This week has been marked by a series of conflicts. Family, work, community, church – there have been people who have complained, challenged and upset. I thought I'd reflect on these events and see if I could find a positive angle.
I won't go into the details but they concern a decision made by a two community organisations, a sensitivity which emerged in a formal complaint and a long term family relationship.
What interest me is how people react to conflict. Sometimes it's a small thing which sets in motion a chain reaction of claim and counter claim. Often the conflict has a history behind it of simmering dissatisfaction which surfaces in something quite trivial. Conflicts can also be divisive and strategic. Both the press and gossips revel in conflict, (all good stories have conflict).
As I was thinking about this was reading a book by Shane Hipps called The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture. In the book he discussed the idea the the electronic media has the power to bring people together but also pull them apart. The global implosion, he says, presents us with opportunities for interpersonal conflict unlike anything we are accustomed to. He says that cultures that are used to living as communities also become adept at handling conflict, and in fact the conflict is a force for good which is welcomed. But we are still living in a largely individualist culture and hence a territorial one.
The challenge here I think is to recognise that as we move forward we are bound to expose difficult choices and points of disagreement. This presents us with an opportunity to re-affirm our values, reach genuine understanding and to bravely enter territory which is new to us. If we build a strong community conflict will turn to advantage; we can learn to listen and adapt. I can't think of anything more boring than a place where everyone agrees – a sort of bland retirement.
As an example, Shane Hipps uses the Anabaptist who have developed a robust theology of conflict. He also points to a document used as a pledge or covenant for Mennonite churches.
Here are some quick examples of the a advice given:
- Go directly to those with whom we disagree
- Avoid behind the back criticism
- Own our part of the conflict
- Listen carefully, summarise and check what is heard
- Suspend judgement
- Generate a variety of options
So get yourself a theology of conflict.