“Conflict Can Be Character Building”
“Character building” is such a common phrase and has become a cliche designed to put a positive spin on painful experiences. While it is true to say that conflict is an inevitable aspect of life, it is not true to say that it always results in “building” people. In fact in some cases it tragically destroys them. While novelists and filmmakers, in particular, build a plotline which neatly introduces conflict, complications and crisis points which always lead to a positive resolution, real life doesn’t work that way. Stand by Me neatly follows this pattern, while real life conflicts such as friendship rifts, religious rivalries and political unrest may never be resolved and destroy many lives. Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me portrays conflict through its narrator and protagonist’s reflections of an important journey he took when he was twelve.
It was a journey that helped him confront some of his own internal conflicts regarding the loss of his brother, grief and his relationship with his grieving parents. It also explored the personal conflicts of his peer group and their own internal struggles as well as the conflict they had with family and a rival “gang”. While Gordy’s “victory” in finding the body and standing up to Ace is a crisis point in which he emerges as a hero, we are aware that there are still conflicts that have been overlooked in the focus on the one experience.
The other characters are glossed over as they return to their unhappy and dysfunctional homes and so too is the fact that the threat of retribution from their rivals. The film is tied up with a content Gordy who conveniently became the writer his older brother always told him he was, had a nice home and happy relationship with his own son and has memories of “friendship” to cherish. But we need to focus on the most tragic conflict from which his friend Chris does not survive. “He was stabbed in the throat; he died almost instantly. Although I hadn’t seen him for more than 10 years, I know I’ll miss him forever.”
Group conflict is a reality most of us experience on a regular basis.It comes in many forms.It can be about friendship groups, family feuds, school or institutional authority, gang supremacy, sporting, political, religious or racial rivalries in the extreme state of outright war. Individuals and groups do clash. Sometimes the conflicts are accepted as differences that will never change while other times they ignite violent reactions. Even bullying is seen as a conflict and for those who are truly affected by bullying and inturn suffer a life long struggle with mental health and self esteem-these people do not ‘build character’ whatever person they were has been destroyed. Instead of the polite, outgoing person-a new, changed character has come about and with it is drugs, self harm and eating disorders. Australia has seen many refugees and asylum seekers risking life and limb to reach our shores in an effort to escape conflict.
We know that may of them don’t make it – many losing lives at sea and others scarred by the trauma of loss and their journeys. Our community has opened itself to many of the “lucky” ones who do make it here and yet they will tell you that the conflict in their lives haven’t “built” them but harmed them. Some have confessed that they will never recover, haunted by their experiences every day is a struggle. They don’t look back and say they are glad for the conflict as it gave them an opportunity to “build character”.
Many people fear conflict with others but fail to consider the harm internal conflict has on them. There is an acceptance in dealing with or being concerned about conflict with others and internal conflicts still seem to be an issue most people are ashamed to acknowledge, much less discuss. True to its name they keep it all internal and wage a struggle on the inside.Internal conflict leads many to suffer silently on a daily basis and rather than build their character it can absolutely warp them and even break them.
Depression, substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) as well as self harm, risky behaviours and suicide are all results of internal struggles that have not ended in “building” but instead ruining character. “Dealing with one young person’s sexual orientation was such an internal conflict that he turned to drugs and ended up a completely different personality who sadly overdosed. Friends and family just couldn’t understand why it ended so tragically.”- It is not an uncommon story.
Character building happens in many ways. Ultimately, It happens through experience, growth, education, love, relationships, travel and support – to name a few. It is wrong to assume that true character growth can only happen with painful experiences and conflicts. It may be the case that sometimes a conflict teaches us a great deal and can contribute another layer to our character, but it is also more often the case that conflict can start a chain of events that ends in tragedy and has a destructive effect on an individual or groups of people which can even reverberate for generations.