Differences are good. Conflicts are good. Atrophy is bad.

The season is here for the U.S. Open and it got me to thinking about how much I like the idea of “The Open” being about openness in sports. Allowing professional and amateur, male and female, American and non-American athletes to match their skills against equally skilled competitors is a beautiful idea.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the conflicts that inevitably arise with any open forums. As a concept, it’s wonderful. In practice, it’s messy. Think about how the internet has made our world so much more open! When people of different backgrounds and ideologies do anything together, there will be conflict at times. It’s inevitable; but that’s how people learn. That’s how we grow and change. We don’t grow from doing the same things over and over again, with the same people. We learn when things get changed up. Whether we change things ourselves, or change is forced upon us.


Just like our muscles, we grow when we are challenged. For muscular growth to happen, our muscles need increasing measures of tension. In the same way, for us to further develop as people we’ve got to meet challenges, overcome them, and once they’re mastered, seek greater challenges.


Not only is it Tennis season, but it’s also political season in the United States and political discourse (on and/or offline) offers plenty of challenges from which citizens can grow (if they choose). We are each given choices to either grow (i.e. in social knowledge, compassion, tolerance, understanding, etc.) or atrophy. My hope is that, when given the chance, we’ll choose to grow. Unfortunately, it’s not when everything is smooth that we grow. It’s when things are rough; when we disagree that we can expand our knowledge base. That’s when we’re on the precipice of advancement in our personal development!


Some of us don’t want any conflict at all so we opt out of difficult conversations altogether; others of us voice our opinions, not in person, but on social media. But if you are willing to engage in sensitive topics with your opponents in person, consider using tools to help you have a productive time of it. I made a Confrontation Action Guide to help facilitate healthy conflicts. Confrontations are great growth opportunities, but they have to be executed with deliberate sensitivity to other people’s points of view.


When we agree in every way, there’s no growth. It’s pleasant for a while, but then something stirs within and we seek something different. It’s just in us to want to grow. That inherent inclination to evolve is what sometimes prompts us to leave a secure situation to seek new adventures. God planted limitlessness in us (Ecclesiastes 3:11) so it makes sense that we want to expand somehow.


What if every conflict we’ve ever had was for that purpose - our own expansion? To move us toward greater understanding of whatever we were in disagreement over. And every person who brought conflict, an agent of agitation to kick off that growth spurt?


Just like the U.S. Open brings together the most ambitious athletes in the world, what if we were ambitious for our own personal development?