Choice, Change, and Conflict

by | Jun 29, 0202

In the midst of all the changes in the world, we are invited to make some new choices—collectively and individually. Unexpected changes bring us face to face with unexpected choices—to let go of certain assumptions and plans, to reframe cultural beliefs and “norms,” to examine what really matters, and why.

Making choices and making changes are inherently anxiety provoking, and rarely occur without some degree of conflict. In the world at large we’re witnessing a lot of conflict, but many of us are dealing with it at a personal level too. We are each in our ways dealing with anxiety, worry, pain, and fear related to experiences or observations of inner and outer conflict. These are natural human responses to anticipating change and choice.

I think about choice, change, and conflict a lot because they are so much a part of the writing life and telling stories, even in small or subtle ways. Just think: without that bit of inner conflict that arises when we want to write a book but haven’t done it yet, we wouldn’t choose to change our habits to get up early or stay up late to fit our writing in. And if we didn’t throw conflict in our characters’ paths by forcing them to make choices that lead to personal evolution through change, our stories wouldn’t get very far.

As messy as conflict can be, I respect its energy to pressure us to choose and thereby provoke change. And I also respect—or better yet, trust—our human ability to adapt to changing circumstances as well as our ability choose and forge new paths. It’s not easy to change. Not for us or for our story characters. We resist it as much as we long for it. We fear what we may lose, and we don’t trust we can successfully create what we long for, so we often stay stuck.

In the book I’m writing, I tell writers that their story situations “…must be compelling enough to overcome the inertia of being human. The truth is, we’d all rather not change because change is uncomfortable, inconvenient, anxiety-provoking, and often leads to real or imagined loss or even death, as well as changes to beliefs and personal world order. Of course, deep down, we do want to change. We, and our characters, just need the right set of circumstances and enough motivation to do it.”

We seem to be living through such circumstances now, but it’s still hard to know exactly what to do. As our identities and belief systems are being challenged, we are called to examine our mental and moral natures, which are capable of change, but require will, determination, and trust in a vision for a new way of being. I don’t have any answers for rallying that will, focusing that determination, or expanding that trust, except to embrace the clumsy, vulnerable messiness that the choice to change entails—and to have the courage to face the inner and outer conflicts.

Another passage in the book, which is about story characters but also applies to ourselves, seems to fit here: “Change is inherently conflictual whether it occurs on the inside or outside, but without it, we would not grow. We are wired to change. We are wired to evolve. We are wired to heal. And life—in the real version or the story version—provides us with invitation after invitation to rise to those challenges.” Collectively and individually, let’s accept these invitations…and rise.


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