incompatible with the desire. If you got hit by Sarge and then Sarge suddenly dies, under this set of circumstances why are you unlikely to view yourself as having a conflict with Sarge? The DIG Conflict Model makes the reason evident. If Sarge dies, you no longer have any reason to perceive Sarge is likely to hit you again.
Many people intuitively understand this. That’s why you will often hear people who find themselves in a situation that appears to be developing into a conflict quickly declare that the interfering act was an accident and the behavior won’t happen again. Such people understand that if they can convince Party A that the interfering act that has already occurred wasn’t intentional and therefore should not be perceived as a signal that it will happen again, no conflict will be perceived.
When we summarize a conflict, it helps us to think of the word, DIG. This reminds us to dig for the desire, the interfering act and the guilt.
All conflicts contain a problem. But NOT all problems are conflicts.
A conflict, to exist, must refer to something that will happen in the future.
Well, that’s your lesson for today. Have a splendid week.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.