How do you deal with conflict? It might seem like an easy question. But really take a moment and reflect back on your most recent conflicts. What emerged from you? Don’t worry about the others or the situation, just focus on your response. Think about how you reacted physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally?
Our reaction is driven by the deep places within our spirits. And often these reactions come from significant places of hurt or brokenness that may have been there for many years or even passed on from generations before. One on one conflict can stir this up, but when these difficulties arise in the midst of larger community these negative reactions can erupt into something even more damaging!
Peter Scazzero, in his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, reflects on the “I and It” relationship that often emerges in the midst of these conflicts. This is basically a means of devaluing another person or placing them in a sub-category to myself. Instead of seeing the one I disagree with as another brother or sister we devalue you him/her and justify our own misbehavior as necessary to correct the one who is less than I. Augustine called this way of being, “caved in on oneself”. He distinguished the difference between a healthy relationship where one orients themselves toward God and others and an unhealthy relationship that is driven by a focus inward. This inward focus inevitably leads to isolation. C.S. Lewis, in ‘The Great Divorce’, describes hell as each person lives in isolation, millions of miles away from one another because they cannot get along. Unfortunately, even in the midst of this hell, people still find a way to rationalize their isolation as a result of someone else, rarely looking to themselves as the culprit.
So, how do we move beyond this? How do we find healing in these deep places? Scazzero offers two directions: move backward to go forward and go deeper. The moving backward to go forward is identifying the wounds from my past, naming them, and recognizing their dysfunction in my life. The going deeper is simply committing to a contemplative spiritual ‘Rule of Life’ that allows the Spirit of God to dive into those deep caverns of pain and bring healing.
Scazzero, gets practical in conflict situations describing two scenarios a False Peacemaking and a True Peace (I will add an additional False Peacemaking scenario).
Ignoring Conflict – False Peacemaking
This is basically the avoidance route, where a person attempts to absorb or ignore the conflict. Often this comes from a place of fear and/or appeasement. It manifests itself in pretending that what is wrong is actually what is right. And often, it does not last and can lead to an explosion (Inciting Conflict).
Inciting Conflict – False Peacemaking (my addition)
This is the hammer approach. It is often filled with excessive amounts of anger and / or sadness. Often it occurs as a result of ignoring conflict over time. The “ignore the problem it will go away” approach creates a ton of pressure and a person eventually explodes. Even if he/she is right, the explosion rarely leads to real peacemaking. Instead, it creates more collateral damage.
Inciting Conflict can also be rooted in deep places of pain from other people and situations. Similar to Ignoring Conflict, Inciting Conflict is actually avoidance. The deeper places of pain and brokenness, that are actually fueling the excessive anger, cannot be dealt with so an unlikely bystander becomes a convenient place of release. And the hammer is dropped.
Embracing Conflict – True Peacemaking
This is emotional and spiritual judo. Instead of running away from the conflict a person moves toward it. Instead of directly resisting the conflict a person moves with it in an attempt to better understand his/her perspective and redirect the conflict into a place of harmony. In this scenario, the levels of energy and the types of emotion are commensurate with the context. Embracing Conflict looks at the other person and does not attempt to impose ‘my will’, rather attempts to let the light of God enter the conflict and reveal His will.