Posts Tagged ‘Conflict’

In Essentials UnityAround the year 1627 a German Lutheran theologian named Rupertus Meldenius wrote a small tract on the subject of Christian unity. The tract was written, according to an article by Dr. Mark Ross, “during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), a bloody time in European history in which religious tensions played a significant role.” From that tract written by a theologian otherwise unknown to most of us came a phrase I have heard many times in my life: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” It is a wise bit of advice we would do well to remember today, and not just in the context of religious beliefs and practice.

To break the phrase down a bit just to make sure we understand, the first part – “in essentials unity” – assumes that there are some things on which we must agree and around which we must be unified. In the original context, this contains the most basic elements of the Christian faith. This is no small task to define, even for Christians who find themselves divided from other expressions of the Christian faith around the world to varying degrees. The challenge, then, is to define what those non-negotiable essentials are and to hold firm to them regardless of what nonbelievers and others may say. The unity sought is not unity for the sake of unity, but unity around a common core belief and experience.

The second part of the phrase is “in non-essentials liberty.” This means that we must willingly admit that there are some beliefs and practices of lesser importance about which we can legitimately disagree but still get along with one another and not feel compelled to condemn or force others into our way of thinking and behaving. We might call it agreeing to disagree. It is important to note that this is not a replacement for the first phrase above; there is still that core component on which we should agree, but there are many gray areas where people of equal faith and motive should be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to practice as they deem best.

The final part of the phrase is “in all things charity.” In this case, charity means love and comes from the Latin word for love, caritas. Bottom line: whether we agree or disagree with others in matters of faith or practice, we are to demonstrate love in our attitudes and in our actions. We do not have the biblical option of being unloving.

As I consider the wisdom of “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity,” my thoughts first go to application of that wisdom in the Christian context originally intended by Meldenius. For a brief but good discussion from that angle, I refer you to the article by Mark Ross. It seems to me, though, that there is great value in the phrase today apart from a religious context as well.

For example, we just witnessed the failure of both major political parties in the U. S. House and Senate (and White House) as they spent weeks calling each other names and acting like immature children rather than doing the job they are elected and are paid very generously to do. Unity? Not in this political theater. Liberty? No way. The prevailing attitude is “it’s my way or the highway.” Charity (love)? Nothing about political life hints of that. We ought to have the right to expect of our politicians that some core, basic beliefs as Americans unite us. We ought to expect them to be civil as they agree to disagree. They ought to have the decency we try to teach preschoolers to treat others along the way with basic goodness and kindness, if not heart-felt love. Is that too much to ask? I realize that I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen, but is it too much to ask? I think not.

My encouragement to you today is to consider those groups, affiliations, memberships, etc. that you share with others and then consider the wisdom of “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” How might your attitude and behavior be positively shaped by following that advice? What would happen if we determined to treat others around us with kindness – even love – in the midst of our differences?

Our world would be a better place.

For or AgainstThis post is for my fellow Christian believers, but anyone is welcome to read and respond…

I wrote in a recent post that I’m tired of conflict, especially of all the public arguing, yelling, protesting and general hatefulness spewed by both sides on so many divisive issues.  I also posted yesterday about the fact that Christians can’t and shouldn’t keep their faith to themselves if we are to be obedient to the teachings of the One who is the center of our faith – Jesus.  Today’s post extends the thinking behind those two previous posts in order to challenge my fellow Christians (and me in my more cantankerous moments) to spend more time discussing what we are for than what we are against.

My fear is that too many who do not share our faith, after seeing and hearing us in public, walk away only knowing about those practices with which we disagree.  They may have an idea of the things we hate, but not that which (or the One whom) we love.  They may never hear the full central message of what we do believe and why we believe it.  We may spend so much time on social issues (which we have every right to be concerned about and involved with) that we fail to deliver the central message of the faith regarding who Jesus is, why He came to earth, what He did on our behalf, and why it matters eternally to each and every person on the planet.

It seems that many of us are out of balance, fellow Christians – allowing ourselves to get sucked into public debate that, to be honest, is not going to end this side of heaven.  In the process of chasing those genuinely important issues, we risk failing at our most important mission of making much of Jesus in word and example.  That’s a shame and, most likely, a sin.  We can and we must do better.

Please think twice about devoting too much time, energy and resources in causes against things.  I’m not suggesting you change any beliefs or heartfelt convictions.  I not telling anyone to not be involved at all in such causes.  What the Scriptures teach must still be authoritative in all matters of faith and practice.  Each person must live according to what the Scriptures teach, how God has gifted him/her, and according to one’s sense of calling.

I can’t help but think, though, that our witness to the world and our own state of spiritual health will improve if we intentionally shift more of our conversations to what we are for as opposed to what we are against.  In fact, if hearts and lives are changed because people respond in repentance and faith to the gospel, we may just find that the other issues that tend to consume us become less of an issue.

If you want a focus for your time, energy and message, make it Jesus.

image from bookboon.com

image from bookboon.com

I’m tired of so much of daily life and experience revolving around conflict.  It dominates a disproportionate share of the news and far too much of our personal and professional lives and experiences.

I’m tired of watching national newscasts only to see the latest iteration of countries fighting with one another, rogue administrations fighting against their own people, terrorists terrorizing, and political parties blindly towing the party line while casting blame for all the nation’s ills on another party.  I’m tired of so-called leaders who instigate more conflict and division rather than diplomatically lead a nation through troubled times.

I’m tired of local newscasts filled with the murder of the week, groups fighting for or against their pet causes and projects, and people unable to live in the same community and get along with one another.

I’m tired of people unable to have civil conversations about hugely important social matters impacting society.  I’m tired of seeing and hearing people yell their verbal missives at those with whom they disagree instead of attempting to understand the perspectives of others and have reasonable conversations with them.  I’m tired of the marches and protests regardless of whose side is putting on the show.

I’m tired of a worthless news media that selectively “reports” the news and slants the amount and details of coverage to reflect a bias instead of serving the public by thoroughly reporting the news in an unbiased manner.  I’m tired of their behavior contributing to the division that exists among the public.  I’m tired of so many news talk shows with everyone barking at the same time, trying to shout each other down instead of having a worthwhile conversation.

I’m tired of fighting the same old battles at work.  I’m tired of cumbersome processes that take years and an act of God to change because some silo cares more about protecting its little fiefdom than it does about what makes sense for efficiency, effectiveness and the good of the enterprise and its customers.  I’m tired of butting my head into the brick wall of roadblocks thrown up constantly by those who fancy themselves as more important than anyone but themselves believes them to be.  I’m tired of the conflict generated by people with no training or experience in some matters telling others who are trained and experienced how to do their jobs.  I’m tired of the interpersonal conflict that comes with people not following through on commitments, not taking initiative, and not doing their best when there are so many others working their back sides off to do things well.  I’m tired of grown adults acting like children in the workplace, all too eager to spawn conflict among their colleagues about matters completely unrelated to work.

I’m tired of the ongoing schedule conflicts due to far too many commitments, personal and professional.  I’m tired of the competing priorities and the constant need to choose between what is important and what is urgent.  I’m tired of the guilt that comes for what doesn’t get done regardless of what I choose to do.

I’m tired of how constant conflict makes me tired.  Were it not for the sanctuaries of my faith and family, I cannot imagine how pointless it would all seem.

Surely we can do better if we really want to, and if we try.

image from localbadge.com

image from localbadge.com

Earlier this week I shared a book review of Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us as well as another post inspired by the book about leading from the bottom.  Today’s post has its genesis in one sentence found in the book where Godin lists his principles related to creating a movement.  His final principle is “Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up” (p. 105).

That may seem obvious, but I’m sure it’s included because people often violate the principle.  How can we expect others to join us in accomplishing some task, making a change, joining a cause to make a difference, or simply doing our day-to-day work if we’re criticizing or complaining along the way?  Don’t we respond better in attitude and in performance when others are quick to praise and encourage rather than to tear us down?  Of course we do!

This principle reminds me of a few other maxims that are (or should be) a part of our language.  One is “You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  This one is literally true when it comes to attracting me as well.  I love honey and consume some almost daily.  Vinegar?  I run from the stuff; can’t stand to smell it or be in the same room with it.  Building others up is honey.  Tearing them down is vinegar.  Be honey.

Perhaps one of my favorite sayings related to this thought comes from a bumper sticker I saw last year: “Wag more, bark less.”  A Google search on the phrase will yield many results, including more paraphernalia with the saying on it than you can afford to purchase.  As a dog lover and one who believes in being encouraging to others, this one sums up the notion quite well for me.

Take a moment to review in your mind the conversations you’ve had in the past 24 hours.  In those talks, were you figuratively more often wagging your tail or barking at the listener?  Were you building up or tearing down?  You may not have noticed at the time, but chances are good that the other person did.  As you think back on the conversations you had with coworkers this past week, with people you manage, with those living under your roof, or with others you spoke with along the way, did you do more wagging or barking?

If I approach a dog, I’m going to notice if he’s wagging or barking and it’s going to impact how I respond.  Same is true for people.

As you go about your conversations today, make it a point to wag more and bark less.  It will do as much good for you as it does for those around you.

I believe in the value of sharing mistakes I’ve made in the hope that others may benefit from my experience and avoid making those same mistakes.  To that end, I thought it might be good to reflect on poor choices I’ve made in various roles across multiple companies and post about them here.  The list below isn’t an exhaustive list of everything I can imagine others might do that is detrimental to their career or work relationships.  It is merely a description of some things I wish I had not done along the way.

Failing to speak up.  I despise conflict, so I too often avoid the hard conversations that may be confrontational.  I want to get along with people.  I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I want to keep the peace and just do my best work in a calm environment without any drama.  As one who has always tested on the introvert side of personality inventories and who is never going to be the life of the party, being quiet comes more naturally than speaking up, but that isn’t always helpful.

The down side of this otherwise admirable quality is that issues which need to be addressed may not be dealt with in a timely manner.  Problems persist and the potential negative consequences include less than optimal team performance and dynamics, poorer business decisions due to lack of input, not to mention the inner turmoil that comes from remaining silent when something is bugging me.  It took me a while to realize that the actual negative consequences of failing to speak up are worse than the imagined consequences of speaking up.  That is, the difficulty of hard conversations is rarely (if ever) as bad as you imagine it might be, especially if you approach such conversations with genuineness and kindness.

Seeing some coworkers as enemies.  It’s no secret that in an organization of any size there will be some strained relationships.  Different personalities, values and agendas practically guarantee that people will occasionally be at odds with one another.  What must not happen, though, is reaching a point where you always think negatively of certain coworkers and, consequently, treat them in a manner that perpetuates the negative relationship.  I may not like the way some people act.  I may believe rightly that they would throw me under the bus in a heartbeat if they had the chance and if they thought it would somehow make them look good or help them climb the ladder or advance their personal agenda.  But I am first and foremost an employee of my company who is hired to help the business accomplish its objectives, and that sometimes means working cooperatively with others in order to advance the cause of the business, even when every fiber of my being would just like to tell the other person where to go.  Be the bigger person and focus on the business goals and objectives, not the interpersonal difficulties.

Leaving too soon.  I’m coming up on my tenth anniversary this year at my company, so this isn’t a current issue with me, but if I take a close look at my resume going back 30+ years of full-time work, I can see some times where I took the easy way out to go to a different company or organization rather than stay and overcome a difficult situation.  Maybe those were the right decisions, maybe not.  I’m sure I had no problem justifying them at the time, and once I had mentally checked out of the roles, it was just a matter of time before I officially left.  However, when I look over someone’s resume today when looking to fill a role and I see a lot of short-term gigs of two years or less, it raises a huge red flag and makes me wonder what kind of staying power the person has.  I want to be someone who loves what he does (as I do) and who cares enough to change a “flight” instinct to one of confronting issues and overcoming them.  I suppose this mistake is related to the first one above in that it can be a way to avoid conflict.

Responding in anger.  It is never a good idea to fire off an email when you’re angry.  It is rarely the wise choice to spout off with what you want to come back with in a heated meeting, phone call, or face-to-face encounter.  In situations where you have the opportunity to hit the pause button before responding, do so.  I recently had this happen when I received some unwelcome news via email at work that made me a very unhappy camper.  My every instinct was to fire off a sharp reply to some people much higher in the org chart than I am or ever expect to be.  Fortunately, I just vented my frustration with my understanding teammates sitting nearby and announced that I was taking a walk.  On that walk I stopped by the desks of some people I hadn’t seen in a while to catch up with them and to have some friendly conversation which put me in a very different mood.  By the time I was back at my desk, I was able to respond to the email in a rational, professional manner.

Another practice I have used countless times to avoid responding in anger and to avoid rash decisions of many types is to sleep on a matter overnight.  It is amazing how different some things appear in the light of day compared to how they looked at the end of a long day or evening when you were tired and not at your best.  It may seem silly, but a general rule of thumb I have lived by for decades is that I don’t make major, life-changing decisions when it’s dark outside (whether anger is involved or not).  The world won’t end and most substantive opportunities won’t pass you by if you sleep on some decisions overnight.

So there you have four big mistakes I know I’ve made more than once in my career and with which I still occasionally struggle.  Surely people I have worked with could easily think of additional mistakes I’ve made.

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear in your comments about some of the lessons you’ve learned the hard way in your career.

Coming soon in a post will be the flip side of this topic – some of the things I’ve done in various roles that proved to be good choices and very helpful for my employers and for me.  I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that I’m rotten to the core.

Til then…