There are always two sides to any story. What we don’t often see is that there is a third side to the story – the community and the observers to the two parties’ argument or conversation. Conflict at its most basic is merely a differing perspective. There isn’t anything wrong with seeing things differently. That is Diversity and it enriches our perspectives. Conflict is something that comes up where one or more parties cannot understand or recognize the other person’s perspective.
This is true for religion, the global situation and negotiations between nations, at our workplace and also in our families. When we feel personally threatened, there is a friction that can come up. The story behind the situation can get lost, while we focus only on our own gains, our own viewpoint and our own needs, the perspective begins to become lopsided.
Building a bridge involves a balanced approach. There are careful measurements and an overall vision that sets the stage for the process. In order to build, both sides need to be worked on at the same time so that they can meet delicately in the middle.
While I’ve never built a bridge (physical one, not metaphorically speaking), I have crocheted socks. How in the world can crocheting of a pair of socks look like building a bridge? They both need to be worked on at the same time, by someone from the outside. This is another way to look at conflicts and negotiation. Action of one entity upon two other entities = third side (or the third party) is not a new idea.
In psychology, the third side or perspective is called the “Mediating Variable.” It helps two things that seem to be linked together to be explained in a better way. In conflict negotiation or mediation, unless you have a third party involved that can help to explain the situation clearly and ask the right questions, it is very difficult to get to a suitable resolution. Authors Heifetz and Linsky have called this to be a “Balcony Perspective.” If you are one of the actors on the stage, it will be very difficult for you to see the whole picture because you only know your part and maybe the part of the person before you and after you so you can be cued in. However, if you choose instead to see the drama unfold from the balcony view, you will be able to not only understand what is going on in front of you but also what the others are doing in the background. The entire scene becomes crystal clear all of a sudden. The same is also true for conflict and negotiation.
So before you jump into a blame game or rush into judgment of a situation, STOP. Take a ladder and climb up to the balcony. Take a fresh perspective of the scene unfolding in front of you. You might just be able to see things you have never seen before or things you were taking for granted in your everyday rush to be heard and to be placed in the #1 seat.
In my walk with Christ, I have found that building bridges between my past and helping people to understand what it was like to grow up in an entirely different culture (Middle East & Asia), with a different religion (Islam), and different family values, there is a lot of ground to cover. There is great fear driven from the media that causes people to become angry towards a certain group. I have met several women who was moderately Christian at the time (not really attending church regularly and couldn’t really say much about having a relationship with Christ), who told me that she was angered by Muslims here in the United States and elsewhere.
As all of my family is Muslim, I could have immediately taken great offense at what she said – they have as much of a right to be here as he does, even if they were not born here, but are U.S. Citizens. After taking a deep breath (= going to the balcony), I asked her a few questions: How many Muslim people have you talked to here (answer: none), how many Muslim people have you tried to reach or build a relationship with so you could understand them better (answer: none), how do you know what they believe other than the media (answer: I am well-educated), and finally – why do you feel this way? The last question made her pause. I told him that my family would not feel the same about her, so what was going on? She answered in one word “FEAR.”
This is no different than what happens at work. We take a stand on something and get mad about it, without taking into account someone else’s underlying concerns or addressing the issues below the iceberg. Ninety percent of the time, you will find that the issue at the face of the situation is not the real issue. The real stuff is lying below what the person is saying to you.
Going back to another woman who was fearful, God had a very funny way of taking care of that situation. I hosted a baby shower for a Saudi woman who was new to the country. I didn’t even know who she was, but that a group of Christian women wanted to have a shower but the location fell through. I offered up our home and we had over 30 women attend. The guest of honor came to my front door with her entourage of 8 women- all dressed from head to toe in their black burqa (or hijab). My friend came out from the kitchen and I heard a sharp intake and gasp of a breath. I have to admit – it was kind of a scary sight to have people you don’t know who show up to your door and you cannot see their faces (kind of like Halloween, but not on Halloween…).
As the women were ensured that no men would be in attendance, they started to take off their veils and covers. Underneath were these sweet-faced 18-20 year old girls dressed in cute trendy dresses, short hair, full make-up. So adorable! I could see a huge wide grin spread across my friend’s face. After the fun party, she and I got to talk. She had tears in her eyes because she felt like the Lord had taken her to a balcony to see a new perspective she would never have considered. What a JOY to have that perception and fear lifted off in one night. That is the way bridges are built…
May we seek ways to bring peace to our homes, families, workplaces, and nation in this way, for blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).