Most people deal with differences by not dealing with differences. They try to avoid conflict at all costs. If a disagreement arises, they change the subject and make a note to self not to bring up that topic with that person in the future.
But me? I’m weird. Rather than being repelled by conflict, I want to dive in and deal with what appears to divide us.
Over the long haul of relationships, it actually does more harm than good to ignore conflict. When we deny important differences, we are essentially saying that the relationship with the other person is not worthy of our attention.
I have always had a unique ability to see valid points on all sides of an issue. That’s probably why I’m relatively at ease about conflict, because often I can see where someone else is coming from.
I understand this easy-going attitude about conflict is not automatic for other people. All the same, I think the best way through conflict is through it.
The best way to honor our relationships is to deal with our differences. And the best way to deal with differences is through respectful dialog and attentive listening.
Listening is usually the harder part, but it is important to listen–really listen–to one another. When we find that we differ, we need to listen harder, get behind the words used, and get to the heart of the other.
When we look into the heart of an opponent, we may find ideas & insights, hopes & dreams, or fears & nightmares that we would otherwise have missed. Each person has a unique collection of stories, experiences, and passions that are driving that person’s stances.
It takes courage–I mean real guts–to choose to empathize with someone with whom we disagree instead of remaining locked in endless debate.
And it’s possible we may look closer, dig deeper, and still find nothing with which we can relate. But the more we practice staying alongside one another, truly listening and talking through our conflicts, the better we get at noticing the value of each others’ perspectives.
In this way, when we “go deeper into our differences” (a phrase I learned from a fellow deaconess, the Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist), when we get past the surface arguments that divide us, we often find more in common with one another than we first imagined.
And even in the times when, after all our digging, we still can’t find total agreement, we may have at least gained greater understanding of another. We may even find something to actually like about the other person’s perspective.
It’s not easy to forge through conflict, but relationships are worth the investment of our time and energy. We can show others how important they are to us by dealing with differences.