1. challenges
  2. character
  3. character education
  4. commitment
  5. compassion
  6. conflict resolution
  7. contentment
  8. cooperation
  9. courage
  10. decision-making
  11. encouragement
  12. filial piety
  13. goals
  14. gratitude
  15. healthy families
  16. healthy lifestyle
  17. integrity
  18. kindness
  19. leadership
  20. life goals
  21. loyalty
  22. marriage
  23. meaningful life
  24. moral education
  25. perseverance
  26. politeness
  27. relationship skills
  28. religion
  29. respect
  30. responsibility
  31. self-awareness
  32. self-improvement
  33. service
  34. sexuality
  35. social awareness
  36. sportsmanship
  37. teamwork
  38. tolerance
  39. trustworthiness

A story from Zen Buddhism

Two monks were walking along the banks of a river. They saw a young woman who was afraid to cross. Although the monks had taken vows never to touch a woman, the older monk picked her up and carried her to the other side of the river. The younger monk was angry about it all day. The two didn't speak until sunset, when they were allowed to break their vow of silence. Then the angry younger monk accused the older monk of polluting not only himself but also the whole order. The older monk simply answered, "I put the woman down on the other side of the river early this morning. It is only you who have been carrying her around throughout the day."


We have all had the experience of feeling inner conflict. Surely the younger monk felt a great deal of inner conflict in the above story, which he finally expressed. Maybe he wondered to himself, "Should I bring it up when we start to speak, or should I just try to forget about it?" The older monk makes the point that the younger monk has been "carrying her around throughout the day," meaning that the younger monk has been dwelling on his angry and accusatory thoughts about the woman all day long. The younger monk was in inner conflict. Did he need to be?

We all experience inner conflict. Sometimes it involves making a difficult choice. For instance, the cashier at the store gives you too much change. Do you tell her about it or do you keep the money? Imagine you see your friend cheating on a test in class. Do you tell the teacher, or, out of loyalty to your friend, pretend you don't see?

Inner conflict arises when we must either choose between two conflicting loyalties (loyalty to friends versus loyalty to honesty) or choose to do the right thing when it is more comfortable not to. Either way, the best choice is not always obvious, and while we are in the process of making it, we experience inner conflict.

Some inner conflicts occur when we find ourselves having to choose between two desires—one of a more selfish nature, the other of a more unselfish nature. You, for example, really want to go out with your friends, but your mother has asked you to take care of your little brother for the evening. It may be very hard to choose to do the unselfish thing. The reward is: you will probably feel a lot better about everything once you do choose to be unselfish. Some kind of good fortune and happiness will come your way because you did.

Inner conflict that comes when you did something wrong

Sometimes we feel a sense of inner conflict because we did something that went against our consciences. Such inner upset can affect our emotional and physical health. If you realize that you made a bad move—possibly one that resulted in someone getting hurt—the best thing to do is to make up for it as soon as possible. That is the only way to resolve the pain of such inner conflict. An apology is always a great way to start.

Of course, it is not so easy to admit you have done something wrong. It may help to write out what you plan to say to the person who was hurt. "Jane, about the other day when we…" You can practice it either in your mind or out loud so that when the moment comes, the words will flow smoothly.
You can also:
  1. Admit your wrongdoing to a third person whom you trust and respect so that you can examine your action together.
  2. Be willing to learn from the pangs of guilt from your conscience and resolve next time to do the right thing. Our conscience is our inborn guide, our moral compass that tries to point us in the right direction. Our conscience will hurt if we have treated others unjustly or made bad choices. We should be thankful to have a sharp and active conscience.
  3. Learn to apologize. In this, practice makes perfect. Admitting when you are wrong is not the end of the world and actually can turn out to be a very wonderful experience.
  4. Be willing to do something to make it up to the offended person—if possible, even more than what is required.
  5. Forgive yourself and remind yourself that mistakes are part of life. Sadly, some people carry their guilt around with them for years, allowing it to destroy what could have been a happy life.

Example: Mike apologizes and makes up
"I was really mad at my dad. He'd said I had an attitude and that if I didn't change it, I'd be in big trouble. I yelled at him then. I'm getting bigger now, and I don't have to take so much from him. I was steaming mad when I went up to my room. But then I started thinking about how I hadn't helped him with the car when he'd asked me to and just kept watching TV. Then when my mom asked me to help set the table, I put her off too. I could see by the looks on their faces that they had been upset. So I went downstairs and did what he wanted me to with the car and asked my mom if I could help her now. Then I said I was sorry. It made a big difference. All of a sudden, they were all smiles and they couldn't do enough for me!"

Inner conflict caused by someone who did something wrong to you

At other times, we may experience inner conflict because someone has done something wrong to us. We might be the victim of some injustice, misunderstanding or betrayal. It's nearly impossible to go through life without people stepping on our toes, insulting us (sometimes not meaning to) or taking advantage of our trusting nature. No matter how much we may try to protect ourselves from the hurts and pains of life, they will happen at times.

If you are angry and resentful or thinking, "Why me?" you probably are taking energy away from other important areas of your life, such as achieving your goals in sports or academics or spending enjoyable time with your friends and family. Emotions like anger and resentment can be as corrosive as acid, hurting you far more than they hurt the other person. It's best to resolve these feelings as well as you can in order to experience inner peace rather than inner conflict.

Here are some tips for dealing with the experience of being treated unfairly:
  1. Although it is painful, admit to yourself that something bad really DID happen. You are not making it up. Face the fact honestly that you were betrayed or hurt in some way. Remember, bad things sometimes happen to good people. Just because someone hurt or betrayed you doesn't mean you deserved it.
  2. Tell someone you trust about the situation. Many times an older or wiser person can immediately say something to relieve some of our emotional distress. He or she can also sometimes give a comforting perspective—similar things have happened to others, and they endured. Also, that person can give some practical advice about the next step to take in trying to resolve the situation.
  3. Write things out. Pretend you are a newspaper reporter and interview yourself on what happened. Use "who, what, when, where, how and why" questions and put it in non-emotional words. Then write out your feelings on another piece of paper. Be honest, clear, and describe your feelings as much as you can!
  4. Ask for a meeting with the offender and try to explain your thoughts and feelings on the matter calmly. If necessary, ask for the presence of someone who won't take sides—to help clear up misunderstandings or difficulties as they arise in the course of the conversation.
  5. Meditate or pray about the situation. Many people find that talking with God, or imagining a conversation with a loving parent, is a very helpful tool in resolving inner conflict, forgiving others, and coming to deeper insights about themselves and their relationships with others.
  6. Forgive the one who hurt you, even if he or she cannot apologize. Maybe the person lies, cheats or has a weak-willed character. The fact is that he or she is creating his or her own future through present responses to life's challenges, and you are creating yours. Your act of forgiveness may help both of you. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes in our relationships with others, hurting those around us. If, in those times, we would wish to be forgiven, then we must be willing to forgive.

Inner peace

The reward of resolving inner conflict is a sense of inner peace. By doing the right thing, making the right choices, making up for our harms, and forgiving those who harm us, we can feel lighter, more free, and happier. Isn't that worth the effort it takes to address and resolve the things that are bothering us?

Learning objectives

Cognitive: Students will recognize being in a state of inner conflict and learn tools to deal with it.
Affective: Students will want to resolve inner conflict.
Behavioral: Students will take the actions and adopt the attitudes necessary to resolve inner conflict.

Class Session I

Ask students to place themselves in the shoes of the younger monk in "A Story from Zen Buddhism." How do students think the younger monk felt all day? Was he boiling in resentment and accusation? Do students think he was able to be a good monk that day? Was he able to enjoy the beauty of the river, the loveliness of nature? He probably couldn't wait until sunset when they could break their vow of silence so that he could let out his feelings toward the older monk.

Ask students to recall the last time they felt full of resentment and accusation toward someone. What was their experience that day? Did other things also seem to go wrong?

We think we can hide our feelings from others, but actually, we can't. People can usually sense when we are full of accusation or inner conflict. They feel it. And they usually do not respond positively. A person may be angry at his mother and find himself then getting into arguments with friends, store clerks, pizza delivery boys, and all kinds of people. He is acting out the conflict in his heart, and people are reacting to it.

Body language reveals conflict

Experts say that only 7% of communication is in words. That means 93% of communication is in "body language"! So, if a person is experiencing inner conflict, he or she will probably communicate it to others and make them uncomfortable. For instance, a real smile uses lots of face muscles. The skin around the eyes crinkles, the nose may wrinkle up too. If the smile is only coming from the mouth muscles, it is probably faked. All of us know these things without talking about them and without being taught about them. We "sense" if someone genuinely likes us or is happy to see us or not.

We also sense it if someone is trying to fool us. People who are not being honest with us may shrug, touch their faces with their hands, or play with things. They may not concentrate on the conversation, they may repeat themselves or add sounds like "Uh," or "Um." They may only give short answers to questions or only give short explanations. Meeting people's eyes when they ask you questions or talk to you is generally considered a sign of openness and honesty. Shifting your gaze away is often interpreted as dishonesty.

The monks couldn't talk to each other because they had a religious vow of silence until sunset. Ask for volunteers to act out (pantomime) their body language toward each other after the incident with the woman. Have volunteers role play them just after the incident with the woman, eating lunch together, and continuing on their journey in silence.

A good reason to resolve inner conflict is to enjoy inner peace and so that our relationships with others can be happier and freer, since our inner conflict will be communicated to others even if we try to hide it.

As the chapter points out, inner conflict sometimes needs to be resolved by making a choice. Making choices is not always easy. Sometimes you make the right choice inside, but then it is hard to follow through and actually do the right thing. In this exercise, they are going to practice making choices and showing them through their actions.

The "Choose Well" game

Divide the class into pairs. Have the pairs move their desks close to one another. One person in a pair is a "Number One" and the other person in the pair is a "Number Two." All the Number Ones are on the same team, and all the Number Twos are on the same team, even though they are paired up with members of the other team.

Tell them you are going to read some choices that teenagers made to them. Each pair will have a turn to stand up and respond to a situation. When you read the choice to them, if it is a good choice, they are to remain standing. If it is a bad choice, they are to sit down. The first Number One or Number Two to get the answer right wins a point for his or her team. At the end, the team with the most points wins!

  1. Loretta's mom asked her to do the dishes. Loretta decided to do them after her favorite TV shows.
  2. Sam said he'd take his younger brother to the park to shoot baskets, but suddenly Ryan, a cool kid from school, says he wants to meet Sam in the park. Sam tells Ryan he'll meet him, but that he has to take care of his younger brother too.
  3. Calvin was late getting home. He sneaked into the house through a back door or window and hid in his room, pretending he'd been there for a long time.
  4. Alice told Mary not to tell anyone that she had a crush on Dave. Mary promises. Then, after school, Mary decides she'll just tell Christie.
  5. Mike got into his dad's car just to play around. A sharp instrument from art class in Mike's pocket made a puncture hole in the seat. Mike tells his dad what happened.
  6. Melissa borrowed two dollars from Cathy last week and didn't repay it. Cathy could use the money, but she decided not to say anything.
  7. Fred asks Chris if he can copy his math homework because he didn't have time to do his. Chris says no.
  8. The video Peter picked to watch at his house has a rating on it that Brian's parents have told him he can't watch. Brian says, "I don't want to watch that one. I'll see you later," and leaves Peter's house.
  9. Gary was playing hardball with his brother in their front yard. The ball goes out of control and dents a neighbor's car. Gary tells his brother, "Let's go inside. They'll never know who did it."
  10. Susan saw Candy copying from a crib sheet on the test. Even though Candy is her good friend, Susan tells the teacher. "It's for Candy's own good," Susan tells herself.

Class Session II

Questions for reflection

1. In the story of the two monks, why did the younger monk accuse the older one? What does his accusation say about him?

2. What are the root causes of inner conflict?

3. How can we resolve inner conflict when we struggle with a choice between two loyalties?

4. How can we resolve inner conflict when we struggle with a choice between right and wrong?

5. How can we resolve inner conflict when we struggle with a choice between our selfish and our unselfish natures?

6. Think of a time when you hurt someone. How could you have applied the 5 points in the text to that situation?

7. Think of a time when someone hurt you. How could you have applied the 6 points in the text to that situation?

8. Were you ever able to forgive someone who hurt you? Tell about it.

9. Do you still hold grudges against someone who hurt you in the past? Who and why?

10. Why is it difficult for us to apologize when we do something wrong?

Quiz: How forgiving are you?

Ask students to take out a sheet of paper. You will read them some choices, and they will write down the letter of the choice they think is best. Then they will score themselves.

1. An old lady is getting on the bus. She's taking forever. You need to get to the movies in the next ten minutes or the lines will be too long. You:
a. Say, "Hey, we don't have all night here!"
b. Get up and offer to help her up the steps.
c. Sit and fume, grumbling about old people the whole way to the movie theatre.
d. Shrug it off. You'll be old yourself one day.

2. You found out that one of your friends told another friend that you were "immature at times." Your friend says, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." You:
a. Say, "That's all right," but decide to stay away from that friend from now on.
b. Say, "Talk about being immature!"
c. Pretend everything is all right, but at the first opportunity, say something bad about that friend behind his or her back.
d. Forget about it. You are immature at times. That's why people like you!

3. The basketball ref made a bad call on you. You:
a. Tell your coach to question the call.
b. Ask your dad to beat up the ref.
c. Do nothing: "The ref is always right."
d. Figure there are bad calls for every player and every team and it all comes out pretty fair in the end.

For number 1:
Answer a: 1 point
Answer b: 3 points
Answer c: 2 points
Answer d: 4 points

For number 2:
Answer a: 3 points
Answer b: 2 points
Answer c: 1 point
Answer d: 4 points

For number 3:
Answer a: 2 points
Answer b: 1 point
Answer c: 3 points
Answer d: 4 points

10-12 points—You are a forgiving person. You like to give others the benefit of the doubt. You can handle conflict pretty well. You probably feel pretty peaceful inside most of the time.

8-10 points—You assert yourself and take action when things aren't going your way, but you usually try to do it in a decent way. You're forgiving, but you don't let people get away with everything either.

4-7 points—Your life must have more conflict in it than you would like, because you aren't very forgiving. You'd rather confront someone than work it out. You need to work on being less confrontational.

3 points—You must spend almost all your time in a stew. You don't see other people in a very positive way. Try to calm down and think about good reasons why people might do the things they do. Remember your own mistakes. You make mistakes too!
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