The blows of adversity are very bitter,
but they’re never sterile.
My dear teacher Rosa Gaínza, who died outside the Fatherland she loved so much, had developed a very particular group therapy technique by the mid-1970s. According to his conception of neuroses, anxious or depressive, the individual who fell into such a crisis, in addition to some predisposition of the nervous system, was trapped in a nebula called conflict.
The conflict, Dr. Gaínza explained, stemted from the inability to meet a vital need. But this dissatisfaction was not due to the absence of material resources or possibilities, but to an inner contradiction that the individual was not aware of, nor did he know, by himself, how to overcome it. Vital human needs were, for her, in addition to food, rest and emotional and sexual relationships, work and recreation or fun.
Following his original theory, all people move between conflicts as a minefield. Going unscathed from such a dangerous adventure is due to each other’s ability to bring those conflicts into the category of problems, and once there to solve or dissolve them. While the conflict is somewhat obscure and indecipherable, the problem is concrete and visible. Conflict is sick, paralyzed. The problem is burdened, stubborn, but an active or passive action exit is inevitable – doing nothing can be a way of doing something.
Let’s give an example: An individual cannot sleep well. It’s an unmet vital necessity. When asked about sleeping conditions he claims to have a good room, comfortable bed and air conditioning. By putting his head on the pillow, he gets so many and fails to fall asleep. You don’t know why. He’s got all the conditions for a good night’s sleep and he can’t make it. It’s at the conflict level. But if you took away your electric current and had heat, or you share your room or bed with others, then you would be faced with a specific problem to solve or dissolve: lie on the portal of the house or on the Wall of the Malecon until the electric light came, or get yourself a pim-pam-pum to sleep and leave the bed to others.
Bringing conflict to trouble and giving it a solution – or a dissolution – is, according to the dear teacher, the most difficult thing, because human beings almost always choose to make the beautiful good and by the way, it comes cheap.
We don’t know almost everything about the conflict. And it could be said, almost certainly, that the visible face or cover letter, like the famous iceberg, is not an eighth of what is submerged in water. Conflict is synonymous with uncertainty. Dr. Gaínza was talking about a boxing match where only one of the opponents is illuminated; we see the fight and even the effects of the blows, but we don’t know the opponent.
A student minutes before an exam is in conflict. Their reactions – perspiration, desire to urinate, headache – attest to the zozobra. As soon as you get the sheet in front of you with the questions, go into the problem category: suspend or approve. A young woman wants to declare himself to a little girl – I do not know if that is still used – and before he says a word, his heart beats hastily, and forgets him to the name: conflict. Once in front of her, she’s in trouble: talk about her love or shut him up forever. A mature man feels severe chest pain and while being transferred to the hospital he is very nervous, restless; his thinking tells him that it may or may not be serious: conflict. In the hospital, after having an electrocardiogram where he or she is found to have a heart attack, the individual inexplicably calms down. He has a specific problem before him: death or life. Although it’s not all up to him, at least he has to put the part that touches him, which is to be calm.
Of all the conflicts, perhaps it is those who face man with his most serious ethical or moral values. Within them, not those who contrast good with evil – specific problems – but where one assumption is well opposed to another good.
Let’s go back to the examples above. The student can take their conflict to the level of problem by copying from another student, bringing in a goat or what, unfortunately, is proliferating today: buying the exam. The student’s justification may be valid: if you disapprove of the exam, you will not be able to graduate to help your mother, who has washed and ironed to pay for her studies. Similarly, the young lover could solve the conflict – loving, that is, spiritual – by elevated him to the category of material problem: buying with gifts the favor of the girl. No words. An invitation to a hotel or a camper, and once there, force things. At the end of the day, it was she who accepted and knew what she was risking. For the heart attack man, doctors have already been tasked with clarifying his conflict: from now on, we must relax and cooperate.
Never do the non-criminals, those who have no contradiction with anyone or anything, come to any important part. Inescapable conflicts are not essentially bad. More than that, a good conflict is always the anteroom of a possible solution.
However, it is not easy to turn conflicts into problems. Although conflicts paralyze, depress, solutions or solutions are often painful and expensive, and individuals and peoples postpone what they know will sooner or later have to happen for things to be fixed. It is also true that life shows some spiral circularity: we go from a conflict to its solution once it is a problem, and the same solution will generate another conflict. The horizontal line moves away as we walk towards it. It is, no more or less, the path we make in this world: conflict-problem-solution-new conflict. We can stare at the line on the horizon without walking. Sometimes it’s more comfortable. It costs little. But we will never know that there is beyond the thin yacent line; a line that at least serves to walk.
How strategists and politicians make wars can have excellent examples of bringing conflicts to problems to provide final solutions to certain issues. He is a manly model, but unfortunately too current to ignore: the war and occupation of Iraq. The conflict between Saddam Hussein and the current U.S. government did not begin with weapons of mass extermination. Its origins, like that of any conflict, go back to the distant past, perhaps in the days of the current president’s father. For some reason that, as in any conflict, is bleak, relations between the two governments began to make water after a long way forward has flown together. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s brought conflict to the problem: Kuwait had to be liberated.
Now, despite Hussein’s long history of crimes – millions of deaths are blamed on his own – everything was in the realm of conflict until … weapons of mass extermination appeared – in the minds of American citizens. The conflict became a problem: Hussein and his weapons were a danger to Humanity. We had to act. A problem had to be solved. As each solution engenders a conflict dialectically, after the war there is another conflict: the nationalist and integrist factions fighting Hussein – many well-known longtime terrorists – now do so against the invading army. If the occupiers leave Iraq in that deplorable state, they will have lost; but if they stay and fail to stabilize the country with their own citizens, they will have lost as well. Moraleja: it’s not all about bringing conflict to trouble to give it a solution. There is some ethical cost that is above solving or dissolving things.
Most Cubans have… conflicts or problems? It is a very personal criterion, and therefore debatable, but most Cubans have more problems than conflicts, and not exactly because we see everything very clearly. Maybe there are at least a couple of conditions for it.
First, daily subsistence prevents us from stopping to contemplate the horizon, to philosophizing how this or that should or could be. Any difficulty, whether with food, sleep, partner, work or fun, should be resolved as soon as possible. The word solve has become a first-order voice: here what needs to be done is to finish solving.
It must be said quite frankly: the average Cuban has just had lunch and at the table is thinking about how to solve the afternoon meal. He no longer asks how much is earned in a certain job but what is solved there. An interesting person does not wonder his name or what his tastes are but what and how he solves – get in the way, receive remittances, work in a firm or rent his house. We go to a beach, a party or a cultural center if you can solve a knob – read, anesthetize consciousness.
These urgencies in the mechanics of living, while not increasing the numbers of minor mental disorders in appearance, are reflected in moral indolence that gains ground day by day. The burden of solving or dissolving problems as simple as fixing a pile of water, a leak of the ceiling or a coffee paquetico for breakfast wears down the human person, their ability to think, to stand beyond borders. What Hannah Arendt – a remarkable Jewish essayist and thinker of the twentieth century – called the banality of evil: unremeared damage is done in her neighbour, not knowing why, and sometimes with intent, as if in the other she was responsible for all our misfortunes. And then comes the second consequence of the little ethical exercise by the absence of conflicts in the consciousness: the whole goes, the whole is worth, the no more ná, the no more fighting, the here what you have to do is not to die – usually phrase of resignation in the barracks of slaves, according to Moreno.
This is serious. When resolving at all costs supplants the inner struggle between good and evil, and even between good and good, it is not known what an individual can be capable of. Ethical sedentaryism is immune to all positive action. The state can spend, as it is doing, millions of pesos on fixing a polyclinic who, a week after the inauguration, all the swallowers will be up or down, the doors will not open or do so the other way around, and there will be no outlets in the lab.
There is no state that can solve all the problems of its citizens. That doesn’t exist, it probably never will exist, at least in the dimension we want or imagine. And it wouldn’t be advisable either. Problem leisure, pro-blemic sedentaryism – being overnatant in existential conflicts – is the other side of the currency: high suicide rates and drug use in highly developed countries.
In the famous Greek democracy, the only people who could sit down to philosophizing, to raise conflicts, were individuals whose vital needs were met. Behind the great ideas of Democritus, Parmenides, Plato and Aristotle were thousands of slaves who could not read, and were the ones who served them the table, prepared their baths or pleased their sexual inclinations.
In our case, we will have to reverse the equation: to try to solve, in truth, certain essential needs of people. Or if you prefer, leave enough room for themselves to come up with some. Only then do you start thinking about what’s right or wrong, what’s right and what would be, even better.