Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When "Agreeing to Disagree" is no agreement at all

In conflict resolution, one of the most common decisions to make is for all parties present to say to one another: "Let's agree to disagree." I have never really gotten over my discomfort over such a solution. In fact, I think it is downright unproductive. Through the years, I have thought about it and am even more convinced that it should always be a last resort. Below is a list of situations where the ATD attitude is not recommended.

1) Flashing the ATD Prematurely
Conflict resolution is hard work. If parties in conflict use this as a quick solution to resolve issues, there will be lots of issues that will never really get resolved.

2) When one party is clearly in the wrong
ATD can sometimes be used as an immunity card. We need wise persons to discern the right from the wrong. If a party who is clearly in the wrong is allowed to get away scot-free simply on the basis of an ATD, it is injustice.

3) Using ATD as an ego protection mechanism
This third reason is one that feeds off pride and arrogance. Sometimes, it is more a question of protecting one's turf, rather than revealing the truth that sets one free.

3) ATD breeds a bad habit of dichotomizing everything
Is it always the case where if one person thinks one way, the other have to think in the opposite way? Often this will lead to unhealthy dissensions and early disagreement. We ask, why do good people often end up in bitter fights and arguments? I think the lack of authentic relationships between feuding parties is a key reason why people tend to take sides and not agree. What if ATD is used to simply buy time to reload ammunition for a future showdown? I believe that creative conflict resolution needs to be implemented with lots of spiritual wisdom.

There are many situations in churches that apparently ends up in a ATD. If it is a result of any of the above, it is sad. In Luke 22, the disciples were actually arguing among themselves who is the greatest. How Jesus handled them is a powerful reminder that sometimes, we ought to put one another higher than ourselves.

"Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest."
Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22:24-26

Many situations of conflict are power struggles in disguise. Some call it fighting as a matter of principle. Jesus shows us a more excellent way, that the greatest shall be the youngest, and the one who rules must be the one who serves. Perhaps, the solution to avoid the ATD quagmire, is to let the feuding parties fight for the opponent's agenda? Whatever it is, prayer is quintessential.

What if the formula for legitimate conflict resolutions be in the following order?
Firstly, the church's overall need be the main focus.
Second, the need of the opposing party, with both parties volunteering as enthusiastic and honestly as possible to put the other's interest above their own.
Thirdly, their own.

The results I think will be much better than simply a ATD. It takes time, yes, but at least it lasts.


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