Read, here, a fresh way that would resolve personal and national disputes. POLICE, during this past winter, were forced to separate two British neighbors. They were slinging snow on to one another's property.
As fast as one man shoveled the snow one way, his next-door neighbor threw it back.
This somewhat humorous incident serves as a microcosm of the tragedy of conflict and confrontation plaguing the whole civilized world. Nations as well as private individuals have more or less settled into a permanent state of conflict!
An Era of Negotiation? At the beginning of his first term, former U.S. President Richard Nixon stated that he felt the nations were entering an era of negotiation as opposed to an era of confrontation. But what kind of negotiation? Negotiation based on a spirit of cooperation, sharing and a willingness to see the other fellow's point of view? Or negotiation in a spirit of intransigence, selfishness and stubbornness?
All too often our daily newspapers tell us it is the latter rather than the former.
As an example one needs to look no further than the regular round of British disputes involving management and trade unions. "We Cannot Budge" are the headlined words of one transport boss. "Rail Battle Lines Are Drawn up" reads another daily tabloid headline. Another title tells us "Labor Management Relations Have Turned Sour." Still another caption informs us that a famous trade union leader is "The Architect of Defiance."
Such emotive phrases are hardly made of the stuff that will equitably resolve bitter labor disputes. Perhaps frustration with such intractable attitudes was what caused Britain's former Employment Secretary James Prior to say, "The time has come to break out of the trench warfare mentality which has wrought such havoc in our industry."
As time goes on it seems that society is forced to endure more and more public airings of various disputes involving not only individuals but organized groups of individuals. Many of these conflicts are, of course, intensified out of all proportion by 20thcentury media exposure. Disputants are usually not left to get on with solving their personal and corporate conflicts. Third parties often report news catching disputes not in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, but with a view to selling more newspapers and magazines. And when various disputants are interviewed by the media, they are often "egged on" by loaded questions, such as "Are you going to settle for such a paltry amount?"
The Danger of Conflict It is in the nature of things that conflict is often senseless and irrational. Emotional outbursts that heighten tension are usually not even central to the dispute at hand. Valuable time is wasted by arguing out emotive non-issues. Damaging strikes are sometimes started because the participants do not interpret a single sentence in the contract in quite the same way.
Make no mistake about it. Unresolved conflict ultimately leads to heartache and bitter strife. Bitterness and hate produce the unwanted economic fruit of dissatisfying lifestyles and a lower standard of living, not to mention divorce and war. As the proverb says: "Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife" (Prov. 30:33)
We throw up our hands in the face of unresolved human behavioral problems and conflicts. As one psychology professor remarked: "Yet with respect to its own [human] behavior something always seems to go wrong. It is easy to understand why people ask: 'When shall we have the behavioral science and technology we need to solve our [human] problems?'"
That appears to be a very good question, but hear the professor out. He continues: "I believe that is the wrong question and that we should be asking: 'Why do we not use the behavioral science we already have?'" (B.F. Skinner, Human Nature, March, 1978, page 86) That's an even better question!
Another important element in the equation was brought out in The Christian Science Monitor. Richard J. Cattani wrote: "The big issue our society hasn't faced is the spiritual deprivation in relationships.... At the deepest level is the question: 'What are we doing together in the universe?'" (January 18, 1979) These observations were made in a marriage context, but they apply just as well to behavioral problems in general.
The Bible puts both of these elements together. The Bible has existed for 2,000 years as a potential problem solver, notwithstanding the fact that men very rarely open its pages in the face of their many conflicts. The Bible also gives spiritual as well as practical solutions. Its solutions exemplify the ultimate spiritual purpose of why human beings exist on earth in the first place.
Jesus as Problem Solver Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace! He came to this earth 2,000 years ago with solutions to human behavioral problems. In life he gave us the principles to resolve problems between ourselves. And in his death he resolved the one basic conflict between rebellious humans and the Creator.
But Jesus' act of reconciliation did not stop there. The apostle John understood that there is an inextricable interrelationship between loving God and loving one's neighbor and the irony of claiming to do one while omitting the other. He wrote: "If any one says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (I John 4:20-21, RSV). We must, therefore, reconcile conflicts with our neighbors as well.
Lawyer Roger Fisher observed also when writing in the Monitor "My general theme is that conflict is natural and inevitable, but we have methods of dealing with it." This is a statement of basic truth about all ages. Strife seems to be common to all human beings. Jesus said that offenses are bound to occur (Matt. 18:7). But he also had methods of dealing with the problem. He gave us a simple formula for reconciling our differences. This particular set of principles was primarily intended to resolve misunderstandings between Church brethren, but these principles also have wider implications for all of humanity.
Especially is this true in the matter of proper procedure. Mr. Cattani wrote in the article previously quoted: "Most people overlook the importance of procedure in a dispute. They want to consider only the substance" (CSM, op. cit.).
Here is the simple formula just as Jesus gave it to his disciples. Notice the first principle. "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother" (Matt. 18:15). Faithfully following this one principle alone would eliminate much of human conflict. But no, when conflict does arise, we go to friends, relatives, fellow employees — everyone except the concerned party. This is a fundamental procedural matter. We violate it at our peril!
Now when should a third party be brought into the proceedings? Notice Jesus' instruction: "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (verse 16). Occasionally the one-on-one approach may not be sufficient to defuse a particularly stubborn disagreement. Love is an art that must be learned. A third party may have to mediate in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.
But let us take the time to properly ingest this important instruction. Notice that Jesus gives us the option of one or two mediators — not one or two accusers. Obviously the correct choice would depend on the nature of the conflict, the personality of the principals and other factors. We would need wisdom to make an intelligent decision. Reliable, dispassionate persons should be sought!
Finally, note the last phrase: "every word may be established." A third party can often separate fact from opinion. He or she may be able to clearly define the exact nature of the dispute by disposing of a lot of red herrings. The facts would be clearly established making it easier for both principals to accept the inevitable truth of the matter.
Surely the proper implementation of this second principle would eliminate many more conflicts.
The Court of Last Resort "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you," wrote the apostle Paul, "live peaceably with all men" (Rom. l2:18). But he also wrote: "... [Pray] that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith" (II Thess. 3:2). The point is that sometimes it is not possible to live peaceably with all men. Some people can be so stubbornly intransigent and set in their ways that they simply will not submit to arbitration in any given dispute.
Now consider the third principle — the court of last resort. Jesus continued: "And if he shall neglect to hear them [the third parties], tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matt. 18:17). Sometimes all the cards are face up on the table and one person is clearly in the right. If the one in the wrong stubbornly persists in his position, we are left with no other alternative than to discontinue the relationship. It is hoped such cases are in the small minority.
What about you personally? Are you a peacemaker? When unfortunate situations occur, do you pour oil on troubled waters? Do you bring offended parties back together? Are you a bridge builder and a conciliator?
Jesus said: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Are you one?