Is conflict necessary? And how long have humans thought about that problem? And is it a problem? Darwin, Freud, Kropotkin, Erikson and so many others have weighed in on the subject. Marvin Harris. Napoleon Chagnon. Fanon. Some of my favorite thinkers. Maybe everyone has weighed in on this one, or some version of it. Such as in the question: When is conflict necessary? Which in its very structure preempts the idea that we might not need it at all.
So, thinking about this, and having a bookcase full of experts positing their arguments on a multitude of conflict themes, you'd think I wouldn't have been surprised to hear my kids immersed in the debate. Actually talking it out.
The conflict, if I may be so bold, was that Big Brother wanted Little Sister to play He-Man with her, and she was holding out. They were sitting in their usual places at the kitchen table munching on their afternoon snack. Raw baby carrots, hummus to dip them in, and some fishies. Big Brother really wanted to play. Little Sister was being obstinate.
"Why do I always have to be Skeletor?" she complained.
Big Brother looked at her, struck to the core. He was He-Man. How could you argue that? It was a fact of nature. After all, Grandma had given him the action figures, not her. He was just inviting her to play. He argued to this effect.
"Well, why does there have to be a Bad Guy, anyway? Why can't we both be He-Man?" she persisted.
Big Brother was beside himself. Little Sister was clearly unclear on the concept. He then went into a stunningly lyrical portrayal of life on planet earth, the nature of storytelling, and the basic dynamics of the human condition. He even, as I recall, threw in the social life of the neon tetras in our 35 gallon fish tank, to punctuate his point. He actually used the words Protagonist and Antagonist. Our private school dollars at work. He was eight years old. She was four.
He explained to her that every story on planet earth had protagonists and antagonists. And that every game there was to play, had the same. It was a rule. There was good and there was evil. That's just how it worked. He gave example after example, laying down the foundation of his argument carefully. Using examples from her own experience to make his point. He was eloquent and he was thorough. She remained unmoved.
Finally, Big Brother quite literally threw his arms up in dismay, and said to her, "Okay, fine. You name me one single thing we can play that does not involve Protagonists and Antagonists, and I'll play it with you!" He was almost shouting in his exasperation with her.
She turned toward him, looked him in the eye, and without missing a beat, said,
He stormed out of the room in a rage. She just didn't get it.