Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone – Romans 12:18
A sad characteristic that follows some people is the need to be critical or in conflict. This ‘way of relating’ is often observed in ‘independent churches’ who have made an art form of it. However, conflict and criticism has also flowed over into how individuals from such backgrounds relate to other individuals in life in general.
Patterns of Conflict:
Instead of finding purpose in what they stand for, conflicted people are often searching for their identity based on who or what they are against. Strangely, to be in situation where they are not in conflict with anyone is foreign, and so sadly, they often create a conflict to fill a void. A tell-tale sign is the 2 year itch. If a person is changing locations, jobs, churches and friends with observed regularity, chances are they are a person who thrives on conflict. To observers, the stated reason for the ‘change’ is usually so minuscule that it befuddles most rational people. When confronted about the rationale for considering a change, often asking the question morphs into the point of conflict.
Having a critical spirit can be a perversely comforting thing. Criticising others takes the attention away from one’s self and one’s problems. It highlights the error of others and by extension purifies the criticiser. However, in all relationship conflict, the problem is usually shared, but it is rarely shared equally. Often the person who is most conflicted sees the split as nearly 100% the other persons fault and nearly 0% their fault.
Anatomy of a Conflict:
The reality is that most relationship conflict derives from poor communication. It starts out from each of us not clearly expressing and documenting our goals and aspirations. Over-time assumptions are made. Those assumptions are then shard with others, but not the original party. Eventually, the conflict develops a life of its own and the starting ‘goal or aspiration’ is now irrelevant. In the course of the conflict hurtful words are often said. Even though those words are not meant literally, they are like continual arrows that are replayed through the mind of the hearer. Seeking comfort, the conflicted individual(s) will seek support from their network of friends. If a friend agrees with their position and opposes the other persons position, they survive until the next round. If not, they are defriended.
Principles for Managing Conflict:
This is not to say that we should never have a relational divide or a change of focus, but those things should be a last resort, not a first response. While it does not guarantee that all conflict will be positively resolved, Matthew 18 gives us some good guidelines for handling conflict.
1. Realise that we can disagree on many, many issues and still fellowship with people.
2. Realise that we share more responsibility than we think in most conflicts.
3. Redouble our efforts in communicating well.
Jesus values relationships. He did not give up on man after a 2 year itch, rather he went the extra mile to reconcile with man. If we take our relationships seriously, then I we will seek to minimise conflict and live as much as possible in peace with all men.