Notes on conflict by J.H. Ramsay
In Ernest Hemingway’s 1936 story, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, a wife blasts her husband’s face apart with a buffalo gun. I used to read that story, and reach that part, and think to myself, well, great! I was sick of that boring cuckold anyway. But now, a few years later, I find myself treating the death of Francis Macomber, and the concept of conflict at large, quite differently.
I loved conflict. In fact, I lived off it. Like Lucky Charms cereal or heroin, it was inescapable and mind consuming. The way I would justify it to myself was through an ultimate belief in equality via contrast. Balance. All the good in the world needed to be illuminated. The black had to even out with the white. Without one, how could anyone hope to understand the other?
Astonishingly, my attraction to conflict led me to dead ends and dissatisfaction. Picking fights for the sake of argument ruffled so many feathers that I found myself alone as everyone’s common enemy. No one was on my side anymore. I was a martyr to the cause of conflict. And being a martyr, for any cause, bluntly, sucks.
Finally, after reading enough Hemingway, I learned to stop making the world fit to my design. Balance was no longer a desire, because it wasn’t even an issue. When Mrs Macomber shot her husband in the back of the head, she was really aiming for the buffalo charging at him. She was trying to save his life. But she missed. Conflict resulted.
Hemingway’s point, in my opinion, is that the world is uncontrollable. You set out to hunt a buffalo for a mantelpiece above your fireplace and your wife drives a bullet into the back of your skull. It happens, black or white, conflict or resolution. It happens. Don’t try to create it or stop it. Just deal with it. Our current generation has a unique stance in the modern world. No one else has an obsession with recording information like we do.
Every point, every grade, every score is meticulously counted, added up, compiled in files that are ready to define us. Through Facebook, and the internet at large, our individual lives are set up to be read in Sparknotes fashion. True, every generation needs to find itself. And every generation eventually does. But our generation is in a tragic predicament. We may accomplish this self-definition before we’re mature enough to handle it. We may figure out who we are before we understand what it means to be anything. The calculations work so fast that we can’t even see them happen. All we see are the results.
So stop. Just stop it. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Take a breath, for god’s sake. Check your bearings. Drag your heels. What’s going on? What am I talking about? Have you understood any of this? I’m talking about keeping score. Tracking records. Getting results. Separating everything into neat little piles of conflict and resolution. That’s what we need to stop. We need to start living, and end this paranoid worrying about averages and marks and definitions. Freshers, listen up. You will be shot in the back of the head this year. Countless times. But you’re also going to be doing some shooting of your own. It may not even out. You may take more bullets than you spray. All of this gunfighting is just inevitable, so I can really only offer you one piece of advice for this year.
Don’t count the shots. Don’t keep track. Just keep shooting, keep going, and get through.