Jesus shows us the way to resolve our conflicts
Rev. John Roche, SDB
By now most people know about conflict resolution and have probably read a book or two or attended a conference lending insight to the process of meeting conflicts in life.
The tools for conflict resolution vary from one technique to another, but they have some common denominators. The first consideration in resolving conflict is naming the conflict for what it is before deciding what action to take.
Blame distracts us from the sincere effort to name the conflict we experience and puts the burden outside of ourselves. Blame creates victims and is, in the last analysis, a selfish act.
Blame is the name of the game for children learning to negotiate their lives, push their boundaries, and learn to relate to the world around them. It is the stuff of discovering that the child is not, in fact, the center of the universe.
But blame should not be the name of the game for a mature and healthy adult. What should be the name of the game for most of us is conflict resolution—learning how to live peaceably with others while not surrendering our truth and our convictions.
We live in a culture of blame. If you do not believe me, just watch any commercial during a campaign season. The language of politics has become so polluted with personal attacks and blame that it seems impossible to consider any reasonable resolution or solution to even the simplest of conflicts.
Blaming causes war. It fuels fundamentalisms of all shapes. It seeks to attack, to demand vengeance, to exact punishment. Blame begets blame. It leads to violence and rapidly accelerates away from any form of negotiation or diplomacy. Peace is impossible with blame.
Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus' words came as a total shock to his listeners whenever he spoke about forgiveness and the need to show kindness even to those who oppress us? It was neither easy then nor any easier today to "pray for those who persecute you." And in our culture of blame, these challenges of Jesus seem like fairy tales. His challenge to us seems like weakness. We hesitate because we might even believe that we are enabling evil to win.
Jesus is the best teacher of conflict resolution. He forces us to name the conflict for what it really is. Scholars still wonder just what he was writing in the dirt when many accusers dragged an adulteress to Jesus. Was he writing with his finger the name of the sin for that person holding the biggest stone? Did Jesus ask the crowd to calm down and consider possible compromises? No.
Jesus forced his audience to identify the real conflict at hand. He confronted the hypocrisy of the hearts around him, which were hoping to scapegoat another sinner to deflect their own hardness of heart.
Exposing their motivations moved the accused woman out of their crosshairs and put the aim back on themselves. It was never about who was stronger or who was more righteous. It was always about the inner conflicts of our lives and the power to seek resolution without blame.
It is interesting that in conflict resolution technique, the next step after naming the true nature of one's inner conflict is to initiate dialogue that completely resists blame. "You" statements are never allowed in the next steps. Only "I" statements are permitted.
In the end, a person's experience cannot be denied. The act of seeking resolution is the step taken to try to be understood. In an "I" statement, for instance, a person might say to another: "I feel embarrassed whenever I am corrected in public by you." This is not a blaming statement. It merely expresses a person's experience. The next step in resolving conflict involves helping the other person to understand one's experience and to see life from their point of view. If the other person is incapable of understanding this experience, the person seeking resolution has a choice to make. They can continue to try to be understood, or they can decide to move away from the person at the center of the conflict.
Perhaps this last step truly highlights just how amazing our God is. Our God never decides to move away from the person at the center of the conflict. Instead, our God, whether we understand or not, continues to love, forgive and seek peace with us. Recall the words of Jesus from the cross, "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." That conflict resolution removes sin and conquers death. That resolution brings peace even where there is hardness of hearts.
(Rev. John Roche, SDB, is director of the Institute of Salesian Studies at Don Bosco Hall in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley.)
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