I’ve had my fair share of conflict over the years. Some ended with a lot of hurt feelings. Other times, the issue was resolved and people maintained respect for each other.

I don’t know where I heard it, and a Google search proved unhelpful, but I read once where in conflict we often go through three stages. In these stages, we dig in our heels and insist one of the following must be true of the person we are in conflict with.

They Are Ignorant

When there’s a disagreement, we often try to convince the other person of our way of thinking. It’s not that they’re stupid, or don’t care, or full of malice — they just aren’t aware of the facts. They are ignorant. So we talk a lot, send them links, and rebut their points in comment threads. If presented with the truth of the matter, they’ll surely come around, won’t they? Sometimes one side is clearly correct and after a little education the conflict is patched up. These “Oh, you’re right” moments are marked with humility and reason. They are also increasingly rare.

Other times the fact-sharing produces no progress, and the conflict remains.

 

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So They Must Be an Idiot

Once we’ve shared the “obvious” truth (ever so kindly, I’m sure), we presume the person we are in conflict with is incapable of seeing our side and conclude that that are just not smart enough to grasp things.  If they can’t see that, they must not be capable of seeing it. At this point, ignorance is no longer a valid excuse. This leaves us confused…how can they not see? Are we not communicating clearly? Is our debate partner not seeing our point because we’re not explaining it well, or do they just not want to see?

We may maintain some respect for this person, we’ll just think they’re an idiot. But when they still don’t come around, there’s only one more category to go.

They Are Evil

If someone has all the information, if they’ve been presented with the “facts,” and if they are still resistant of our way of thinking, then the only thing that can explain their stubbornness is that there must be darkness in their heart. Often this is where conflict turns more personal in nature — we try to point out hypocrisies in the other person or question their motives. If they were good, they’d surely come around. If not, they must be evil. Responses at this stage range from really awful things being said, to social media blocking, and even hate crimes.

In conflict, when we’ve given people space to come around and they don’t, very few of us are content to “agree to disagree.” Instead, we write people off and consider them evil.

______________________

You’ve had this progression play out before you eyes, haven’t you? If you’re like me, you’ve been on both sides. These stages play out in our offices, in neighborhood squabbles, in sports arenas, and even in the church.

  • People disagree
  • People try to help the other person see their point of view
  • Evidence exhausted, people assume the other is incapable of understanding
  • After repeated attempts to change someone’s mind, the conclusion is that they are an idiot
  • If conflict continues, motives and character are questioned

When in conflict, we are finding it increasingly impossible to disagree agreeably. We insist on promoting our version of the facts when indeed we hold an opinion, not a monopoly of truth. Our opinion is valid because it is ours. But not everyone will hold it.

Are some facts indisputable? Of course. I’m not suggesting that in some arguments there actually isn’t a right or a wrong — there often is. What I’m suggesting is that we don’t have to let things escalate through the levels. We can avoid a lot of hurt by realizing that sometimes it’s better to be self-controlled than it is to be right. Instead of ripping each other apart, what if we could disagree (even on the really important stuff) and remain friends — with no more name-calling, social media un-friending, and personal grudges?

Perhaps I’m being too idealistic. Perhaps I’m naive.

Maybe. But I heard it said once:

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” King Solomon (Proverbs 15:1)

I don’t want to be a pushover, but I do want to be gentle — understanding that on the other side of this disagreement is a person who God made and loves, and I should love them too.

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