Shakespeare aptly stated the two basic ways to deal with conflict in his famous quote:
“To be or not to be…that is the question:
Whether t’is nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
Conflict is defined as a serious disagreement or argument which is typically protracted, but it can also be said to be an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests. Everyone faces conflict at some point in life, and it seems to occur with an irritating regularity. So, which is the better way to deal with conflict? To just accept it in my mind and silently suffer or to take action and deal with the issue?
One article lists five different ways to deal with conflict: 1) Avoiding; this happens when people ignore or withdraw from conflict. 2) Competing; this is used by people who enter a conflict planning to win. It doesn’t allow for different perspectives and rarely works in a group problem. 3) Accommodating; this happens when one party gives in to the wishes or demands of another, but it can result in unresolved issues. 4) Collaborating; this is best used when people are both assertive and cooperative. They can contribute with the possibility of co-creating a shared solution. 5) Compromising; this works where participants are partially assertive and cooperative. Everyone gives up a little bit of what they want. (The Participation Company/ Blog/ 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies/ 6-7-2016 /theparticipationcompany.com)
Although my life showcases many occasions of conflict, I will merely share one that took place in my twenties. Before marrying and starting my missionary career with my husband, I was a high school English teacher at a large Christian school in the south. One day, while cruising through the crowded hallway between class periods, I overheard one of my students bragging about being drunk. His story included his defense of his behavior to his father, a local pastor.
I rather innocently mentioned his story to the school secretary when I walked into the office. Expressing a greater concern than myself, she decided to address this student’s comment to the principal, who then sent a notice home to his parents to deal with it. Little did I know that I had just set a trap for myself.
I was pulled into the church pastor’s office for a sound scolding for inferring that the son of a local pastor would brag of such an issue. I was reminded that this pastor was influential in the community. I was then given an ultimatum: apologize to the boy and his parents and say that I did not overhear that comment or lose my job.
I was crushed! It was not my first encounter with church politics, but it was the first time that it came with such a heavy consequence. From my lofty view of being thirty years older, I’m not sure that I would have made a different decision. Today, I have more resources than back then, but I caved to the pressure because I needed my job.
An appointment was made for the parents and the boy to meet in my classroom with the principal and apologize for spreading untrue slander against this teenager. I was mortified! I dutifully spoke my apology and then lied saying that I had not really listened to the student’s bragging about his drunken story. The student sat there with his head down, which I read as shame for his comment getting me into a pinch. All these years later, I can still cringe at the cowardly way that I caved to pressure. I had decided in my mind to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
But what does Scripture say about conflict? Would the Bible advise me to put up with the politics to save my job or stand on principle and lose my job? Hebrews 12:14 seems to give advice both ways by saying, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness…” By caving to that ultimatum, I followed peace, but with my lie, I dropped holiness like a hot potato. Another verse asks me to “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) It’s saying that I need to stand back and look at the big picture in such a conflict. In hindsight, I know so much more than I did then. I know that my student was simply lying to escape the wrath of his pompous father. I also know that the pastor who demanded the apology was hiding his crime of molesting children. For me then though, it was a lose-lose scenario.
So, did I give any hope for conflict? I guess not. But I hope to have given some perspective on taking time to get the bigger picture.