Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Four Approaches to Conflict, Only One to Forgiveness

How many ways are there to forgive and forget or hold an elephant-sized grudge? Everyone has their own way of dealing with conflict in life and there are endless philosophies on how and when to forgive. It seems at times that the world just lives to be in conflict or get over conflict, and a range of circumstances between.

At a chemical spill workshop recently a fire services scientist gave those attending a golden lesson on how some chemicals react in sea water. It was interesting contrasting caustic soda with sulphuric acid, for instance. But it was his description of what happens to a spill on and in water that perked up most notice in me.

As a consequence of a chemical spill, the substance sinks to the bottom, floats on the surface, evaporates into the air or dilutes in the water. For example, caustic soda dilutes very effectively in sea water, whilst sulphuric acid sinks (and creates all sorts of problems at the bottom, including the leaching of heavy metals into the marine ecosystem!).

So, what’s this got to do with forgiveness? Here’s what:

Like the sulphuric acid, sinkers let their conflicts sink deep within them and bury their issues where they can only fester into irreconcilable resentments. Spiritually they go from bad to worse and these people become damaged goods.

Floaters allow people to have the benefit of them. They’re quite submissive and the label ‘door mat’ fits quite nicely. But, with a floating conflict the damage lingers and the issue doesn’t go away--it just floats on the surface for ages, and can even become the ‘elephant in the room.’ This is veiled forgiveness. The person says they’ve forgiven, but they haven’t truly dealt with the issue.

Similarly, yet not the same, evaporators simply let the conflict waft away and never do anything with it. It’s as if it never happened, but the conflict is not fixed--it’s not processed. ‘In one ear and out the other,’ my mother used to say, and this is how it is for evaporators; they don’t let much meaningful sink in--perhaps it’s in some cases a self-protection mechanism?

Diluters absorb the conflict and have a way of assimilating it in a meaningful way. They dilute the corrosiveness of the conflict and use whatever good can be achieved from it and ditch the rest. The negative power of the conflict is hence diffused.

Diluters have found ways of coping with the initial emotive power of the conflict; they have the self-esteem to ‘hold the tension’ of the conflict without the emotion overpowering them. They also have the courage to assertively and respectfully confront the issue with those involved in seeking a way through for all.

By far and away, the diluting approach, which heals us through a process of forgiveness, is the best way in dealing with reconciliation and the restoration of relationships.

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