By Kevin Wiebe
Often in life the things that we focus on are not the most helpful things. In the midst of conflict this happens frequently and is extremely difficult to avoid.
There are three notable things that are helpful to differentiate when we are seeking to make peace with someone. The first is the words or actions that are the source of the conflict. The second are the motives behind those words or actions, and the third is the impact of those words/actions.
How often have we been in a disagreement about something and most of our energy is spent arguing about what words or actions mean. Maybe we said something while trying to be helpful that was drastically misunderstood. Or maybe we said something out of anger that was understood just fine, but we don’t want to admit that we said such a thing so we come up with an alternate meaning for those words. Whatever the case, we can argue back and forth about this, which often leads into the second piece: motives.
At some point in a conflict we want to make sense of what has happened. We tend to think in terms of story, and our culture and world make it easy to frame everything in terms of good guys and bad guys, victims and oppressors.
Surely there are many times where such a way of looking at things is quite accurate. Yet when someone offends us, it is far too easy for us to fall into a way of thinking that demonizes them and makes them out to be the villain of our story. Yet what if it is simply a personality clash, or we really did misunderstand things? What if we just don’t know the whole story?
While we like to spend a lot of time assuming the motives of others, it is the least helpful place to spend our time. Better to assume that their motives are generally good, while perhaps having a dose of self-preservation and desire for saving face thrown in. Either way, it is better to spend the most time in the place where we generally spend the least.
In conflict it can be the most helpful to talk about impact. When we give one another the benefit of the doubt in terms of motives, understanding that we may interpret words or actions differently, we can come to see that regardless of motives we sometimes still hurt one another.
What if I came to your house and you honoured me with a cup of coffee in your favourite colour-changing Star Trek mug. You left the room to get some snacks and came back to see the mug shattered on the floor. Regardless of the circumstances, your favourite mug is broken—be it through an accident, negligence, or malice.
At this point, part of me making it right would include doing something to repair the damage. While this may not be possible in the case of collectors’ items or items with sentimental value, repentance and reconciliation demands that I be humbly willing to try. Even if I can successfully defend my motives, the cup is still broken, and unless we spend time recognizing that, our relationships will often remain so as well.