Three Sides to Every Story
“The health of any relationship or organization is a function of the lag time between identifying and discussing problems.” – Crucial Conversations
Unity Not Division
I am profoundly disturbed by not only the political discourse but the climate of hostility that exists today in this country. Especially when it’s played out on social media (which is neither social or media) and even more alarmingly between people who call themselves Christ-followers. The cosmic divide is insane at times. It’s hard to comprehend until you remind yourself that there’s an enemy that is dead set on bringing disunity between all human beings, especially believers in Jesus. Another select group of individuals has an even larger bullseye on them – those that with alacrity have decided to be set apart from the madness – proclaiming they’re “all in for Him”.
Some of the most dysfunctional behaviors show up in the political arena. Barbs are tossed around like popcorn. Blaming one party or the other is as common as the cold.
If fair-minded individuals, not politicians, would get together to help solve problems, here and around the world, just imagine the progress we would make as a civilized society. Simply sitting down and having the crucial conversations would lead us to real solutions, not a state of polarization. Then again, the human condition is such that very few people take personal responsibility for just about anything unless their “tribe” is applauding. The blame-shifting is nauseating.
Let’s talk polarization for a moment. As individuals, we have certain beliefs, but they often contrast greatly with the truth. Sometimes congruent, oftentimes not. For example, an unbelieved truth, like eating won’t cause cramps when swimming has been adopted by many as false, yet there is no evidence to support it. Remember when you were told to wait an hour before getting in the pool or you’d jeopardize your life? At least that’s how it was portrayed. It doesn’t make it so, simply because our parents believed it. Then there’s untruthful belief, like people can read minds. So many are convinced that it’s true simply because they’ve witnessed someone skilled at reading body language with “empathetic accuracy”, telling them what’s on their mind. The truth is that only God can exercise mental telepathy. When truth and belief are congruent, as in the earth revolves around the sun, we can act based on that truth and belief. Both conditions must exist before we can move forward to resolve our differences. Polarization robs from each of us the ability to find consensus, with ourselves at times but mostly with each other. In a civilized society that’s an unacceptable way to interact and will ultimately lead to a breakdown of any true progress towards a worthy objective.
Depending on who you listen to there’s often sound logic behind issues on both sides of the spectrum. Consequently, this is a place where conditions are ripe for conflict. Where opinions vary, emotions are strong, and the stakes are high. But in my own observation, there are usually three sides to every story. Yours, mine and the more accurate one somewhere in between.
The Divisiveness of Disunity
With disunity among our fellow man so obvious, I felt compelled to dig deeper into what God’s Word says about this subject. Not surprisingly, there’s much written on the topic. Starting with the Greatest Commandment of all and the second like it. Quoting Jesus as recorded in Matthew 22 (ESV), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Well – there’s a good start. If we simply grasp the idea that we’re to love God and love others we’d certainly approach conflict much differently. We might even ask for the other person to share their thoughts, feelings, and reality before jumping right in with our distorted views. Imagine what that might look like.
I teach and “coach” on this subject making it near and dear to my heart. The tools presented in my talks are exactly the remedy for what ails most of us. My discussions are based on a book written by a team of folks at VitalSmarts. Titled “Crucial Conversations”, the message is delivered in exquisite detail. They work with large organizations around the globe uniting teams by heightening their awareness of how to effectively influence others and provide practical “Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”. In my humble opinion, there’s not a person on the planet that wouldn’t benefit from studying this subject in detail and implementing the behaviors that bring about real and positive change in their lives.
As we all march toward some super-awesome goal we inevitably run into pitfalls. Usually when we come up against others who don’t share our opinions, largely driven by emotions, and with a lot at stake. Sort of like keeping us safe from a terrorist attack or economic collapse – important goals – everyday subjects that impact our lives. And as Christians, our primary role is to carry the mantle of love to a desperately hurting world. How do we do that when we can’t even resolve the simplest issues with our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord? It’s a conundrum.
Or is it?
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Matthew 18.
Folks, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. No conundrum here. If we care more about the well-being of our brother or sister than ourselves, we’ve made huge strides toward resolution. If we’re to reach that super-awesome goal, as an individual, church, organization, or country, we MUST take this seriously. And if it can’t be fixed one-on-one then bring someone else into the conversation to help mediate.
If We Don’t Talk it Out, We’ll Act it Out
I had a discussion with a friend today who’s really struggling with a co-worker. My best advice was and always will be to “Start with heart”. To be willing to examine our own self and our own motives for taking the position we’ve taken. We may be carrying wounds that are triggering a response to situations that aren’t even warranted. That same condition may be true about the one we have angst toward. Did you ever think of that? I’ve been in situations where stakes are extremely high, my opinion was 180 degrees different from my “rival” and emotions were out of control. I could either deck ‘em, run away, or talk it out. The dialogue smart talk it out – they don’t act it out. Did you hear that? Let me say it again. If we don’t talk it out, we WILL act it out. And it ain’t pretty. We either move toward aggressive, dysfunctional behavior or complete withdrawal. Neither of those choices holds the solutions to the crisis at hand. Finger-pointing never works. It’s that third option, the one hidden in plain sight that we need to pursue with all the vigor we can muster.
Are you ready for the big reveal? Here’s a truth, proven out time and time again, guaranteed to wreck relationships if not managed, and bankrupt organizations if not exposed as fact. The health of any relationship or organization is a function of the lag time between identifying a problem and intentionally moving toward a solution.
The Hatfields vs. The McCoys
Remember the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s? A long-time feud ensued involving two rural families in the West Virginia–Kentucky area along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River in the years 1863–1891. The origins of the feud are obscure. Some attribute it to hostilities formed during the American Civil War in which the McCoys were Unionists and the Hatfields were Confederates. Others to Randall McCoy’s belief that Hatfields cousin Floyd stole one of his hogs in 1878. In either case, can we safely say that the lag time between identifying and discussing the problem was way too long? There were court battles that ensued over the whole debacle. That’s certainly not starting with heart. I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that the last generation most likely had no idea what started the whole conflict, yet they lived under the oppression of this feud for years and years.
Does any of this sound familiar? Are there stories in your family where close members haven’t spoken to each other in a long-long time? Maybe decades? How crazy is that?
Boundaries & Peacemaking
There certainly are appropriate boundaries that should be set when approaching the hard conversations. But peacemaking doesn’t have to mean you give up and cave to the other side. In fact, it takes a “bigger” person to admit their logic or position may be flawed. Doing so by one side or the other would have gone a long way to help bring peace to the Hatfields and McCoys.
I read an anonymous quote recently. Here’s the gist of it. “Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and oppressors free.”
I love that pictorial. Especially the freedom that comes from laying down our right to be right.
A Kingdom Divided
There’s a passage in Mark 3 that jumped off the page at me recently. “24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” Jesus was referring to the accusations of the scribes that He was possessed by demons, although He was casting them out. That Satan wouldn’t rise up against himself. Why would he? It makes no sense.
I believe strongly that these words can easily apply to any relationship, family, organization or government. It’s another simple truth. Infighting causes a collapse of culture – whether it’s a culture of forgiveness, respect, honor, love or any display of the fruits of the Spirit – unity will not stand.
These are critical realities in the world we live in. Without solutions to what divides us, we’re doomed to collapse. The great theologian Yogi Bera once said, “it ain’t over till it’s over”. As long as we’re on this ball of dirt we have a responsibility to our fellow man to live out those greatest commandments, to Love God and Love Others. It’s the gospel truth – and it needs to be spread.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Luke 6:31. The golden rule of Gods Kingdom and how things should work. Contrary to what the world would say is the golden rule, “He who has the gold rules”, God’s economy operates in the upside-down world. Love is sacrificial, not self-centered. We should always seek first to understand then to be understood. Stephen Covey’s 5th habit of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It’s a mantra that Jesus modeled, and it’ll take us a long way in our spiritual journey.
Part of the flaw in resolving conflict is our inherent ability to project our anger or discontent on others. To judge motives and buy into the story we’re telling ourselves about the person or issue we feel so strongly about. There really is another side to the story. One that may be completely foreign to our way of thinking or even our way of life. But that’s ok. We’re all God’s kids and deserve grace as well as truth. 100% grace and 100% truth. No one has the corner on absolute truth except God. The same can be said about grace.
The safest of people are likely safe only 80% of the time, maybe less. I’m not exactly sure how to measure that but here’s what the Bible admonishes us to consider referenced in Romans 18.
”10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess[b] to God.’
12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
Are you convicted yet? I am. Next time you hit a crucial juncture in a conversation stop, look and listen. It’s what we do at railroad crossings for a reason. There may just be a train headed in our direction. A train wreck that may ensue in such a devastating way as to break all hope for reconciliation or resolution. Leave judgment on the sidelines. I know it’s hard, but there’s so much at stake. Especially around “kingdom” business. Remember that enemy that seeks to destroy us? Well, he’s lurking in the shadows to hijack our calling. Unfortunately, often times the consequences of ours or others poor decisions impact us in horrendous ways. I will never forget the day that the Holy Spirit all but shouted in my ear to leave a business venture I was involved in. An unhealthy, greed-driven union with two men who shared nothing in common with me spiritually. One of the most crucial conversations of my life was with the Holy Spirit. With a Holy Spirit that was kind and considerate, but warned me sternly, nonetheless. I heard it in my heart and my head, He said, “it’s time to get out”. My answer? “I got this. It’s gonna be ok. I can handle fixing the issues that are now way behind us.” Pressing on I found myself in a battle for my freedom, my family, and my finances. But more importantly, a broken relationship with God that took years to recover from. One laced with guilt, shame, and disappointment. I blew it and I knew it.
I had my opinions, my distorted reality but it came down to outright disobedience. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2. (I highly recommend you read the whole chapter) We call sin all sorts of politically correct things. Like mistakes, or boo-boos, or missteps, or steering off-course, or getting side-tracked. Seriously? Let’s call it what it is. Our belief that we know better than God. The same belief that got us in hot water, to begin with. When we ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil not having a clue as to what we were signing up for. We’ve been making the same bad choices ever since. Thank God, He’s provided a way back. Back from the most crucial of conversations between Adam, Eve and the serpent. That one didn’t end well. But Jesus stood in the gap and gave us our life back.
The next time you find yourself face to face with a three-sided story, remember, there’s so much we don’t understand. There’s so much we will never understand. But we have a responsibility to bring unity, not division. To bring grace along with truth. But most of all to bring God into the moment, into our mind, and into our heart; remembering this life is likened to a short-term mission trip. He has much to accomplish in us first and through us second. But also, in others that have been uniquely called to fulfill His purpose in them.
Team up, fix your differences and start with heart. God’s heart.