Making Conflict Positive in a World where Trump is the Front Runner

She is a “pig,” “dog,” “slob,” “bimbo,” or “disgusting animal” – Trump describing a variety of women who have disagreed with him.

“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes – blood coming out of her wherever.” – Trump on Megan Kelly.

“She is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man.” – Trump on Arianna Huffington

“Whenever she sees me, she kisses my ass.  She is disgusting.”  — Trump on Bette Midler

In every one of these quotes, Trump was responding to a disagreement that he had had with a woman by attacking her.  For some reason, he can’t take the matter they disagree on and focus on the actual issue.  Instead, he responds by aggressively attacking her.  The noble thing about Trump is that he does the same thing to men – he is an equal opportunity aggressor.

And every time, I assure you that his comments did nothing to resolve the disagreement.  Yet, in our society, the way Trump approaches conflict is not just acceptable, it is admired.

But it isn’t a new phenomenon  – even in the church.  Martin Luther called Jews “liars” and peasants “thieving hoards” when they had disagreements.  Calvin and Knox were no better – lashing out at those with whom they had disagreements often “damning to hell” their opponents (if not having them actually killed).

Today, for most of us, that kind of aggressive conflict is less extreme, but no more effective in making conflict constructive. For example:

Jane wanted to convince Keri to do something her way.  Jane started the conversation by saying, “You and your friends think you are too good to do things the way the rest of us do them.” 

Sam assumed that something Tom had said was meant to be an attack on him. Sam started the conversation by accusing Tom: “You are intolerant of other’s ideas.”

Kevin assigned theological belief to Larry based on something Kevin had heard Larry say. Kevin started the conversation with “Larry, Your problem is…”. 

Is this aggressive approach to conflict the way of Jesus?

This is one of those times when asking “What Would Jesus Do?” doesn’t work quite simply because we aren’t Jesus.  For instance, Jesus runs into a woman getting water at the well. In the course of their conversation, they enter into a debate of sorts.  During it, he points out to her where her life has gone wrong.  Jesus can do this because not only does he love her unconditionally and desire the best for her, but even more importantly, as her creator, he actually knows the truth about her.

Only Jesus knows the truth about us.  You and I have no right to judge a person’s heart. There is not a human being on earth – not a mother, a father, psychologist, judge, politician, counselor, spiritual director, pastor, or priest who can know what is in the heart of another. Yet it amazes me how we humans – especially those who see themselves as leaders – judge first and listen never.

There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy.
So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor? (Jam 4:12 NRS)

In addition, we have forgotten that conflict can be a chance to love more, right wrongs, and make the world a better place.  But when we judgmentally attack the other person, then we are claiming to have the ultimate authority that only Jesus has.  And that is never a road to making conflict constructive. In truth, the aggressor has done nothing more than prove themselves to be a bully.

So why not practice positive conflict instead?

***

A Follower of Jesus’s Guidelines for Practicing Positive Conflict 

Before you confront another person:

Lay out what is bothering you before God and let God speak into it by asking yourself some questions:

Do I have unconditional love for that person?

Do I have positive goals in confronting that person?

Am I willing to be wrong and change my mind?

Do I have specific solutions that I can propose with the other’s best interest in mind?

The Conversation:

Use “I” language. Not “You” language.  “I am hurt by that racial slur you made” is a far better way to have a meaningful discussion than “You are a racist.”

Help the person see why the issue is important to you. Don’t assume that they are informed.  Educate instead of accuse.

Hear what the person says rather than tear down their words. Don’t pounce when they call something red when it is pink.  If you know what they mean, let it slide and stay on point.  If you truly don’t know what they mean, ask for clarity without judging.

Make it easy for the other person to change their mind during the conversation. How many conflict resolutions fail because we won’t let the other person come around to our way of thinking without punishing or humiliating them first?

If they are the type to process things out loud, let them ramble around while they think things through without jumping down their throats every time they go in a direction you disagree with. Be patient and let them think.

Ending the Conversation:

Positive Conflict is not about winning.

You have gained nothing if you have not loved the other person.

You have gained nothing if you have not made the other person’s best interests a priority.

You have hurt the kingdom of God if all you did was silence the other person, make them scared of you, or make them want to stay away from you.

I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning: “let us love one another.” And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment (to love each other!) just as you have heard it from the beginning– you must walk in it. (2Jo 1:5-6 NRS)

***

April describes herself as a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs: The Disorderly Parable of the Epistle of James. Great for an individual read or group Bible studies! You can follow her blog by clicking on the three dots in upper right hand of this page and scrolling down.

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