Thursday, June 04, 2015

You Can't Always Be Switzerland

It's nice when all of your friends get along, isn't it?  Whether they are from the same friendship circle, or from different ones, peace among your friends is good.  It certainly makes your special occasions a lot easier.

But what about when two (or more) of your friends are at war?

A lot of people think Switzerland was smart during the two World Wars.  Little country, surrounded by warring countries.  It was best for them to remain neutral, a 'safe place' where both sides could come.  That way they don't get their butt blown sky high, don't have to choose sides, and can continue to be friends with everyone.

But when it comes to resolving conflict between our friends, we can't always be Switzerland.

As painful as it is, as much as it drags us out of our comfort zones, as much as we risk one or both of our friends hating us for calling a spade a spade, sometimes we MUST intervene, we MUST get involved, we MUST work for peace PROPERLY.

Here are some wrong approaches I think individuals and churches make when it comes to resolving (or ignoring) conflict:

The "Don't Fight, Kids.  Kiss and Make Up" Approach
This is when we hear about two friends fighting and, instead of trying to get to the bottom of the issue, we treat them like kids.  It's assuming the issue is a petty one, but often it's not.  Sometimes it's a serious issue that needs a wise third party to intervene, listen to both sides, and help resolve the conflict properly.  Kids may go to their parents whinging about each other, but if two adults come to you wanting help to resolve an issue, don't assume they're fighting over a toy or a lolly.  As painstaking as it may be, they're coming to you for help.  Even if they don't want help, they need it, so intervene.  Telling two people to kiss and make up is just patronising and rude.

The "You're Both Sinners" Approach
Yes, it's true that all people involved in the conflict are sinners....but that doesn't mean they're equally to blame in this particular conflict.  It doesn't mean that both need to apologise.  Sometimes it's one person blatantly causing all the trouble and THEY'RE the one who needs to apologise - not both.

The Ostrich Approach
This could otherwise be called the 'Keep Your Head in the Sand', or "You're Both My Friends, I Don't Want To Get Involved" approach.  It's basically what Switzerland does.  It's about self-preservation instead of standing up for what is right.  What if the conflict is over adultery, or abuse of some kind?  What if one friend is slandering another out of jealousy?  Are you really ok with being friends with both of them while one is behaving badly? Yes, you may lose the friend you end up confronting, but if you do nothing, you may just end losing the friend you stood by and watched being hurt.

Not only does the unwillingness to resolve conflict between friends happen, it also happens a lot in churches.  Yes, probably a lot of arguments are petty and time-consuming.  But some aren't.  Sometimes there is serious sin.  Last year, Duncan was nominated to be an elder at our church (he didn't end up becoming one) and before he accepted the nomination, I asked him, "Are you prepared to be involved in conflict resolution as an elder?"  He thought long and hard about it before accepting the nomination.

Sometimes we think that by standing back we're avoiding a full-blown war, with people dragged in from all directions.  But sometimes a mature person needs to step in to put the smoke or small fire out before it becomes a blaze.

We can't always be Switzerland.

1 comment:

Rodney Olsen said...

Great post, full of wisdom.

We just need to be careful that we're not 'being played' in such situations. Sometimes 'friends' will try to get you to shoot their bullets. They then walk away while you end up dragged deeper into a situation that harms you more than anyone.