Yesterday, I defined a destructive conflict as one that occurs when wrong assails right for self-interested motives. A high school cheerleader gossiping about a student in her class, a drunk picking a fight in a bar, and a politician smearing a rival through lies and innuendo: these are examples of conflicts that destroy.
The question is, “How do we resolve such conflicts?”
The first step toward resolution is self-examination. Are you the source of the destructive conflict? Read Proverbs 17:19:
He who loves a quarrel loves sin;
he who builds a high gate invites destruction.
My sophomore year of college was a difficult one for me. I was a philosophy major, and I loved to argue with people. But my friends got tired of me picking fights with them for my intellectual amusement. So my roommate found someone else to live with, my fellow majors filled up their schedules with other relationships, and I found myself living in a dorm by myself at the far end of campus. Trust me, a year of enforced isolation taught me the importance of self-criticism and friendliness. If you find yourself constantly at odds with others, the chances are that you’re the problem.
Assuming that you’re not the problem, the second step in the resolution of destructive conflict is discernment. Ask yourself, will I make the situation better by overlooking it or by confronting it head-on? Sometimes, confrontation will only make the problem worse:
Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out (17:14).
An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city,
and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel (18:19).
In such cases, follow the advice of these two proverbs:
A man’s wisdom gives him patience;
it is to his glory to overlook an offense (19:11).
It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel (20:3).
Other times, however, you can contribute to the resolution of the problem:
A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension,
but a patient man calms a quarrel (15:18).
The question is, how do you exercise the role of the “patient man”?
That brings us to the third step toward resolving destructive conflict: confrontation. Proverbs 22:10 says:
Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife;
quarrels and insults are ended.
Think back to the three destructive-conflict scenarios I mentioned above: the gossiping cheerleader, the fight-picking drunk, and the lies-and-innuendo politician. Confrontation involves three steps: (1) Clarify the issue (gossip, fights, lies and innuendoes). (2) Identify the trouble-maker (the cheerleader, the drunk, the politician). And (3) consequence their behavior. If the trouble-maker admits they were wrong about the issue, then you should forgive them.
Hatred stirs up dissension,
but love covers over all wrongs (10:12).
Absent repentance, however, the only thing you can do with a trouble-maker is exclude them from the circle of your friendship. It’s not easy, but sometimes the only way to secure peace is to “drive out the mocker.”