Conflict seems to be as common to human life as breathing. Whether in marriages, families, friendships, the church, or social settings—we have conflict. My concern is not so much how to prevent it, but how to mitigate its storm and lessen its wounding.
The Bible asks and answers a very appropriate question:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” (James 4:1-2)
What’s Who’s the Problem?
The primary source of our conflict is within us. We crave something often times from someone. When we do not get it then we get very upset. Our passions or desires are at war within us. We are not getting what we want (usually under the headings of honor, comfort, or control) so we lash out. We then try to manipulate the other person actively by doing things like yelling or even physical aggression or we do it passively by ignoring them with the silent treatment. Whatever extreme we are on we can be sure that it is our unmet cravings of our heart that are fueling this conflict.
What makes matters worse is the fact that the person(s) we are arguing with are also sinners. They have the same heart issues and are doing the same things. What’s more, sometimes they mistreat you in the argument. This brings a sense of mistreatment that makes you feel justified in your mistreatment of them—which has the same effect on the other person. This ensures that the conversation gets locked into a veritable labyrinth of conflict.
How do you break out of this?
Say and mean 4 words: I may be wrong.
This step of humility has a very high success rate because it does one thing right away: it fires our prestigious lawyers.
Fire Your Defense Attorney
In most arguments we retain the services of our own personal defense attorney. You know he is active when you keep on defending yourself (your character, your actions, your thoughts, everything). No matter what is said he yells, “OBJECTION!” You won’t even let the words settle into your ears before the defense attorney roars. This is another way of saying we don’t listen to the other person. Which, in addition to being extremely rude, is very prideful.
Fire Your Prosecuting Attorney
Sometimes, however, there is additional help retained. In the midst of defending ourselves we can switch, on a dime, to begin prosecuting the other. “Well, you are very good at pointing out my faults, but I have noticed that you….” When fueled by the unmet desires and cravings for self, this attorney is a shark. He goes after stuff that happened years ago, irrelevant items, subjective observations, as well as everything and anything he can get his hands on. He will do anything to bury the other person and exonerate himself.
However, if we just open the window to the possibility that we might be wrong, both of these guys are out of work for a time.
Humility Leads Us Home
In every argument at least one person is being selfish like James 4 says; but, more than likely, both are. The way to cut through selfishness is humility. Say the four (magic) words: “I may be wrong” and begin trying to understand what the other person is actually saying.
One more note. I’ve been arguing now for nearly 40 years. I’ve gotten pretty good at it with all the practice. If I were to calculate what percentage I have been wrong in those disagreements I would guess it would be about 70% of the time. This may be low. For me, it just makes sense to say these words, “I may be wrong” because, I probably am! If you think about it, and are honest, this may be true for you also.
Behind every flare up is an inflated view of self. The only way out of this is to humble yourself. Saying these four magic words are a step in the right direction: “I may be wrong.”