When I Welcomed Conflict

As a kid, I was never comfortable being the center of attention. I did not just dread speaking in front of a large crowd; I literally couldn’t bring myself to.

My most haunting memory was in Primary 5, when we had to do a group debate in front of the class. As expected, I was terrified and absolutely dreaded for my turn to speak. When my part of the debate finally came, I felt sick. I remember the time-keeper saying,

“You have three minutes to speak.”

Three minutes. I already want it to end.

The words on my card were right in front me, but I was unable to translate them into words. Looking around the class, I noticed that no one was paying attention to the debate anymore. I froze in fear, thinking, “Shit, if no one is listening, am I even supposed to speak? What if I say my point, and no one hears me? I’ll be a joke.”

But not long after I had that thought, the silence caught the attention my classmates and they began looking curiously in my direction. Oh okay. This is worse.

“Two minutes.”

Now I couldn’t speak, out of fear that people could actually hear me. I might say something wrong or stupid, and everyone would judge me. I looked around at all the faces — familiar faces — and yet I couldn’t open my mouth. All I could do was look around in desperate silence.

“One minute.”

Oh shit, I have to say something. Anything.

My group mates were desperately urging me to speak, but all I wanted to do was apologise and make them understand how much I was struggling.

“Time's up.”

There are many instances in my life, where I wished I had spoken up, or at least had the courage to try.

Ever since that debate, I had gained a little more confidence over my years in secondary school. But even then, I still did not speak up. Whenever I find myself disagreeing with someone, I’d choose to keep quiet, because I rather live with my opinion unheard than to start an argument.

It was only when I entered poly that I really spoke up, because my fears started to change. I started to fear not the resistance from others that might follow but the definite imprisonment of my own voice.

I realised that there are things I cared enough about to fight for. Through the ideation process during group discussions or event planning with my CCA, I finally realised that keeping my thoughts inside of me was more toxic than letting it out. It’s like how when you cannot express your anger or sadness and it just builds inside you and grows like some kind of mould. Toxic. And letting it out, cleansed it.

But I was lucky, as I had met people who were not only willing to hear me, but to challenge me as well. Support will only get me that far, but their questioning only made me more certain of myself. It was the environment I needed to push myself.

There is one thing I have learnt from putting my voice out there. After what feels like vulnerability of being out in the open, comes the conflict and consensus, and through that, the gaining of new perspectives that I never had.

So what had changed since I was that kid, who couldn’t speak in front of a class?

I had started to welcome conflict.

See, I’ve always avoided confrontations or conflict of any sort. That made me afraid of speaking.

But only when I was exposed to it, was I finally able to stop being afraid.

With resistance, you learn to be more certain and firm about your standing. With disagreements, you are forced to look at your standpoint from a different angle. And with an understanding, you have gained an open mind.

Either way, I have learned more than expected from each ‘conflict’ and that gave my confidence a boost because I was more sure of myself. All because I welcomed conflict instead of avoiding it. So I started to speak up more, in groups, classrooms, and eventually lecture halls.

Sure, I still get nerves standing in front of a class to present something for an event or project. But, I pushed myself and did it. Once, as I was getting ready to speak in a lecture theatre full of people, I couldn’t help but feel that that 11-year-old girl would be really proud of me right now.

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Sylvia Low

Sylvia Low

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