A little bit of conflict is not necessarily a bad thing, Father James Hewes told the 80 people who’d gathered at St. John School in Clyde the evening of March 11.
Differences among humans have been present since the creation, when God made man and woman, he said. God values this diversity, but differences often lead to conflict.
“It’s inherent in the way we were created. Differences involve conflict,” said Father Hewes, pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick Parish in Savannah. “The key is how you resolve the conflict or transform it.”
“Transforming Conflict/Finding Reconciliation” was the title of the presentation Father Hewes gave with Dr. Terry O’Brien, a marriage and family therapist from the Syracuse area. Their talk was the seventh in the Family Education Program, a series of monthly presentations sponsored by St. John the Evangelist and St. Patrick parishes.
Sometimes conflict is inevitable, O’Brien and Father Hewes told those gathered at the presentation. In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus even foresaw conflict ahead for his followers, Father Hewes said.
“No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law,” the passage reads.
God is present even in conflict, O’Brien and Father Hewes noted. Nonetheless, Jesus did call his followers to try to resolve conflict and gave them the tools to do so, Father Hewes said. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus tells his followers to always try to solve a conflict by first confronting those who wronged them.
“But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back,” the passage reads. “But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you.”
This is somewhat similar to seeking the help of a trusted family member, friend or mediator, Father Hewes said. The goal is to settle the conflict on the most basic level as possible and keep it within the church community, he added. If neither of these approaches worked, however, Jesus recommended treating the other party as a tax collector or a Gentile.
“How did Jesus treat tax collectors and Gentiles but with compassion and by always leaving the door open for them,” Father Hewes said. “For Jesus knew it is not conflict per se, but the denial of the dignity and infinite worth of the person that lays the foundation for destructive conflict.”
When a conflict is destructive, each party is blaming the other for the conflict, instead of trying to solve the original problem, he added. Each person involved is channeling creative energy into defending himself or herself and attacking the other party, rather than finding a solution that would satisfy both parties. They see their respective positions as irreconcilable, and refuse to look at the problem objectively.
“Conflict gets destructive when people get stuck. It escalates. It goes from you and I sharing a common problem to you being the problem,” Father Hewes said.
Some postures and actions — like crossing your arms, rolling your eyes or raising your voice — also can escalate conflict and turn it into something destructive, O’Brien told the audience.
To illustrate their point, Father Hewes shared the example of a fictional couple trying to plan their honeymoon. The bride wanted to go to Florida, but the groom wanted to go to New York City. The couple tried to compromise by honeymooning in West Virginia, since it was geographically in the middle, but neither was really happy there. The bride resented the groom for being stubborn, while the groom resented the bride for never wanting to do things he liked, Father Hewes said.
Instead of being upset with each other, the couple could have broken down the problem and explored the reasons behind their desired honeymoon destinations, he said. The bride may have realized that she didn’t necessarily need to go Florida, but she did want to go somewhere warm where she could lay on the beach. The groom may have realized that he didn’t necessarily need to go to the Big Apple, but he wanted to go to a large city where he could take in a ball game and a few shows, he said.
Once the pair understood this, they could have chosen a spot — such as Los Angeles — that would satisfy them both, he said.
Transforming a conflict is different than simply finding a solution to a given disagreement or situation, Father Hewes said. When someone transforms a conflict, he or she digs down to find the root cause of the conflict and work from there. Without doing so, the conflict will just keep springing up in different forms, because the situation has not been reconciled, he said.
“When we’re transforming conflict, we’re trying to bring an attitudinal change to the situation. Resolving it is part of it, but conflict transformation looks at how this may be part of a bigger, systematic problem,” Father Hewes said.
For example, if he bought a lawn mower that was defective, the company might settle with him and give him $1,000, Father Hewes said. This would solve his own conflict, but if there were dozens of other defective lawn mowers, his conflict is part of a much larger problem, and simply paying him won’t solve that problem.
The audience seemed to eagerly grasp the concepts the presenters talked about, Father Hewes said.
“Hopefully we gave them some things to think about, some skills to ponder,” he said.