Dack Van Orden was born and raised in Idaho Falls, ID. He currently lives in the Houston Texas area where he and his wife are the parents of three daughters and one bonus daughter. He has served in a variety of callings within the Church, most of which have been in various youth callings. His favorite was teaching early morning seminary. He currently serves in the high council as the stake Young Men president.
Since we all experience conflict in our community, as we lead in our home or church and in other situations, it’s critical to find peaceable ways to resolve and work through conflict. I would like to share some ideas on how we handle conflict and some examples of ways we can peacefully resolve that conflict in our lives.
What is Conflict?
We don’t talk a lot about conflict in our church discussions, but the scriptures are full of examples of conflict. A conflict is a battle or fight between two or more parties. Typically, a conflict begins when one party attacks or tries to impose its will on another party. Nephi and his brothers are constantly at odds with each other. David and Goliath had a direct conflict when Goliath and the Philistines tried to take over David and the Israelites. Christ is the ultimate example of being in constant conflict with the Pharisees, Sadducees and eventually even the Roman government.
At one time or another we all face a conflict in our lives. Take a moment to think about either a current conflict you are in or a past conflict you have faced. In most cases, we are faced with the following conflicts:
- Conflict with peers
- Conflict with family
- Conflict with those adults/leaders, boss, etc.
- Conflict within ourselves
Conflict vs Opposition
Conflict can be different than opposition. Opposition is mentioned several times throughout the Book of Mormon. Opposition can sometimes be viewed as a negative (good vs evil, light vs dark). When, in fact, opposition is an intricate part of the plan of salvation.
Part of the purpose of the plan of salvation was for us to be tested to see if we would be obedient to God. Opposition creates choice and ultimately gives us agency to choose between good and evil, light, and dark.
Conflict, on the other hand, is more of a direct attack or contention between us and another opposing force. Conflicts can occur when each person thinks that their opinion or position is correct. Or conflict can occur when one person wants to overpower or take control of another. Whatever form it comes in or however it originates, we will all face conflict in our lives.
What Conflict Is Not
It may also be important to identify what is NOT conflict. When parents or a leader correct you or are firm or direct with you, that is NOT conflict. We can’t mistake directness or correction as someone wanting to take control of us. In most cases, a parent or leader, when correcting or being direct, is coming from a place of love and a desire for you to become a better person. So, mom getting onto you about cleaning your room… Not a conflict.
The Nuances of Conflict
Each person deals with or handles conflicts differently depending on our personalities, our prior experiences (such as the way conflicts were handled in the home where we grew up), and perhaps other factors such as gender and culture. Some choose to avoid conflict at all costs, while others don’t mind conflict. They even go so far as to seek it out.
There is not an exact formula to handle every conflict in every situation. We must rely on the Spirit to guide us and help us navigate through each situation. Take a moment and think about that conflict you might currently be in today, or one you may have recently experienced. More than likely, you know this person quite well. You may have a good relationship with them that you don’t want to damage. It may be a close friend or family member. It may be with a boss or a leader at church that you need to continue to work with and be around. Or it could potentially be someone at work or school that is trying to bully you. How are you handling that conflict? Are you addressing it or just hoping it goes away? Are you worried that it may damage your relationship with that person? What do you think you need to do to resolve the conflict?
The Savior’s Approach to Conflict
Our ultimate example on confronting conflict is our Savior. The Savior responded differently in every situation. When He was confronted by wicked King Herod, He remained silent. When He stood before Pilate, He bore a simple and powerful testimony of His divinity and purpose. Facing the moneychangers who were defiling the temple, He exercised His divine responsibility to preserve and protect that which was sacred. While lifted up upon a cross, He uttered the incomparable Christian response:
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).”
I would like to offer three suggestions that I try to live by (not always successfully) that help me when conflict comes into my life.
Step One: Address it Right Away
Whatever the scenario may be, conflicts are much like toothaches: they don’t age well. Left alone, they can grow into something larger and more painful to deal with as time goes on. The first rule of a conflict is to act on it right away.
Conflict, like storms, are unavoidable, but we should never avoid or create conflict. Conflicts are easy to get into but difficult to get out of. If we have the courage to face them early, they are easier to resolve and to learn from. This especially applies to texts, emails, and other non-verbal communication. We should never avoid or create conflict.
Step Two: Look Inward
As we think about our conflicts and reflect on them, they are like mirrors that can teach us things about ourselves that are otherwise difficult to discover. If we permit them, our conflicts will show us where we are weak, defensive, prideful, or otherwise in need of repair.
Edward Edinger, a wise psychologist, wrote this about mirrors:
“[A mirror] shows us what we otherwise cannot see for ourselves. Without a mirror, for instance, we would never even know what our face looks like; since we are inside looking out, there can be no self-knowledge, even the elementary self-knowledge of what we look like.”
In Alma 59 we see an amazing example of this. Captain Moroni was the leader of the Nephite armies. He was trying to win a war but was constantly running low on supplies and men. Moroni wrote an angry letter to Pahoran, the Chief Governor of the Nephites, asking/demanding that he provide the needed supplies and reinforcements. Moroni was so angry at Pahoran that he told him if you don’t provide this now, I will take my armies and leave the battlefield to march back to the capital and will go to battle against you and those who follow you.
What Captain Moroni didn’t know was that Pahoran was a loyal follower and was actually under the control of a group of dissenters known as the kingmen. This group of men wanted to overthrow the government and were holding the supplies and reinforcements captive in hopes that Moroni’s army would fall. Even though Moroni had blasted Pahoran and accused him of treason, Pahoran responded to Moroni in humility and gratitude for Moroni’s commitment to his people. Pahoran had his own battles he was dealing with and getting this letter must have been absolutely demoralizing. Pahoran could have easily blown up at Moroni. But he showed humility. Moroni is also a great example. When he received Pahoran’s response, he was not prideful, he immediately marched to the aid of Pahoran. Both men had the chance to feel attacked and betrayed. Both would have been justified in their feelings. But thankfully both looked inward instead of outward and worked together to find a resolution.
Even when we are right, we may be wrong. Even when we are right—or especially when we are right—if we are presumptuous and rash, we will give offense and become a stumbling block to others.
Step 3: Learn When to Walk Away
In some cases of conflict, we can only be injured. In such instances, we are better off to keep our distance and simply walk away. As we do, some may try to provoke us and engage us in argument. But we must learn that to engage will only leave us bruised and the other party satisfied. I will share a quick personal example.
At a previous workplace I had a co-worker who was just as mean and nasty as a hornet. Many of my co-workers learned to stay as far away from her as possible. When I first started working there, I did everything I could think of to befriend her, but no matter what I did, she was still just as mean as can be. Even when I tried to disengage, she would go on the offensive and seek me and others out. To make matters worse, she and I were both up for the same promotion. To her, this was an open invitation to attack as much as possible. Finally in desperation I went to my manager and asked him what I could do. He gave me a powerful life lesson. He said,
“Some people are like porcupines; they only know how to hurt. You can’t blame a porcupine for sticking you with its quills, because that is all they know how to do. It is their nature.”
Learning to walk away can be difficult. Some may see these actions as being passive or weak, but to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, do good to those that hate us, and pray for those who despitefully use us takes true faith, strength, and Christlike courage. This is not to suggest that we compromise our principles or dilute our beliefs. We must also have the courage to stand, even if we stand alone.
As I mentioned before, conflict is unavoidable. However, as we learn to face our challenges and address them early, as we learn to look inward and find our own areas of needed improvement, and as we learn to have courage to walk away, we become more Christlike.