This is my second day as one of the teachers of the Preschool House after visiting and observing the children three days previously. On all five of these days, this has been a common occurrence: these two children having a conflict over the same object or toy. But as common as this occurrence is, what is even more common is these two playing together! Every day during outside time these two find one another in the yard and quickly commence their time together. In fact, the situation described above is the direct result of their attempt to ride bikes with one another.
As humans, as well as animals, conflict is a phenomenon that occurs all around us. It occurs as a result of desire, of love, of hardship, of need, and a host of other reasons. In spite of the rate of this occurrence, we find a myriad of ways to avoid it. These ways are sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, but present nonetheless. This is understandable as we have witnessed some of the damaging results of conflict; one only has to tune in to the national news these days to glimpse this reality, which makes the ability to navigate conflict all the more urgent and necessary.
When I was in Reggio Emilia, Italy (home of the Reggio Emilia Approach) a pedagogista there, Annalisa Rabotti, was asked by another educator from the United States how to avoid conflict between children. Annalisa responded that conflict is certainly not something to be avoided, but rather, “conflict is the pretext for learning how to be together.” I thought her words were poignant and spoke to the heart of the opportunity created by conflict. Whenever I see these two children entering into the space of conflct, what I see is opportunity - opportunity for growth, opportunity for connection, opportunity for relationship.
In the midst of this conflict, the two friends learn something about one another. They move closer in, they encounter one another anew, and depart having existed in the presence of one another’s vulnerability, and thus, have moved deeper into relationship. This is a monumental gesture, one that has the opportunity to change not only them and their bond together, but also the fabric of the society of which they are a part. The psychoanalyst Scott Peck says in his book, A Different Drum, “There is no community without vulnerability, and there is no vulnerability without risk.” This young friendship is instructive in this way and offers us further insight into the relational opportunity posed by conflict.