Friday, August 10, 2012

The Trouble with Being Right

...with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
--Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, 4:2-3

Here is something that has been really driven home to me recently:

The trouble with conflict is that everyone involved thinks they are right.  That is so obvious it seems rather hare-brained to even point it out.  But consider the implications:

Since I am right, I feel justified hardening my heart, manipulating, bending the truth ever so slightly, raising my voice, or whatever else I need to do.  Because I, after all, am right.  But if the other person does any of these things, they are being unreasonable and unworthy of my efforts.  Because they, after all, are wrong.

Since I know my motives are good, I must assume that the motives of the other person are bad.  Having decided that, I form conclusions about not just what the other person is doing, but why.  I feel justified--perhaps even obligated--to share these conclusions with others, so people will know the truth.  I am right, after all.  Therefore, they have to be wrong.  My motives are good.  Therefore, theirs have to be bad.  I do not need to understand why that person acts or believes the way they do.  I do not need to hear them out or look past their many faults.  They are wrong, wrong, wrong, and they must be stopped, and that's all there is to it.

This is how wars start.  This is how friendships end, families fall apart, and churches split.

The solution:  Really listen to what the other side has to say.  You don't have to agree, but make an honest effort to understand.  Maybe get really crazy and actually make an effort to really love and appreciate your enemy.  Remember that mistakes, mixed motives, and selfishness are common to us all (Even you!  Even me!), but truly evil, intentionally destructive people are fairly uncommon.

If I want to get past the pitfalls of being right, I must give the other person the same consideration I want them to give me, no matter how wrong they are or how difficult they are being.  Because here's the thing I have to remember:  Even as I think I am right, they think they are right, too.

At least one of us is wrong, and there's no guarantee that either of us is right.  That means there is a better-than-average chance that I am wrong, too, at least on something.

Remember that.  Don't be wishy-washy.  Just listen, try to understand--no matter how wrong the other person is--and be open about your own faults.

I am not stepping on anyone's toes here.  This is something I struggle with.  But I really believe that most of the problems in the world could be solved by that one thing.  And God demands no less of his children.