Conflict and Crisis are Full of Friction: The Force That Makes the Apparently Easy so Difficult

Friction in decision making s its often portrayed in conflict as a simple concept to understand. Viewing a video tape over and over and 20/20 hindsight, seem to have this impact on those watching media reports or nowadays, officer patrol car or body cameras.  But in practice, because of the countless factors that impinge on it, dealing with conflict becomes extremely difficult. These factors collectively have been called friction, which Carl von Clausewitz described as:

“the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult.”

Friction is the force that resists all action. It makes the simple difficult and the difficult seemingly impossible. The very essence of conflict and violence as a clash between opposed wills creates friction.

It is critical to keep in mind that the adversary is not an inanimate object but an independent and animate force. An adversary seeks to resist our will and impose his own will on us. It is the dynamic interplay between his will and ours that makes conflict difficult and complex. In this environment, friction thrives.

Friction may be mental, as in indecision over a course of action. Or it may be physical, as in effective adversarial action or a obstacle that must be overcome. Friction may be external, imposed by adversarial action, the terrain, weather, or mere chance. Or friction may be self-induced, caused by such factors as lack of a clearly defined goal, lack of coordination, unclear or complicated plans, complex task organizations or command relationships, or complicated communication systems. Whatever form it takes, because conflict is a human enterprise, friction will always have a psychological as well as a physical impact. This is why its so important not to forget about the human dimension that's always part of conflict, crisis and violence.

Because conflict is a clash between opposing human wills, the human dimension is central in conflict. It is the human dimension which infuses conflict with its intangible moral factors. Conflict is shaped by human nature and is subject to the complexities, inconsistencies, and peculiarities which characterize human behavior. Since conflict is an act of violence based on irreconcilable disagreement, it will invariably inflame and be shaped by human emotions. Conflict is an extreme trial of moral, mental and physical strength and stamina. Any view of the nature of conflict would hardly be accurate or complete without consideration of the effects of danger, fear, exhaustion, and privation on the men who must deal with the crisis. However, these effects vary greatly from case to case. Individuals and peoples react differently to the stress of conflict; an act that may break the will of one may only serve to stiffen the resolve of another.

When reviewing police use of force cases and searching for what is reasonable we must strive to understand the human dimension and the friction that are always part of crisis and conflict. Anything less is an injustice.

Stay Oriented!

Fred