In America’s infancy as a country, there was fear as to who would be in a place of power and what they would do with that elected power (Burns, 2003, p. 88). The underlying fear was that individuals, candidates, and groups would ensure the success of the majority, ignoring the minority’s rights and values in the process (Burns, 2003, p. 91). Conflict and dispute arose between the Federalists and Republicans, each condemning the other for their beliefs to the point of having disdain or contempt for elected officials who did not share the same views (Burns, 2003, p. 91-92). This led to the formulation of the Sedition Act and, further down the line in history, the founding of lasting rival political parties as seen in today’s society (Burns, 2003, p. 91-92).
One of the key components in group functioning and relationship building is the ability to trust, fostering connection and cooperation amongst members (Balliet & Van Lange, 2013). When broken or not made, it leads to conflict and dispute (Balliet & Van Lange, 2013). As tension mounts within the group, interdependency and cooperation plummets (Balliet & Van Lange, 2013). Our expectations of one’s character becomes more negative and critical in the process (Balliet & Van Lange, 2013). Conversely, the more trust we have in someone, the more we will accommodate them (Balliet & Van Lange, 2013). In interpersonal conflict, then, trust becomes an invaluable component of relationship building, cooperation, and growth. Looking at the context of today’s society and political field, it can be said there is conflict between parties, much like the Federalists and Republicans. As conflicts arise, our ability to see the person behind the conflicting value or belief diminishes until we no longer see them as valuable, but as an enemy or wrong. We elect and give power to others to fight for us and our rights, without seeking understanding, respect, dignity or connection or even the rights of others. It becomes easier to put ourselves in the place of one who is ultimately right and belittle and dehumanize those who stand against us. We do not trust them, anything they stand for or anything they might do in the future. We use labels like evil, deplorable, and nasty. As this increasingly becomes our method of coping, we create more conflict, more hurt, and no way to restore and heal the brokenness of ourselves or the world in which we live. In these interactions and disputes, we must begin to see each other with fresh eyes – eyes that see the value, worth, and potential of every human being, no matter what they believe or how much they disagree with us. Let us learn to agree to disagree and love and trust the person behind any opposing beliefs as we seek to grow and learn.
In my personal leadership and work with others, I realize that conflict will inevitably arise and there may be instances where we do not all agree on the same decision or idea. And that is okay. I believe that one of the beauties of humanity and human functioning lies in our ability to see from different viewpoints, perspectives, and understandings. How boring would life be if there was no one to ask us to critically evaluate what we believe or show us a new way of seeing the world? In all things, I want to see the personhood and value of all human beings; trusting, cooperating, and connecting with them, especially in conflict and disputes. It is in the moments we face that are hard to swallow that we deepen our understanding of ourselves, those around us, and cultivate new and fresh insight into our experiences and world events.
In regard to the Christian faith, our inability and unwillingness to see the personhood of those around us or who conflict with our beliefs causes a dichotomous shift from we to them, neglecting the redemptive work of Christ (Labberton, 2010, p. 47-48). We set up walls that keep us and those who stand with us safe from the harm of them, in whatever arena we find ourselves in: social, political, economic, educational, etc (Labberton, 2010, p. 48). We shoot them down because they do not see as we do (Labberton, 2010, p. 49).
“Out of the heart comes the language that gives and also takes life. It’s ultimately not words that name people, but people – people with misperceiving hearts. And too often, the donkey in our hearts gets the last word (Labberton, 2010, p. 54).”
It is not religion, systems or laws that will save us, as these will inevitably fail (Labberton, 2010, p. 54). What will save us from ourselves, the hurt, mistrust, and conflict of the world is seeking to love as Jesus loves, without borders, walls, and constrictions, as we love God and as we love ourselves (Labberton, 2010, p. 55).
Balliet, D., & Van Lange, P. M. (2013). Trust, conflict, and cooperation: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 139(5), 1090-1112. doi:10.1037/a0030939
Burns, J. M. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness (Vol. 213). Grove Press.
Labberton, M. (2010). The dangerous act of loving your neighbor: Seeing others through the eyes of Jesus. InterVarsity Press.