Conflict is not a bad thing

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

We don’t have to look far to find conflict from our kitchens, classrooms, courtrooms, to newsrooms. Most conflict arises from personal biases. Our opinions fuel flames of anger and discord. What would it look like if our differing opinions emanated the warmth of compassion and respect rather than igniting discord? What if we were more concerned about a civil dialogue than being right? Conflict does not necessarily mean that anyone is right or wrong. Is there a right way to take out the trash, load the dishwasher, pack a suitcase, drive to a destination, spend your free-time, to workout, plan your meals for your family, to deal with pain and suffering, care for an aging parent, or love your spouse? We all want the best organizational and relational management practices, but even those fail us. Why do the best practices fail? If we are honest with ourselves, we prioritize being right, so even the best tools of wisdom often lie dormant in our heart’s toolbox.

I think most of us would agree that it is not for a lack of wisdom and resources in our country that we fail so poorly in handling conflict. Who shouts the loudest or creates the most social buzz for their viewpoint does not necessarily win. Having a respectful and civil dialogue with those of differing viewpoints does not mean that you agree with them. Respect and civility in conflict does not equal agreement concerning an issue. Can we not agree to disagree respectfully? We have lost the respect and gracious generosity of trying to understand another’s perspective and fighting for common ground rather than winning.

Jesus erred on the side of gracious generosity in Mark 6. After he and his disciples had just fed the 5000 thousand, they leave on a boat to rest, but not much rest for them as fear of death due to a storm overtakes the disciples. Upon arriving in Gennesaret, they were met by a large crowd of people, many carrying their sick loved ones and others hoping to touch Jesus to be healed. In the large crowds for the feeding of the 5000 and in Gennesaret, Jesus never mentions the motives of those who came. I am sure that some did not have the purest motives. Maybe some who came to the feeding of the 5000 were skeptical of Jesus and did not believe Him or just wanted to be healed but had no intention of changing their life.

Out of compassion, he taught the crowds and instructed the disciples to feed the 5000. In both situations the Bible does not illuminate the motives of the people; therefore, we can surmise that Jesus did not decide who to give to based on their motives instead erred on the side of generosity. We can apply this lesson to our conflicts in this way: focus less on making sure your points are understood but seek more to understand others by meeting their need. Don’t become easily angered when others do not understand your viewpoint. Many in those crowds did not understand what Jesus was teaching or who He was, but that did not change how He treated them. Jesus treated all with the same respect and compassion. Often people do not take the time to understand your full story, so err on the side of gracious generosity even when you are misunderstood. Jesus was constantly misunderstood, so take comfort when you are misunderstood. Lastly, do not miss this: prioritize time in a quiet space and rest to be filled up, so that you will have the spiritual fuel and wisdom to respond with gracious generosity and civility to conflict.

– Mary Carmen

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