“There is some good in the worst of us, and some bad in the best of us. When we discover this, we become less prone to hating our enemies” once deliberated Martin Luther King jr, a key figure in the American Civil rights movement, and a man that constantly strived for equality in racial-fuelled disputes, a key aspect of that being understanding when to and when not to engage in such dissension. His teaching can be instilled into the majority of conflicts faced in day-to-day life, and how crucial the choice can be when deciding whether or not to interfere.
Many people adopt the ‘avoid conflict at all costs’ stance, removing themselves from any discord no matter how large the consequences may be. Admirable as it may be to some, to completely avoid confronting conflict without first evaluating the seriousness of it is simply cowardice, and a complete disregard for the ingrained ethical code branded into humans. Some disputes are so significant, perhaps proving to be seminal for the development of history that neglecting involvement in them could be detrimental for, depending on the scale, mankind or as narrow as personal failure.
Like many countries penetrated by colonial influences, Australia’s history has been marred by its handling the indigenous, the rightful owners of the land, and the failure to engage in the dispute by major governmental figures left a stain on the development of a nation that preaches equality and liberty. Sometimes, engaging in conflict doesn’t even mean expressing despotic actions on others as it is so often associated with, but instead could be as simple as confronting a home truth that was growing in significance as time went by, as is seen in the story of Vincent Lingiarri, member of the Aborigine tribe the Gurundji.
As portrayed in Paul Kelly’s ballad “From Little things, Big things Grow”, Lingiarri and fellow members of his tribe worked on Wave Hill cattle station for an “English lord Vestey”. Yet the false claiming of sacred Aboriginal land propelled Vincent to lead a workers strike at “Wattie Creek” in August 1966, where the song depicts Lingiarri defiantly declaring to the English “We’re sitting right here/ Til we get our land”.
Despite the valid plea to remove the terra ullis or ‘land of no-one’ brand from the country and return portions of it back to the original inhabitants, the Australian government refused to involve themselves, and looked the other way, hoping the issue would sort itself out. “Eight long years of waiting” transpired of defiant protest from the Gurundji, and despite Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s attempt at reconciliation, in which the iconic image of the white man passing the vibrant red earth into the leathery, black palm of Lingiarri was taken, it wasn’t until the Mabo decision of 1992 that the land was returned to the rightful owners.
This gap of 26 years of pure ignorance and callousness has permanently stained the history of the proud country, due to the inability of the supposed leaders of the country to reconcile, and engage in conflict that they preferred to leave alone. Yet dispute between the Aborigines and the settlers have always been present, as seen in Kate Grenville’s didactic novel “The Secret River”, as she loosely explores the brutal perforation of English Colonists in the later 18th century.
In her historical fiction, Grenville explores protagonist William Thornhill escape from a brutal, industrialized London to seek a new life in the apparently greener pastures of Australia’s east coast. Yet upon arrival, Thornhill discovers tension to be nigh in the desolate land, and a fear of the unknown permeates the frightened arrivees, as he admits that despite owning a hundred acre property, it “no longer felt quite his own”.
His inner drive to provide unconditional safety for his wife and children ultimately pushes his into a state of immorality, as he complies with the group mentality and participates in the massacre of the Aborigines, failing to heed Blackwood’s thought that to coexist with the natives, one must “give a little, take a little”. While William does engage in conflict, it is the greater of two evils. Had he strayed from the norm, resisted the urge to keep all that he wanted and sided with Blackwood to protect the Aborigines, it would be the desired outcome for his inner being.
Yet he conforms, aids in the mobs mass murders and the fate of his character is set to be defeated, his avoidance of the larger conflict at hand leaving him with the misunderstanding “why it did not feel like triumph”, and the loss of his youngest son Dick who “would not” look him in the eye anymore. As Thornhill discovers, the easy option to take, the one that only benefits a minority will prove to be the one that renders people worthless, yet it is the harder option, the one that will pave the way for others that will prove the strength of the mettle in one’s being.
In the face of dissension, how one performs offers insight into their moral code, and should they resist the ill-fated temptations of easiness and self-satisfaction, they will end out on top. In conflict, the old adage “the pen is mightier than the sword” often proves to be true. Gao Xingjian, a Nobel Prize winner for Literature operated in a tense Chinese climate polluted by Communism, which he described as “question of survival… The atmosphere was so poisoned. People even in your own family could turn you in”.
His statement proved to be truthful, as when writing allegorical accounts of the toxic environment he lived in, he was forced to burn a suitcase of manuscripts during the ironically titled Cultural Revolution out of fear of prosecution, as art was seen to be a threat to the Communist concept. The sane thing to do, the simple thing to do was to stop his controversial pieces, yet he opposed this, and continues to wage his dispute with his own country and fled to France to continue writing stories of brave heroes fighting against a prejudicial and ignorant political system that still subjugates 2 billion people.
Thus his courageous dedication to the occupation he loves, feeling obligated to provide the world with information on the oppressive times as he believed “under the mask of fiction the truth can be told”, a belief that Grenville acutely followed. The admiration of the one that stands up against the burning tension of conflict is magnified, especially in the case of Bant Singh, a man whose courage, trepidation and loyalty should be shared with everyone to display true morality.
Singh, an Indian farmer from the Dalit tribe, commonly looked upon as less than dirt to the hierarchal social system of India, fought against forces seemingly unstoppable for familial love, demonstrating how conflict must be addressed in some circumstances. When his 14 year old daughter was raped by two wealthy landlords, Bant did not do as many Dalit’s before him would have done, accepted the monstrosity and moved on. Yet he did stand up, and went for legal action against the two men. They quickly offered him a bribe that would secure the financial future of the family, yet he refused, advocating e would “not put a price on [his] daughter’s honor”.
Days later, Bant was set upon by men with axes and steel rods, who attempted to beat him to death. Yet he made it to hospital, where gangrene took both of his legs and left arm. Sing saw the two men responsible go to jail for life; his war waged proving successful as justice was restored and the social separation in the country is beginning to wane. Singh’s battle is testament to the fact that not every fight can be ignored; some are so imminent that they must be addressed or the results will linger and effect future circumstances.
Conflict, the consuming beast will continue to claim the souls of those who cannot persevere its burning glare. Yet those who oppose it, confront it with the correct intentions will be exposed as true heroes of human society, as Bant Singh will forever be. As legendary war general Napoleon Bonaparte once promoted “The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know”, summising that those who avoid dissension that must be addressed will never be respected.