A few years ago, in one of those cases where famous people fall out and make albums about it, singer Amy Lee of Evanescence made an album called “The Open Door” that dealt with her side of the story, and the other party’s band made an album about his side of the story called “Finding The Beauty In Negative Spaces.” Together, the two of them portray a lot of unhealthy bickering and general difficulty, and it’s hard to give too much credit to either party in the dispute, because these disputes always tend to show people behaving at their worst and most petty. However, in all of that, there was at least one aspect in which Amy Lee desired for good relations (which cannot always be said for the parties in these disputes), wishing not to be forced to close the open door.
And it is that concept that I would like to talk about today. At the outset, I would like to concede that there are a few people who are going to feel as if this post is a personal post aimed at them, and I would like to say this is not so. To be sure, there are multiple people to whom the comments I make in this post apply, but like many of my posts, this is about a pattern of behavior and a pattern of emotional immaturity in dealing with conflict resolution and is not a personal attack against anyone in particular. For those people who are made upset or angry upon reading this post, I only beg your indulgence, and for you to reflect upon it when you are less upset, and to recognize that the desire of this post is to lay down some easy ground rules for how to successfully resolve a difficulty someone has with me so that it does not drag on for months or years as has been too often the case, especially given that there are a lot of people involved who have expressed a wish not to talk to me directly or indirectly, and so deny me any opportunity to go about talking about this matter in private as I would prefer to do.
Given that I am the sort of person who in general takes specific incidents and seeks to find larger and general and abstract patterns from those specific incidents, it should come as no surprise that the thorny and difficult subject of conflict resolution should be one of these subjects of frequent personal frustration. I don’t like fighting and arguing, and I really hate it when people are upset at me, whether they have a good reason for it or not. I really hate it when people feel that they cannot talk to me because they do not feel capable of defending themselves against my inevitable questions and comments either, nor feel that the passage of months or years gives them the desire to mend broken bridges and relationships (even friendships and family relationships) that should never have been harmed in the first place but for hasty and hostile assumptions and a lack of communication and respect.
As a person who is outspoken and blunt, I am aware that I am likely to cause offense with what I say and write from time to time, especially for those who are more private and reserved by nature who dislike having any hint of their private business being known to others. Generally speaking, the only way that I can avoid writing about something or talking about it to others is if such matters are able to be fully resolved between me and the other person, and when this avenue of resolution is removed, I am left with few options in order to live a tranquil and peaceful life except to unburden myself in writing in some fashion. So, if you dislike my writing about a certain subject, and you have a difficulty with me, you need to be willing to have an honest and open and respectful conversation with me.
My general attitude to conflicts is pretty simple and straightforward and based on Matthew 18:15-20, which reads in the New American Standard (which I have conveniently beside me): “If your brother sins (against you), go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
The last three verses of this passage have other applications that I do not wish to discuss, but all of them have to deal with the context of conflict resolution. If someone offends you, and it is bothering you and upsetting you (and it generally does), you have the responsibility to go to your brother (or sister) and let them know of their offense, not when you are angry at them and misrepresenting their conduct, but when you have thought about it and reflected about it and desire them to change their behavior and admit that they have wronged you and seek repentance. There are times, many times for me, where I do not know that I have offended someone until someone is very upset about it and not inclined to listen to my perspective or to be gracious in any way because they have gotten so upset without dealing with offenses that they have grown to an intolerable level, through no fault of my own (given that I was innocent of bad intent and also generally inclined to work out whatever issues exist with respect and justice).
So, if you have a problem with me (and no doubt some people reading this will have or will have had problems with me), the first step is to calm down, and in as fair-minded fashion as possible try to come to me with the ways that I have caused offense, working under the assumption that it was not an intentional offense and with the desire for genuine reconciliation. One cannot attempt conflict resolution without a real desire not to be in conflict any longer, not to hold on to hurts or grudges to justify one’s unkind and ungodly behavior towards someone else who is largely (if not completely) innocent of such matters as they may be accused of. I know that has often been the case with me personally. If you do not inform someone of exactly how they are offending you, you cannot blame them for offense after offense that they commit in ignorance and with the best of feelings and motives and the greatest amount of personal respect and fond feeling for you. If you do not inform them of offenses without a desire for peace and reconciliaion and the release of whatever hatred and anger you have towards them, you are not dealing in good faith towards them.
If someone (like myself) does not respond favorably to an honest and fair discussion of offenses, and in general it may be assumed that when there is a serious breakdown of relations that there are probably offenses on both sides that ought to be admitted and forgiven and worked through, the next task someone has is to bring a good-faith witness that shows one’s desire for honest and fair-minded reconciliation. The witness is not there to increase problems by being a partisan, but is a witness that someone comes with a desire to make peace and stop whatever kind of conflict or disagreement is present between two parties. It is hard to find people to serve as good faith mediators in conflicts. As someone who has had more than my share of such conflicts, often to my own mystification because I don’t see myself as being that hard to talk to reasonably and fairly, nor that unwilling to admit my own faults and work honestly and sincerely and openly to overcome them, I lament the shortage of people who can work in good faith to ameliorate such conflicts and divisions as exist in my own life.
It is only at this point that one should even consider going to ministers or the congregation at large in a dispute. Quite honestly, I can count on one hand the amount of people that have ever come to me first or with a good faith witness in a dispute with the desire to make peace. I cannot count all of the people whom I have thought fondly of and been frustrated at my lack of communication with (almost always because someone was unwilling to talk with me) because of disputes whose causes I have not always understood. I don’t like holding grudges, I am rather quick to forgive, having had a lifetime of experience in forgiving rather serious offenses and breaches of the peace, and yet other people seem to be very unwilling to come to me in peace, which I find deeply upsetting. I’d like to be friendly with just about everyone, it’s just that one needs to be friendly with me, and that is not always easy to find. It is especially upsetting to be blindsided by people seeking to take matters to authorities before any reasonable efforts have been made to deal with a problem by less serious means. The fact that people behave in such an unchristian matter with alarming regularity suggests something defective in the way that christian conflict resolution has been taught and practiced among us.
And so, given the fact that I have had many disagreements with people who kept silent for months and years except at those times when they were lashing out in anger against me for offenses I was generally not guilty of in the first place, I feel it necessary to lay down some ground rules for those who wish to deal with their conflicts and hostility with me. I am not a hard person to communicate with, and when you have the time and are willing for an honest and open conversation, my door is open. I don’t want to hurt anyone, nor do I wish to keep any conflicts going on that have started in either the recent or distant past. I don’t hold grudges, I don’t hold bitterness or hatred in my heart, and I’d like to see the people I know as either actual or potential brothers or sisters in Christ. If you have a problem with me, take a few deep breaths, figure out how I have bothered or hurt or offended you, and bring it to me with a desire to make peace. If you don’t feel you can do it alone, find a friend (or two) whose fair-mindedness can be trusted between both of us, so that we can work out the problems and find out they weren’t so bad after all. Whatever you do, don’t hold it in and don’t lash out at me, because I don’t deserve it.