Divergence ➠ Conflict?

It isn’t the divergence of ideas that leads to conflict; it’s the insistence upon the rightness of an idea.

It doesn’t matter whether the conflict is between family members, friends or on a global scale, the common element is that each of the parties involved view their idea to be right and insist that the other party’s idea is wrong. Indeed, each insists that the other change their beliefs and behaviors to align with what they know to be true.


I realized that whether the conflict was over Roe vs Wade, race, climate change, Israel vs Palestine or Mainland China vs Hong Kong, the common theme is that each party believes they’re right and is insisting that the other party embrace their position.


The divergence of ideas is essential for growth in knowledge and understanding. It’s through divergent ideas that breakthroughs occur. No where is this more visible than in the scientific community where ideas are constantly being challenged. It’s this constant challenge of current thinking that leads to new information, new insights and greater knowledge. That’s what divergence should do for us.

The reason it works so well in the scientific community is that there is no insistence that current thinking is “right.” As David Deutsch (opens in a new link), physicist, points out in his books, facts are what we currently know…until new information improves our understanding and become our new “facts.”


Another way to view divergent ideas is as tradeoffs. Economist Thomas Sowell (opens in a new link) says that there are no solutions only tradeoffs. Think about that for a moment. Recall any situation that you’ve faced, then ask yourself “What options did I have? Were any of them a perfect solution or did they all require some tradeoff?” You only need to consider a few situations to realize that none of the alternatives were all good or all bad and that your decision was based on which tradeoff was the most palatable to you.

Given this background information, let’s see what you can do to prevent divergent ideas from becoming conflict in your life.

For you

When you find yourself in discussions in which divergent ideas exist in deeply-rooted beliefs:

  • Approach the discussion knowing that there is legitimacy to the other party’s position and acknowledge that legitimacy.
  • Remind all parties that there is no such thing as a perfect solution…that all choices involve some form of tradeoff.
  • Look for areas of agreement on which you can build.
  • Rather than disagreeing with the other party, ask questions to help you understand their position more clearly. You’ll likely gain information that’ll help you build consensus.
  • Respect others’ right to their beliefs and values. They are more likely to respect yours if you respect theirs.
  • If you cannot reach a mutually-agreeable position on the issue, agree to disagree while letting them know that you respect their right to their values and beliefs while expressing your hope that they’ll respect yours as well.

These simple steps can help you avoid having divergent ideas become conflicts. If you’re in a position of power, you’ll become the voice of reason in minimizing conflict on a broader scale. And, yes, one person can make a difference.

For our kids

As your kids observe you handling challenging situations using a calm, reasoned approach and seeing the results that your efforts produce, they’ll emulate your behaviors. As they become inquisitive about why you do what you do in these situations, share the rationale in the six steps listed above. They’ll quickly see the connection between these steps and the way you deftly avoid conflict. 

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I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to see your thoughts in a comment.

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2 Responses

  1. bill prenatt

    Dale, Thank you for your insights as always! I recently experienced the importance of ‘trade off’s’ When my wife and I decided to move into an apartment from our Villa. We both liked certain aspects of our selection of apartments but neither of us fully realized what we would like to have in the change.
    Through a series of give and take discussions, we were able to settle on a solution that we both felt comfortable with.

    • dfurtwengler

      Bill, glad to hear that the two of you found a comfortable set of tradeoffs. That’s what usually happens when people approach a decision without judgment using a conscious evaluation of the alternatives. Here’s hoping that more will follow you and your wife’s lead.

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