The way we describe something is often the way it become for us.
For example, "Old" has become "historic." People don't "lie," they "spin." No one "tortures" people, but they do use "enhanced interrogation techniques." There is no "estate tax," but there is a "death tax." "End of life counseling" has become "death panels." "Greed" is "good." "Eliminating jobs" is "right sizing." And no country is actually "waging war." Rather, each country is "defending the peace."
We're not yet at the George Orwell level where, as he wrote in his book 1984 , " War is peace . Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." However, the way we use language does often dictate how we think and how we think influences how we behave.
Take conflict. If you look in the Third Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, you'll see it defined as "a state of open, often prolonged fighting; a battle or war."
But is it "a battle or war?" And does it have to be "prolonged?" Could it be that describing conflict with these words actually makes it so?
There's a wonderful scene in the 1987 movie Cry Freedom about the anti apartheid movement in South Africa. Denzel Washington plays Steven Biko, an anti apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Biko was ultimately arrested and, after a severe beating, died in police custody.
In a courtroom scene in the movie, Biko is questioned by one of the government prosecutors. The prosecutor accuses Biko of fomenting violence and the following exchange occurs:
Biko: Our movement seeks to avoid violence.
Prosecutor: But your own words call for direct confrontation
Biko: You and I are now in confrontation but I see no violence.
Confrontation is not violence and conflict is not "a war or battle" and it does not have to be "prolonged."
I suggest you describe conflict as nothing more than "the existence of a disagreement." Describing conflict in this way offers two possibilities:
First, you may want to avoid a "war or battle" (who wouldn't?), But you should welcome disagreements. Indeed, our growth and development depends on it.
Learning and growth are only possible when there is a disagreement. It's only when someone says to us, "I disagree," that we have the opportunity to examine our thoughts and behavior and to learn from that examination. A situation in which everyone is in agreement may be pleasant, but it's not one that will lead to progress and creativity.
Second, disagreements can be resolved quickly if people involved in the disagreement will give up the need to be right, listen for understanding and seek a creative solution that meets everyone's needs. No one in a disagreement is right or wrong. Forget right and wrong. In fact, using the words "right" and "wrong" will prevent resolution of the disagreement. After all, if I believe I'm "right" and you're "wrong," there's no reason for me ever to agree with you.
This does not suggest that you give up your belief in what's "right." There are, of course, situations where you will simply "agree to disagree." However, even these situations don't have to be a "war or battle" or "prolonged" if you will simply clearly state your refusal to budge and move on.
So choose carefully the words you use to describe your disagreements. Describing conflict as nothing more than a disagreement creates the possibility for growth, development and a quick resolution.