What I’ve learned on conflict in college: the good, the bad and the unknown

Haleigh McGill

Throughout my entire life, I have had friends who made decisions that cause(d) a lot of heartache and anger for me, and I know I have made decisions that did the same to them. After the bitterness I felt from a few recent conflicts with people I care a lot about subsided, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of this aspect of human nature after all these years of lessons.

I feel that around this time of year, conflict is more easily stirred due to stress from midterms, work and the general journey of everyone in college trying to find themselves and all that jazz. I have been able to achieve a different perspective on conflict due to what I’ve dealt with during my college years especially, because this is the dawn of real, mature conflicts and early adult problems. The methods I used in high school — going to the nurse’s office and pretending to be sick so my mom would maybe rescue me from the drama-infested halls, awkwardly avoiding those I was in turmoil with every chance I could or trying to get in with a new friend group and act like nothing happened — just don’t cut it anymore. I had to grow up a little bit and learn the complicated art of second chances, forgiveness and acceptance.

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Hayley Williams of Paramore wrote, “second chances — they don’t ever matter — people never change.” I disagree. While sometimes this is true, and people are deeply, unfortunately set in their ways, this is not always the case. We all have the choice to grow or to shrink when the going gets rough or a tough decision must be made, which means that people can change if they really want to. Second chances are really important. And while I don’t think they should be offered to every single person who ever breaks you, I believe they should always be considered. One of the more painful lessons that I’ve learned, however, is that even when you want nothing more than to give someone a second chance, sometimes they don’t want it.

That being said, we all need space to make the mistakes and difficult decisions necessary to learn the lessons that will get us through to the next stages of our lives. Don’t hold them against those closest to you, whether they directly affect you or not. I can tell you that more often than not, they don’t mean to hurt you. Sometimes you happen to be a casualty of a decision that was really the best thing for them to do. You can’t please everyone all the time, even those you love the most. The hardest part about this situation is that you have the choice to be a bigger person and be supportive of whatever they are doing, because even though it hurt you, you know that it was what they needed to do. It’s so easy to be angry, to be mad at someone, to convince yourself that it will never be okay again. But if you make that choice to rise above, you will walk away with tougher skin, a broader scope of understanding and a stronger sense of enlightenment.

Nothing is ever black and white, even if the situation seems simple. Humans subsist and even thrive within the grey area, the distantly familiar, the anxiety and excitement of a path not yet taken that may or may not be taken again. We are children of disaster and beauty, forever unfinished products always looking for a way to make things better. Or worse, I suppose, depending on the kind of person you are at this point in your life. But even the misery-makers can be loved, and will hopefully outgrow the pleasure of seeing worlds fall apart.

A once-close friend of mine told me that being human is hard, and he was completely right. We have to understand that people are complicated within any context, and there is always room for mistakes and missteps. More importantly, there is always room for forgiveness and growth.

This isn’t to say that extreme circumstances don’t call for an ending of a negative friendship or relationship, because as sad as it is, sometimes it has to happen. But even then, forgiveness isn’t off the table. You can forgive someone without remaining close to them. And if you can’t do it for them, at least do it for your peace of mind. 

Ultimately, conflicts with those you love and care about are often hard to understand, and a lot of times you aren’t going to get the answer you want, or an answer at all. The best thing you can do — whether the friendship or relationship is still strong or has reached its end — is appreciate the good, learn from the bad and let go of the unknown. Sometimes there are answers, and even certain endings, that are not meant to be found.

Collegian Opinion Editor Haleigh McGill can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @HaleighMcGill.