Ewan Aitken: Conflict is normal – what matters is how you deal with it

Christmas is not always a happy time for families. Picture: Getty
Christmas is not always a happy time for families. Picture: Getty
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It is an old truth that Christmas, often one of the happiest times for families can, at the same moment, become one of the saddest. The festivities can be when family relationships are nurtured or are broken, often over the simplest of things. There are lots of reasons why good times become bad experiences, many triggers and a multitude of versions of what really happened and why. But the outcome – fractured families and broken hearts – is a heavy human cost.

Part of the problem is the Scottish culture of conflict; where violence is seen as the answer to even the simplest of disagreements and the need to “win” arguments makes disagreements a competitive sport. Our blame-based approach to politics and our sectarian divides and tribal approach to the way we live doesn’t create space for approaching debate as the Dalai Lama suggested. He said: “When we talk, we are only repeating what we already know. But when we listen, we may learn something new”

Scotland’s culture of conflict is the context in which around 4500 young people a year in Scotland, (that’s around four high schools-worth) becoming homeless due to relationship breakdown at home. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg with many more families struggling with arguments and conflict behind closed doors – and nowhere to turn.

As Scotland’s only national resource centre in this field, Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) works to help young people and their families and the professionals working with them by promoting best practice in mediation, conflict resolution and early intervention. We want to help folk understand that disagreement is not a failure – and that what matters is learning how to deal with it constructively.

To help young people and parents manage their experience of conflict the SCCR delivers a range of events and resources, including free seminars, national conferences, training sessions across Scotland, and online resources for practitioners, young people and families. http://scottishconflictresolution.org.uk/ There are also forums and online support from trained mediators.

To help encourage folk to turn their experiences of conflict into an opportunity, the SCCR is running its #StopTalkListen campaign, asking people to tell others their top tips to resolving conflict via social media using #StopTalkListen hashtag at www.scottishconflictresolution.org.uk/stop-talk-listen/.

This Christmas, you can give a very special gift by telling your story of conflict and how you managed your way through it, helping others find a way through their disagreements by discovering that they are not alone; that conflict is normal, and what matters is how we deal with it. Happy Christmas.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Cyrenians