10. Five Environments (Part 5)
When people are growing in their relationships, it would just be a matter of time when conflicts will arise. This is inevitable. The only time that this does not happen is when people have superficial relationships. When people only relate superficially, no real harm or hurt ever happens. Everyone is just trying to show their best. They keep their feelings to themselves, and they try to control whatever negative emotions they might have inside of them. The result? Well, no conflicts of course.
But when people begin to be honest with each other, they start hurting each other. Why? Because people are basically different from each other. Besides they are “works in progress,” i.e. God is not finished with them yet. Sin is still present. So putting them together is bound to create some conflict. This is the challenge of all authentic relationships.
So people who want to live in community with others must learn not just how to initiate and develop relationships. They must also learn how to maintain relationships. The way to do this is not a secret. People who have studied the subject of human relationships know what needs to happen to keep relationships intact in the midst of conflicts. The problem is not in the knowing; it’s in the doing. Only a person born of the Spirit can set aside the power of self-centeredness in order to do what needs to be done for the sake of real peace.
To maintain relationships, people must learn three things. First, they must learn how to define and respect boundaries. Second, they must learn how to make peace or resolve conflicts once boundaries are broken. Finally, they must learn how to negotiate compromises when issues cannot be completely resolved.
Learning how to define and respect each other’s boundaries is the key to maintaining healthy relationships. First of all, everyone needs to be aware of the concept. Each of us have an invisible wall that surrounds us and defines us as unique individuals. This wall is comprised of our personalities as well as our preferences, beliefs, values, convictions and deepest concerns. Our personalities are those unique behaviors that characterize us. Our preferences, beliefs, values, convictions, and deepest concerns are the inner side of us. No one sees or knows them (unlike our external behaviors). Even if people would know our unique personalities by simply observing us or hanging around with us for a significant period of time, they cannot know what is truly inside of us unless we reveal such things to them. But these things comprise our invisible wall. Violating them is tantamount to violating our personhood. Of course, the deeper the penetration, the deeper the offense.
So the beginning of healthy relationships comes right at the very start and it continues during the developmental period. It is during this time that we must learn how to trust others by revealing to them who we really are, i.e. our personalities and hidden selves. Then, those of us who receive such trust must learn to reciprocate by learning to accept people for who they are. Only when there is trust and acceptance can there be respect for each other’s boundaries.
Now, even though we have trust, acceptance, and respect for each other, we can still violate each other’s boundaries. This is inevitable because we are different from each other. When this happens, we must be ready to resolve conflicts or negotiate differences.
Resolving conflicts involve recognizing it before it becomes destructive. A conflict can either be an offense or a difference. An offense needs peace making skills. A difference needs negotiating skills. Both of them may have an emotional component, but they are not the same. Therefore, they should not be approached in the same way. For example, an offense is a sin; a difference is not. An offense needs forgiveness; a difference needs a judgment. Trying to deal with an offense as if it is a difference will only result in further offense. Trying to deal with a difference as if it is an offense will only result in disrespect.
So to resolve a conflict, the sin issue must be acknowledged. To do this, we must allow for dialogue (not discussion). It would be good to follow a pattern whenever we are trying to resolve a conflict. I have come up with the PEACE Process to help people resolve their conflicts. This involves talking and listening based on a five-point agenda.
First, the problem behavior must be addressed. What caused the offense? What did the other person say or do that caused the other person to be hurt? At this stage, the offended party must be honest enough to speak, and the offender must be humble enough to listen.
Then, the offended party must speak honestly about how they felt. This represents E or emotions. The offender must resist the temptation to justify or make excuses. He or she must simply listen with humility. Sin is determined by the one offended, not by the offender.
Third, the offender must be given an opportunity to clarify their intentions. This is called assessment of motives (the letter A in PEACE). The offender must be careful not to make excuses or make light the sin. However, the offended party must be careful also not to become “closed” when the offender is explaining his or her motives.
Fourth, confession and forgivenss must be given as the sin becomes clear. To confess is to agree about the sin problem. To forgive is to promise not to exact revenge or punishment anymore. Both are necessary for resolving any conflict.
Finally, the last E represents encouragement for the future. Both parties must learn to recommit themselves to the relationship, making promises to respect each other’s boundaries again. This involves practical changes on both sides. Only when this is done as honestly and as sincerely as possible can there be real resolution and peace between conflicting parties.
Again, let me reiterate that this can only be possible when a person has learned to submit Himself to God through Jesus Christ. For only then can he learn to submit to others in humility. The self can only be overcome through faith in Christ.
I will talk about negotiating differences in my next blog.