Journeys of FaithLife and Faith

Conflict Management

Seven years ago, some of my friends got into a bit of a dispute with the powers-that-be at my college.

(I have been told I have a gift for understatement).

The nature of the dispute was incredibly personal, of the sort that is impossible to bring to anyone’s attention without making oneself intensely vulnerable. Talking to the dean of student life meant opening up to her judgment and allowing her to see things that were shameful, in the hope that she would also take seriously the dangers that my friends were warning her existed.

I don’t want to get into the details of that initial situation, so I’ll cut it short by saying that the case was dismissed without significant inquiry or further attention.

That was a decision that had consequences.

For the next several years, all of the people involved were frightened and angry. As they saw it, they’d put their futures on the line for something serious, but all their best efforts were insufficient to remove the threat. Still worse, no one could be sure what vengeance might fall or where it might arise.

(Which is great drama for TV, but rather less than desirable in real life. Go figure.)

Initially, these people were all freshmen and sophomores and, as everybody knows, freshies and sophes were made to be ignored. Then they were juniors and seniors and alumni, but, hey, they’d made their own reputation, hadn’t they? It’s their own fault if no one is listening, right?

So, what were we to do then?

Growing up, I heard all about how evil and destructive gossip can be. “Never discuss a grievance with someone who is not part of the problem and is not part of the solution,” that’s what my mom always said. Among the alumni, the same philosophy applied. The motto was something like “if you don’t like it, leave it, but whatever you do, don’t stick around complaining.”

That wasn’t helpful.

Eventually, a reporter found out about the story and spent a year piecing together the sources. She published, then other sources jumped into the mix, and while the dust hasn’t completely settled yet, a certain pattern has emerged.

The problem was never the problem. The problem was that no one ever listened to the problem. People got so caught up on making things look good that they stopped evaluating whether or not they actually were good. Point-proving and posturing was the name of the game.

While the following theory had never been tested previously on my campus, it should be possible to find a solution as long as all parties agree on a destination—even if they disagree completely on every point of how to get there. Everyone involved wanted my campus to be the safest place possible for as many people as possible. That is an incredibly fertile starting ground for discussion, as long as each person was willing to share that ground with everyone else.

Coincidentally, this theory was tested in the Middle East and, turns out, it did work. During the Camp David Peace Accords Egypt, Israel, and the USA all wanted peace and none of them believed it was possible. Egypt blamed Israel’s aggression, Israel blamed Egypt’s, until finally someone asked each party what they really wanted. Egypt said, “Sovereignty” Israel said, “Security.” Egypt wanted to fly its flag over all land that it saw as rightfully belonging to it. Israel wanted to be sure no troops came anywhere near its borders. Instead of wasting time on name-calling and denial, they found that they could make an agreement that would be perfectly acceptable to all parties. If we could find ways to agree in the Middle East, I should hope the same could be said of a tiny, all-American, Christian campus.

Before it is possible to achieve peace, each party must understand its own specific, crucial needs, as well as those of the opponent. Only then can one find the creative solutions that will allow everyone to be at peace. This is nowhere more evident than in the story of redemption itself.

The whole reason Jesus came to earth is that Adam and Eve told Him He wasn’t worth one lousy piece of forbidden fruit as far as they were concerned. Even if it meant breaking fellowship, they wanted their freedom first of all.

God didn’t have to respect that decision. He could have avoided the whole situation by never creating the forbidden tree. But He chose to respect and accept it anyway. There were consequences—for starters, God demanded space and that man move out of the garden for a time.

(For the garden was where God met with man. It was their special place, where they walked and talked as friends and equals.)

Then, for a creative solution. Man had demanded respect and equality which included the freedom of choice. God had already provided all that, even to planting a Forbidden Tree, so the mere presence of these things wasn’t sufficient. Man had to be convinced they were meant as genuine, from-the-heart gifts, not just window-dressing.

That was the serpent’s doing, he’d mocked the genuine and praised the cheap, and Man feared—so feared being insignificant and naive that Man did the very thing that would make him both. In a choice between God and the serpent, Man became confused enough to put God to the test.

“Very well,” God said. “Since you ask it of me, I will convince you that I am more concerned for your well-being than the serpent is.”

Therefore Jesus came to be human, to suffer humiliation, rejection, torture, and, ultimately, to be murdered. That is the measure to which God loves us and the measure to which we tested Him, because we could not simply believe in something that was far too good to be true.

And that is where things stand now. We are called to be like the Son of Man, who did not have to face our doubts or to answer them. He chose to do so, keeping His calm even in the face of extreme torture even though He had to humble Himself just to be able to feel it.

In order for Man to be saved, God chose to take our demands seriously. Yet, at the same time, He knew He was better than our opinion of Him and He chose to prove it to us.

Pepper Darlington

Pepper Darlington

Pepper is a graduate of Patrick Henry College with a Bachelor's degree in Classical Liberal Arts. She is a mental health advocate, with a concern for building up the confidence of the voiceless, and she currently works for The Great Courses, whose college-level materials occupy much of her spare time as well. Her studies focus on history, religion, and psychology, while her interests include superhero movies, travel, writing, and kayaking. A Christian Protestant from a low-church background, she nevertheless has a great interest in the other major world religions, especially Buddhism, and she hopes someday to visit Japan.

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