Conflict has many dimensions, some of which are easily recognisable and some not. The following story illustrates how conflict resides within and around us, spreading like wildfire, if given a chance. The story also reveals how weak and vulnerable conflict can be, for it can be extinguished by simple thought.
The Journey up Mount Teide
“Conflict is a state of mind.”
One bright Sunday morning, two sixteen-year-old boys, Peter and Abdul started their journey up the great Teide. The two boys were close friends and enjoyed each other's company. Peter came from a devout Christian background and Abdul was a modern-day Muslim. Both boys studied at a British independent school, set in the heart of a Spanish-speaking community. Peter and Abdul enjoyed living in the midst of a variety of cultures. They loved nature and also enjoyed debating and searching for deep, philosophical meanings that could be found in simple little things. In fact, they loved to argue with each other about anything and everything!
Peter said to Abdul, “I watched the news last night and saw how those Islamic terrorists blew up an office building in Oklahoma City. It was horrible! The building was torn apart and so many people were injured or killed. Abdul, you are a Muslim. Tell me, why do your people like to do such things?”
Abdul, who was not pleased with the question replied, “Peter, I watched the news too and I felt very sad to see the devastation. The newscaster said that Islamic terrorists were suspected of having committed the atrocity, even though no one had been caught nor had anyone claimed responsibility. How do we know that it was Islamic terrorists who did that? Whoever these people are, they are ruthless and dangerous. But, branding them as Islamic, Christian or Jewish terrorists is not fair.”
Peter replied, “Yes Abdul, I was hasty in jumping to the conclusion that it was the work of Islamic terrorists. I was quick to believe the opinions of the newscasters. I am sorry to have branded you and your fellow Muslims as terrorists. I should have known better, for I have learned much from your father about peace and compassion. I apologise for making that remark. But, I still wonder why anyone would want to do such a thing?”
Abdul replied, “It is conflict that causes people to commit such acts. These people, who we call sick, actually live in pure conflict, which causes them to express their feelings through acts of terrorism. You see, Peter, conflict exists in all of us, but in Oklahoma City, we witnessed its most extreme expression. The tragic part is that so many lives were lost in the process. This may breed anger, hatred and fear amongst the families and friends of the victims, which in turn will create new conflicts.”
Peter in his usual understanding way said, “Conflict is a bad thing. It is like a virus. It breeds, multiplies and spreads, infecting all those that come in its way! Until today, I had never really thought about conflict. I have heard the word many times, but it never really meant much to me. I often associated the word conflict with war or battle. But, Abdul, you have raised an interesting point about how terrorists live in a state of pure conflict in their minds. So, conflict can also be a state of mind, can't it?”
Abdul replied, “I am not an expert on these matters but I do believe that conflict is purely a state of mind. It is something that causes us to take a negative view towards people, situations, events and everything. I mean, things like anger, greed, jealousy, frustration, hatred and revenge are all negative and destructive elements that fuel conflict in so many different directions. These elements make us focus on the bad or dark side of things. Conflict resides in our minds and if we let it grow without control, it brings out the worst in us.”
Peter then said, “You see Abdul, conflict always starts somewhere. It is born and it spreads. For example, I know you don't like to talk about this, but think about Yasmin, the girl of your dreams. You would do anything for her, wouldn't you? But the harder you try to win her love, the further away she pushes you. Then, there is that little weasel Sam, who is half her size, horizontally challenged and ugly, and he gets to go out with her! Doesn't that make you mad?”
Poor Abdul, who cared for Yasmin so much, had to agree with his friend. He said, “I have liked Yasmin since the time we were in kindergarten. Sometimes, I feel that because I push too hard, she gets scared and backs away. As much as I like to call Sam a weasel, he is not one. He is not a bad person. But, there are times when I get very angry because I feel that he is stealing the most precious thing in my life. I have often resisted the temptation of decorating his round little face with two black eyes! But, what good would that do? It would breed conflict between him and me, as well as between Yasmin and me. Then, who knows, Yasmin might never be my friend again!”
Peter then said, “Oh yes, and don't forget Sam's big brother who looks like a three-hundred-pound gorilla. He would make mashed potatoes out of you!”
Abdul replied, “Then my brother Samir would take on his brother, and can you imagine what would happen?”
Peter remarked, “You see, conflict can spread very fast. Soon, our parents would get involved and who knows where it would all end up? We would all be mad at each other for a very long time! I wonder if the people who blew up the Oklahoma City building were actually ordinary kids like you and me at one time. I wonder if they allowed conflict to grow and spread within and around them.”
Abdul replied, “Of course they were kids like you and me, but there must have been circumstances in their lives that gave birth to their conflicts. Peter, you and I have been taught how to avoid conflict. Unfortunately, these people did not have the good fortune of recognising this. Whilst each conflict in their lives may have started on a small scale, they allowed it to escalate into a raging forest fire, which in turn brought catastrophe to those poor victims on the TV. Is it fair that so many innocent people had to die because these individuals allowed their conflicts to spiral out of control?”
Peter remarked, “You see Abdul, it is not always easy to understand the plight of the terrorists. They may have been born and raised under injustice or oppression. They and their families may have been subjected to violence at a tender age. They may have had nowhere to turn to, nor have had anyone to hear their grievances. I really do believe that no one is born a killer or a terrorist. People become terrorists as a result of conflicts, sometimes of their own making and sometimes for reasons beyond their control.
Peter continued, “However, the good news is that conflict is a state of mind. So we should be able to erase it if we choose to, because it is not real. From what I can see, conflict reminds me of the science class in which Mr. Dorkus taught us about atomic fission. One atom splits into two, which then split into four, then sixteen, and so on.”
With a frown on his face, Abdul commented, “I wish you wouldn't call Mr. Currie a 'Dorkus'. He is a great teacher. While you obviously weren't totally attentive in class it was nuclear fission we learned about, not atomic fission though you are right about the numbers growing exponentially.”
Peter replied, “Same difference! But, my point is that conflict multiplies itself very quickly, on an exponential scale. That is probably why nuclear weapons work so well!”
Abdul then said, “You see Peter, even though conflict can spread quickly, it can also be stopped just as easily if one acts in time. If you end conflict at its source, how can it multiply? If I love Yasmin and keep trying to win her over with my love, rather than resorting to physical violence with Sam, then our brothers and parents would not need to get involved and this conflict would fail to escalate. So, Peter, I am the master of my own conflicts. I have power over them. I can stop them with a simple thought!”
Peter replied, “But that simple thought is very difficult to accept because every bone in your body wants to have that weasel Sam taken out of your way permanently! Yet, you are right, because if you can control your emotions and thoughts, then your conflicts die.”
Abdul and Peter continued their climb up the beautiful Mount Teide. They were both silent for a while, reflecting upon their conversation, which was a powerful one for 16-year-olds. However, since both of them came from families where higher thinking was always encouraged, their view of the world was very different from most boys of their age.
After a while they came to a fast-moving stream that flowed into a large pond of water where its speed was completely lost. They decided to take a short break, fascinated by this phenomenon.
Peter said, “This stream flows so fast and yet after it has merged into the pond, it becomes completely quiet. That is interesting. It reminds me of our conversation about conflict. As you said Abdul, conflict is a state of mind. Therefore, it is internal. You can stop it with the way you think and the way you view everything. Here, this stream is like another dimension of conflict, which is external. It flows with a rage that erodes all the little things that come in its path. But then, as it enters the pond, it goes quiet. The conflict ends there. What do you make of that?”
Abdul replied, “My father often talks about mass consciousness. I like that expression. It sounds cool and intellectual!”
Peter interjected, “I am not kidding Abdul, and this is serious!”
Abdul replied, “Well, you see, the fast-flowing stream represents conflict that is external. It lives outside of the mind and it is growing through the actions of other people. It is gaining momentum. If it is allowed to continue, it could become a huge waterfall, like the Niagara Falls. But, instead, it enters the pond, where mass consciousnesses, or the collective thoughts of all people, are against conflict. Therefore, it loses its momentum and dies down. It becomes still. So, conflict can also be ended by mass consciousness.”
Peter then said, “That reminds me of the movie about the life of Mahatma Gandhi, in which the angry Indians wanted to fight and kill the British. They were like the stream, growing rapidly in conflict. Yet, the thin, little Gandhi brought about a shift in mass consciousness to non-violence. He caused the stream to come to a standstill in a lake (of consciousness). The British tried very hard to provoke the Indians into a conflict, but the Indians steadfastly resolved to avoid any kind of violence. In the end, through a peaceful battle, the Indians and non-violence won!”
Abdul, who was impressed with his friend's observation said, “Yes Peter, conflict can be eliminated simply by the way people think, either individually or as a group.”
The boys walked along the pond, which had become completely still at that point. Here, the water was pure and crystal clear. It reflected everything like a beautiful mirror. Abdul looked at the pond and saw the perfect reflection of his face in it. He continued, “Look at my reflection in the pond, Peter. When the water has become completely still, it has reached zero conflict. Now I can see my own face in it. Wonderful isn't it?”
Peter agreed, “Yes, Abdul, when the water is not calm, you cannot see yourself in it. Yet, once it stands still, you can see everything. It is like a treasure box that opens itself up to you!”
The two boys continued with their climb up the Teide. They crossed the barren lava rock fields, where nothing grew. Abdul pointed out, “Peter, can you imagine that at one time, this entire area was molten lava? It must have been spectacular! The lava must have flowed with serious rage, to form these huge boulders.”
Peter replied, “Yes, it must have been spectacular. It must have looked like pure conflict, a very long way away from the zero conflict in the pond! It is not surprising that nothing grows here anymore. Around the pond, there were trees, flowers, birds and everything. There was life. Yet here, there is nothing. It is barren. Nothing can grow from pure conflict.”
Finally the boys reached the peak of the Teide. They marvelled at the three hundred and sixty degree view of the island of Tenerife. They could also see the neighbouring islands of Gran Canaria and La Palma. Abdul said to Peter, “It is truly beautiful here, isn't it? There is a special sense of peace here. I feel like I am on top of the world!”
Peter replied, “I felt like I was on top of the world when I saw my reflection in the pond.”
Abdul remarked, “You see Peter, we have both found the top of the world but in two different places, even though we both saw the same things and places on our journey up the Teide. Yet, you are right and so am I. If we can respect that, how can there be any conflict?”
Both the boys looked down at the barren lava fields. Peter said, “That's what we must learn to avoid, for in the midst of conflict, nothing can ever grow.”
Then they looked at the ocean glittering in the sunshine and at the beautiful island of La Palma in the distance, standing amidst the waves like a majestic symbol of tranquillity. With a smile on his face, Abdul said, “That's what we must learn to discover.”
From the story of Peter and Abdul, we learn that conflict is a state of mind. It exists internally in our minds and externally through events and the actions of others. Conflict can be very powerful because it can spread quickly, given the right fuel. Yet, it can be equally weak, because we can eliminate conflict by simple thought and consciousness.
The subsequent chapters in this book cover practical ways of developing our thoughts and consciousness in a manner that leads us towards zero conflict, helping us to discover peace, happiness and fulfilment by relegating our daily pressures, stresses and negative emotions to a back seat. In the absence of these pressures and worries, we can think with clarity and solve our problems successfully. While solving problems is an important aspect of living, the greater dimension of our lives lies in discovering life itself, because life, in fact, is an exalted destiny. As we discover the wonders of life, we will be able to discover ourselves, which will lead us to enrichment, growth and success at all levels of our existence.
As we all learn about zero conflict and try to live our lives in accordance with this “state of being,” the world will become a better place, for us and for the future generations. As the famous saying goes, “A thousand-mile journey starts with a single step.” Let this book represent that first step in our lives, which will lead us through a journey of peace, fulfilment and self-discovery that we all deserve. Remember Peter's words, “Conflict is like a virus. It breeds, multiplies and spreads, infecting all that comes in its way.” Just as conflict has the power to spread and grow, so does zero conflict. Hence, the thousand-mile journey can be accomplished a lot quicker than we all think!