Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Art of Saying "I'm Sorry"

Another basic in effectively resolving conflict is having the ability to take ownership and say "I'm sorry". But again, because this goes against the grain for many, our society has tended to weaken, and even destroy, true apology. Apology becomes watered down. Some cultures don't even do that much; there are cultures in this world where face saving has become such a fine art, taking the initiative to make things right or say sorry first is seen as a sign of weakness.

In western culture, saying "sorry" has become almost flippant, kind of like saying "love" in "oh, I love chocolate!" We say sorry....alot... but seldom with true confession. We even jump to a quick "sorry" in hopes that whatever it was we did can be swept under the rug, forgiven and forgotten. We believe that saying sorry equates to seeking forgiveness and even repentance, but depending on the motive behind the sorry, this sometimes can be the furthest thing from the truth. How often as children did we say sorry because we knew that was what our parents wanted to hear, or told us to say?

Scripture tells us to "confess your sins to one another, forgive one another". So how is it that we've come to think that saying "I'm so sorry" is true confession that deserves true forgiveness? Perhaps because we have not learned the art of confession near as well as we've learned the "ploy" of saying sorry.

Let's say you and I have a disagreement over something, and I say some nasty things to you. A few days goes by, and the guilt is eating at me. So, I call you up and we go to coffee and I say "I'm really sorry about what I said the other day. I didn't mean it. I don't know what got into me, I've been so stressed and on edge lately........" and you listen as my voice slowly ebbs and dwindles away, and I look at you with expectation. Put yourself into that are you feeling?

Or even better yet....go back to any particular "apology" that sounded like this....."I apologize for what I said the other day, I was just so stressed and......" Again, how are you feeling?

Now, let's try it the biblical way...which means I've spent some time before the "alter" hearing from Holy Spirit about what in me caused me to behave that way, and how that behavior affected then I call you, we go to coffee and...

"Last week I said some horrible things to you that hurt you. I have no excuse. I've prayed about it, and have come to realize that I lash out and attack to get my way. That is selfish of me, and unfair to you, and I'm so sorry. Will you forgive me for hurting you? I can't promise that it won't happen again, but I can promise you that I am going to try to turn from this behavior. You and our friendship are too important to me not to"

Now how do you feel?

When we attempt to authentically identify how our actions have affected others, and we put words to it, we have taken a huge step towards empathy, and love. We have validated them, instead of excusing us. And we have truly made confession. Because confession has two facets....we confess our action but we also confess our understanding of what our actions have caused. And even if we don't get the "cause and affect" right, just trying to get understanding creates a solid bridge on which we both can walk.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fun with Dick and Jane

My last post was finished off with the suggestion that resolving conflict ALWAYS starts with you. What qualifies me to say this? Well, nothing really, except that it occurs to me that if we each really thought about, we'd see the truth and beauty of this simple, logical idea.

Look at it this way. Dick and Jane are in conflict, and the conflict, whatever it is, is chipping away at them everyday. There have been haphazard attempts at peace, those meaningless apologies with qualifiers attached to them (you know...I'm sorry I did that but.......), for the most part though, neither Dick and Jane have moved toward collaborative resolution of whatever it is they are in conflict about. And because of this, it lays like a mass under the surface, with the potential of sinking the Titantic.

Dick is pointing the finger at Jane, and Jane is pointing the finger at Dick. Dick is waiting for Jane to see things his way and give in...and of course, Jane thinks Dick is kidding himself, all he has to do is change, grow up and see how wrong he has been and how wrong he still is. Both are waiting on the other, and as the wait continues, thoughts spiral, and the relationship degenerates. A truce of sorts occurs here and there; it's tenuous at best, until something else triggers the memories of the initial, underlying conflict, exacerbating it even more, and the spiral continues. As it is left unresolved, it takes on a life of it's own. Dick and Jane become more intent on resolving eachother than on resolving whatever it was that initially had them biting at eachother.

But what if??? What if Dick said to himself..."resolving this conflict starts with me"...and what if Jane said to herself..."resolving this conflict starts with me"? You would have two people equally willing to be made willing to accept their responsibility in the conflict; take ownership for their part and take ownership for the conditions of their respective hearts; you would have two people willing to be made willing to seek forgiveness and make real amends, and offer forgiveness to the other. You would have two people using their power to make a choice to give up their demandedness, and instead of engaging in the power struggle with each other, they each would be willing to learn how to combine their respective power to work towards the good of them both, and for their relationship.

It's so simple, it's beautiful.

Unfortunately though, because of the default position we as fallen humans find ourselves in, most of the time this kind of thinking does not come naturally. Because of this same default position, we each tend to believe that the only resolution is "my solution". We fight for our position instead of understanding our respective interests (more elaboration on this in another post)

What do I mean when I say "default position"? Much like your computer might be programmed to some sort of automatic default, so are we when it comes to our reactions in conflict. Defensiveness is in our genes; we inherited it from Adam. Remember his response when God questioned him about his disobediance in the garden? His reply was "the women YOU gave me, made me do it". Adam did not take responsibility, he deflected, blamed and did not even really repent at first. This failing to take ownership has permeated our beings and from there, our culture, to such an extent that sin driven vices are diseases, and addictions are genetic.

Good news though...we are no longer children of Adam. And we have a choice to allow a new default position to be "programmed" into us by our ultimate Helper, Holy Spirit.

Finally, all other "arguments" aside, the most obvious reason why I believe that the best conflict resolution begins when we say "resolving this conflict starts with me" is because God Himself demonstrated it. He is our ultimate example. There is no greater conflict, with more far reaching, tragic implications, than the one of sin and separation between us and our Creator. And our Creator (and even though He was the One who had been sinned against!) said "resolving this conflict starts with Me" and He sent his Son.

It's so simple it's beautiful...and it's so beautiful, it's simple.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Basics

If there is one thing I've learned - CONFLICT IS INEVITABLE! It's going to happen. Even if you win the lotto, buy a secluded paradise island and retire there to a life of hermit luxury, there will still be conflict in your life. The very instant you get bored the first time, or second guess your choice to be a hermit, you have taken a step towards a conflicted heart. The minute you start to remember your mistakes, berate yourself for behaviors and deeds not well done, you reflect the condition of your conflicted heart. Then of course, there are those revenge thoughts we all know the are alone, it's quiet, and "so and so" pops into your head; you start to rehash and reinvent every single thing they ever did to hurt you, until you are worked up into a spiral of resentment and even start to rehearse the ultimate put down speech. My point being, it seems to me that in order to be the kind of person who does conflict well, with grace, mercy, strength, integrity, and humility...we must first come to terms with our own hearts. We must first know who we are; what motivates us, and be honest about that. We must take the proverbial "look in the mirror", and see the telltale "beam in our own eye". If we are unable to do this, and instead, are all about face saving, or avoiding humility or the feeling of loosing, then we will never learn to do conflict well.

So, back to basics. When in a conflict, stop, look, listen. But not at the person you are in conflict with...STOP, LOOK, LISTEN AT AND TO YOURSELF

Stop...what you are doing, what you are saying and what you are demanding. your self...your concerns, hopes, expectations, assumptions, priorities, beliefs, fears, values...ask, are they legitimate? Look to see what is in your eye? What are you so focused on getting/winning, that you are blind to possibility? your inner voice...and if that inner voice is skewed by messages of selfishness or entitlement, then ask to hear God's still small voice, and get quiet and your inner voice, or His still small voice trying to tell you something, maybe even something you don't want to hear, something about your motives, your tactics, your attitude, your demands, perhaps?

After you have a done an honest "stop, look and listen", then you have the grace to stop, look and listen to the other person as well. Their concerns, hopes, expectations, assumptions, priorities, beliefs, fears and values are just as valid as your own, and hopefully, with both of you taking the time to stop, look and listen, you will find your common ground.

Resolving conflict ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS starts with you. More about that next time...for now, basic lesson number one...stop, look, and listen, not to be confused with stop, drop and roll.