Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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While lots of attention is being paid to this year’s Oscars fiasco in which the presenters were handed the wrong envelope for the final award, I want to call attention to a little-noticed speech by Mark Rylance, who presented the (correct) award for best supporting actress to Viola Davis. Before announcing the winner, Rylance noted that oftentimes supporting actors would be better described as opposing actors. Their role is to disagree with and challenge other actors, creating the conflicts that make for a good story. He went on to explain how valuable such opposition is, not only in telling stories, but also in sports, and in society in general.

All of the nominated actresses–Naomie Harris in Moonlight, Viola Davis in Fences, Nicole Kidman in Lion, Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea, and Octavia Spencer in Hidden Fences–find themselves in conflict with other characters in these films. Perhaps one of the main reasons they were nominated is based on how beautifully they express and sometimes resolve these conflicts.

Mark Rylance said: “The things these films made me remember and think about was the difficulty – something women seem to be better at than men – of opposing without hatred.” I’m not going to opine as to whether women are better than men at expressing opposition without hate, but I would agree that this ability is fundamental to conflict resolution, and is also crucial to allowing our society to function well in general. As Rylance suggested, we should value opposition, not try to eliminate it. We should feel free to express opposition: to policies we disagree with, to plans others have for us that we think are unfair, to people who are trying to prevent us from doing what we need to do, to actions others are proposing that we think may be harmful. But we must try to do it without hatred, because hatred can make it impossible to resolve our disagreements.