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3 things that drive conflict and ways to find peace for each, professional mediator shares at BYU Education Week

Tension is a natural part of mortal life, Emily de Schweinitz Taylor points out during BYU Education Week. But it doesn’t need to grow into conflict or contention

PROVO, Utah — Conflict is when there are “differences that matter to one or more parties,” said Emily de Schweinitz Taylor, a certified mediator, during BYU Education Week on Tuesday, Aug. 22. Contention happens when there is conflict plus hostility. 

Peace is more than simply the absence of conflict or contention. The late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out that, “In the scriptures, peace means … an inner calm and comfort born of the Spirit that is a gift of God to all of His children, an assurance and serenity within a person’s heart.” (See “Peace Within,” April 1991 general conference.)

Taylor, in the class titled “Understanding the Root Causes of Conflict in Order to Make Peace,” pointed to three things that can cause conflict and ways to help resolve them — and to choose peace.

During the April 2023 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson, President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, invited all to be peacemakers. 

“As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to be examples of how to interact with others — especially when we have differences of opinion. … The Savior’s message is clear: His true disciples build, lift, encourage, persuade and inspire — no matter how difficult the situation. True disciples of Jesus Christ are peacemakers,” President Nelson said. 

President Russell M. Nelson speaks during April 2022 general conference
President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the Sunday morning session of the 192nd Annual General Conference on April 3, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

What drives or causes conflict 

The primary driver of conflict is “perceived or real incompatible goals,” Taylor said. These show up mainly in contested resources, incompatible values and incompatible roles. 

1. Contested resources: When resources are scarce, people want to protect themselves. Remember in the onset of COVID-19 restrictions, and things like toilet paper were hard to get?

“If there’s limited resources, we tend to compete,” she said. 

2. Incompatible values: One place values can appear incompatible is in politics. On the surface, different political parties can appear to be different and not share the same values. However, those in both parties may want to care for the poor, but have different ways of going about it. 

“If we buy into the idea that the values are too different, we often give up. We won’t try to actually find overlap. We have to be really careful,” Taylor said. 

3. Incompatible roles: Look no further than a sports game to see incompatible roles with varying power. Both competitors or teams want to win. Referees are tasked with enforcing the rules in a fair way for both sides.

“Mortality has some tension naturally woven into its fabric and you’re going to have to balance it,” Taylor said. There’s no quick answer or solution, she added. It’s weighing each possibility and working through it. 

Emily de Schweinitz Taylor stands at the front of a classroom at BYU next to a screen that has several definitions of peace.
Emily de Schweinitz Taylor teaches “Understanding the Root Causes of Conflict in Order to Make Peace” during 2023 BYU Education Week on Tuesday, Aug. 22. | Christine Rappleye, Church News

Choosing to create peace 

There is natural tension that occurs in life, but that doesn’t mean there has be conflict or contention, she said. Each person can choose to work toward peace.

Taylor pointed to three things to combat the three drivers of conflict: share of abundance, seek common ground and identifying with and playing for the same team.  

A woman points to a a projected image at the front of a classroom.
Emily de Schweinitz Taylor teaches “Understanding the Root Causes of Conflict in Order to Make Peace” during 2023 BYU Education Week on Tuesday, Aug. 22. | Christine Rappleye, Church News

1. Share of abundance: To shift from a perspective of scarcity to one of abundance she pointed to three points from Elder Wirthlin’s April 2006 general conference talk titled “The Abundant Life”: “Drink deeply of the living waters of the gospel of Jesus Christ”; “fill your heart with love”; and “with Heavenly Father’s help, create a masterpiece of your life.” 

Elder Wirthlin pointed out that these things don’t come “packaged and ready-made.” “The abundant life … is a magnificent journey that began long, long ages ago and will never, never end.”

2. Seek common ground: Develop skills of listening first without interrupting, seek to understand needs, share needs without blaming and focus on divine family ties, Taylor said. 

While people may not be able to agree, they can listen to each other to understand each others’ positions, she said.  

Go into a conversation with the attitude of  “I just want to understand where you’re coming from” and “not thinking of how you’re going to rebut them when it’s your turn. That’s a very different conversation,” Taylor said. 

3. Identify with and play for the same team: First, the two groups should be pursuing a common goal, from national unity during a conflict. Second, the groups are interdependent and must work together to fulfill the goal, such as a couple parenting together. Third, the groups need to have equal status. And fourth, there needs to be support from authority figures or institutions to reducing any hostility in groups. 

“It needs to be part of our culture that we bring people together,” Taylor said. 

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