Spiritual Principles of Conflict Transformation

The Link Between Forgiveness and Peace

It is said that holding a grudge is like eating poison and then expecting the other person to die.  As we all know from experience, it’s very easy to hold grudges.  Yet, we know there are very damaging consequences to our entire being when we fail to forgive.  There are mental consequences, emotional consequences, and physical consequences.  Conversely, perhaps the opposite is also true.  The spiritual journey to forgiveness is steep and rocky and challenging.  Yet, when we reach the summit of the path to forgiveness, the view is spectacular.  This blog post is about the journey. Read More

Conflict Transformation As A Spiritual Practice

Jesus had a remarkable gift for seeing through everything superficial, for peeling back the layers of the dusty, superficial robes of identity we wear,  to peer into a person’s inner soul.   Whether speaking to a Roman Centurian, to a Samaritan adulteress, or to a distinguished Rabbi,  Jesus always seemed to see beyond title or position and to respond to the deeper thoughts and real need of the individual he was relating to.

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This Is My Commandment

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”John 15:12

If you are facing conflict in your personal life, your professional life, or in your church congregation, you are not alone!  There is division and dissension among Christians and in churches across the United States.   The key issue in every dispute is not whether conflict will happen, but how we will respond to it when it does happen.


(image Watts, The Good Samaritan, courtesy Wikimedia commons)

Will we respond in love?

And, what does it mean, this commandment to  “love” one another?

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Six Principles of Nonviolence

by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 (click HERE for link to source material)


Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

  • It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. 
  • It is assertive spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. 
  • It is always persuading the opponent of the justice of your cause.

Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

  • The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. 
  • The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.

  • Nonviolence holds that evildoers are also victims.

Nonviolence holds that voluntary suffering can educate and transform.

  • Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts. 
  • Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. 
  • Nonviolence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it. 
  • Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. 
  • Suffering can have the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

  • Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as of the body.
  • Nonviolent love gives willingly, knowing that the return might be hostility. 
  • Nonviolent love is active, not  passive.
  • Nonviolent love does not sink to the level of the hater. 
  • Love for the enemy is how we demonstrate love for ourselves. 
  • Love restores community and resists injustice. 
  • Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

  • The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

Deeper Theory of Peacemaking

The model for peacemaking comes from deep, spiritual theory of compassion and love.  Learn more in this slideshow.  Far from being easy, simple, or cowardly, waging peace requires insight, courage, and compassion. 

Waging Peace

Santa, the Nativity, and … What?

An Advent Message for 2010

Of course Christ is the center of Christmas.  But, in fact, the season holds something for everyone who seeks a better world.   This is because,  no matter what a person’s faith — Muslim, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, Atheist, or something else  — the Nativity gives each of us an opportunity to open our mind to the possibility of  miracles, including the  the miracle of peace.

By focusing our mind on the concrete reality of an historical, embodied fact, the Nativity of Christ invites us to imagine concrete ways an ordinary individual can seek the extraordinary —  even the miraculous – in the context of our ordinary lives.  

The spirit of the Advent and Christmas season even invites us to take action that could make that imagined, and better, world become a reality.

An example of how the ordinary can become extraordinary lies in the legend of St. Nick.  Was he really just an ordinary guy who gave some gifts to some kids at Christmas?  Is he a magical elf who wears a red suit and lives at the North Pole?  Or, is he something else altogether?

This season, we at Just Mediation, LLC, know of a young child, age ten, who has begun to confirm their suspicions that the person who puts presents under the Christmas tree during the middle of the night on Christmas eve is not a person who arrives with reindeer and a red suit.

But does this realization, that the presents arrived in a different way than previously thought,  make the miracle of Santa any less of a miracle?

This little person has always been told that “Santa is someone who loves you very much.”   Does the fact that Santa has a different permanent address than they previously imagined take away any at all from the joy and love of the Christmas spirit? 

For many children, it does take away.  Most of us can remember with some sadness the first year we found out that Santa “wasn’t real”.  But, what if there were some way to hold on to that magical feeling about Santa?

In a sense, no matter what the physical facts, it can be said that “he who believes, receives”.   It is possible for Santa to remain very real, immortal, and miraculous.  How?  Because we make it so.   As adults with a more refined understanding of Santa, we can choose to redefine the way we view him.   Santa endures because he symbolizes, for all of us,  a spirit of giving, the magical power of love, and a wish for a world where all of our best childhood dreams come true.

We hope the child will come to understand that even if Santa doesn’t squeeze down a chimney, there is still magic.  There are still secrets, there is still giving, and there is still joy in Christmas.    If the child can hold on to this sense of the reality of Santa, even while the child gains understanding of the “facts” of Santa, the child will have achieved a better understanding (indeed!) of the true magic of Christmas.  

A true transformation of understanding will have occurred, and the child will have acquired a deeper and richer understanding of the meaning of the Christmas season.

The child’s transformation of understanding then becomes a lesson concerning love.   A new wisdom concerning the magic of Christmas will then be carried forward and continue to shape the way the child relates to others during the Christmas season.

Transformation of one’s understanding of conflict, as applied through the style of conflict transformation employed by our mediators, works in a similar way. 

The goal of the conflict consultants at Just Mediation, LLC, is not just to “solve” a problem by settling a case, allowing each mediator to get a “settlement star” on our achievement chart.   Rather, our goal is to transform your experience of conflict, literally, in a way that perhaps can be explained by the example of the child’s transformed understanding at Christmas.

Our hope is that by assisting you in gaining insight to see your conflict in a new way, and in helping all parties to achieve a deeper understanding of the conflict itself, this insight may then open the door to new possibilities and new imaginings of how to resolve it.    It’s not always easy.  Old presumptions sometimes must be replaced with a new understanding.   There may be challenging issues, and old habits of  communication and distrust may need to be overcome.   Yet, with this new insight, sometimes the previously unimaginable becomes possible.

To characterize agreements reached through conflict transformation as the result of “compromise” is trite.   To call this “win win” is not always quite accurate.  But to call it a sound method for achieving a better result, that is quite accurate. 

And sometimes, though not always, the results can be almost miraculous, offering participants an opportunity to transcend the “what has been” and achieve a better future.

As you contemplate the miracle of Christmas, we invite you to be open to the possibility of miracles everywhere.  Including the possibility that miracles sometimes can happen even in the ordinary, mundane world we inhabit in our daily lives.

Behold!  A mere babe in a manger.  Yet on another level, this Christmas season, be open to the idea that what is truly “real” may be altogether different from what is readily seen.

Tissot, Journey of the Magi (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Conflict Resolution vs. Conflict Transformation

When we think of conflict, most often we think of the distress it causes us. While some people seem to enjoy conflict, more often people do not enjoy being at odds with one another, especially when the relationship is one of importance such as a family member, friend, coworker, fellow church member, or business associate.

What is our natural response to the pain of conflict?  We tend to do whatever it takes to stop it, to “resolve” the problem and make it “go away”.  Some of us want to stifle the conflict and just put an end to it.  We jump hastily to “resolve” the conflict by adopting quick “solutions.”  We think this will quench it, as if it were a fire.  Or, we might try to pretend that conflict doesn’t exist. We change the subject. We may even stop talking to friends or visiting those associated with the situation, afraid that things might get unpleasant.

But just as pain can have a positive effect, causing us to move or adjust, so can conflict. Pain is our body’s way of telling us that something is not right, that something needs to change. Similarly, the discomfort of conflict should raise the question, “is there something we should be doing differently?”  The difference between conflict resolution and conflict transformation is one of attitude and goals.

Conflict Resolution merely seeks to “resolve” conflict, to end the discomfort by any means. A judge bangs a gavel and says “so ruled,” and one side wins or loses. That does not mean the sources of the conflict have gone away. Nor does it mean that any real communication has occurred or that either side understands the other any better.

In contrast to this, Conflict Transformation does not place the highest priority on “getting rid of” the expression of disagreement. Instead, Conflict Transformation seeks to transform our experience of conflict from the inside out.  A transformative mediator is a professional mediator who views conflict as an opportunity.  A transformative mediator will attempt to help parties use the discomfort of their conflict to ask questions designed to explore the root causes of the discomfort, and then will seek to empower the parties to the conflict to respond to the conflict with a higher degree of understanding.  Viewed this way, conflict is as an opportunity to examine a situation, to listen to the needs of an “other”, to understand our own needs more clearly, and then to see if there are avenues for collaboration and cooperation that would enable a better response than the current one. According to the theory of conflict transformation:

Conflict is a natural part of life. When people have conflict, that means there is change, growth, and engagement in life giving processes of meeting and responding to needs.

Yes, certainly, conflict is usually perceived as uncomfortable or even painful.  Yet is is also true that conflict often offers opportunity to develop new ways of seeing things.  Conflict can be the force that helps us move beyond what “is” and to move toward a more positive “what could be”.

How we respond to conflict also involves a moral choice.  No person exists as an island. Every social and business interaction provides opportunity for interests to collide. Thus, every organization or family experiences conflict.  Conflict offers each of us an opportunity to respond in ways that are negative, or in ways which are positive.  For example:

  • Do we respond by attacking each other personally, or by tackling issues?
  • Do we respond in ways that build organizational competence, or which undermine it?
  • Do we respond in ways that promote healing, or in ways that deepen wounds?
  • Do people engage in earnest dialogue to work through issues in ways that deepen understanding and relationships, or rather do they pretend nothing is wrong, disengage, or (at the other end of the spectrum), engage in personal attacks, vendettas, or hostilities?

Conflict transformation also requires a leap of faith, of sorts. Each party is given an opportunity, a moral risk, to relate to the Other in an authentic way. Each takes the chance that the Other will reject that opportunity. Everything is not guaranteed to turn out all right. Everything depends on how we respond to the moral decisions in front of us. Do we choose compassion, or not? Do we choose to be in more authentic relationship and understanding, or not?

There is a positive side to counterbalance the risk of choosing to respond compassionately.  By exploring and highlighting our differences, conflict offers opportunity to develop more authentic relationship with the people with whom one is relating.  When we choose compassion, we have no guarantee that our negotiating partner will also choose compassion, but we nevertheless open the door to possibility.   Choosing compassion does involve taking a risk, but what are the options?  Is it a risk one is willing to take?

No matter whether the situation is as personal as a divorce or as as a commercial as a complex legal dispute, parties in authentic dialogue may discover more about themselves, about their own needs (or needs of their organization), and also about the other person (or negotiating partner) and their needs. Good conflict management helps all parties understand their own needs better and then empowers parties to focus on finding solutions and thinking toward the future. Additionally, the best solutions to conflict are not those imposed by outsiders, but those designed by the parties themselves.

Seen this way, it becomes apparent that conflict transformation is a different, and more hopeful, way of looking at and dealing with conflict. The old view was that conflict itself was seen as the “problem,” perhaps like an annoying fly, and the key goal was to get rid of the discomfort by shutting up the buzzing, the expression of conflict. The problem with this viewpoint is not only that stifling the expression of conflict doesn’t make the causes go away that were creating the symptoms. The parties remain conflicted at the root, causing deep and lasting damage to their relationships. Even more, this “all or nothing” viewpoint precludes the possibility of finding some other, better way of looking at and solving a problem.

How much better, then, the paradigm of conflict transformation in seeking to address root causes rather than symptoms. In a transformative type process, the parties are encouraged to explore their interests and needs and work together to find solutions that meet as many of those needs as possible. When viewed this way, the goal of Conflict Transformation is to provide a mechanism by which both parties may be enabled to work together to tackle their common problem: the problem of identifying the crucial interests of each and then finding a way to meet as many of those needs and interests as possible.

Divorcing spouses separate their lives and develop parenting plans without engaging in warfare. Parties to a commercial transaction negotiating at a bargaining table may discover new opportunities for engaging in business together. A church congregation heals division and becomes unified once again.  It is trite to call this a “win – win” solution. There is not always a way for every interest to be accommodated. But many conflicts can be resolved and most can be helped, and almost every conflict handled through mediation results in better understanding.

In summary, Conflict Transformation aims to provide a process, guided by a conflict resolution expert, which enables people and organizations to transform conflict into opportunity for pruning, growth, healing, and renewed vitality. Vitality not only in individual, healed relationships, but also in organizations and family systems which are restored to health and given tools to move forward in healthier, more balanced relationships.

The Four G’s of Christian Conflict Resolution

In earlier blog posts, I’ve written about general principles of Christian mediation and the type of mediation of complex group situations that could be labeled as “church mediation” — mediation for Christian organizations.  This post is for someone who desires to know more.

While there’s no “magic formula” for the process of reconciliation, Kenneth Sande and Peacemaker Ministries have enunciated some helpful methods for remembering the process.  One of these is called “The Four G’s of Reconciliation”.  True to its name, it enunciates four simple”G’s” we can remember as we address conflict:

(1) Glorify God: Ask, “How can I please and glorify God in this situation?”

  • 1 Cor. 10:31 (“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”)
  • Prov. 3:4-6 (“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own uderstanding; in all your ways acknowledge him . . . . “)
  • John 14:15 (“If you love me, you will obey what I command.”)
  • Eph. 5:1 (“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”)

(2) Get the Log out of Your Own Eye (Matthew 7:5). It is important to admit your own wrongs honestly and thoroughly. One’s own wrongs can take two forms. One form is a critical, negative, or overly sensitive attitude that has led to unnecessary conflict. Another form is actual sinful words and actions.

When confessing wrong, the “Seven A’s of Confession” can be helpful:

  • Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  • Avoid the words if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  • Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  • Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  • Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  • Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  • Ask for forgiveness

(See Matthew 7:3-5; 1 John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13.)

(3) Gently Restore: the theme is restoration, not condemnation. Galations 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”

  • metaphor of a loving shepherd who goes to look for a wandering sheep and then rejoices when it is found (Matt. 18:12–14)
  • Jesus repeats this theme just after telling us to “go and show him his fault” by adding, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”
  • And then he hits the restoration theme a third time in verses 21–35, where he uses the parable of the unmerciful servant to remind us to be as merciful and forgiving to others as God is to us (Matt. 18:21–35).
  • It is appropriate to overlook minor offenses

As a general rule, an offense should be overlooked if you can answer “no” to all of the following questions:

  • Is the offense seriously dishonoring God?
  • Has it permanently damaged a relationship?
  • Is it seriously hurting other people? And
  • Is it seriously hurting the offender himself?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, an offense is too serious to overlook, in which case God commands you to go and talk with the offender privately and lovingly about the situation. As you do so, remember to:

  • Pray for humility and wisdom
  • Plan your words carefully (think of how you would want to be confronted)
  • Anticipate likely reactions and plan appropriate responses (rehearsals can be very helpful)
  • Choose the right time and place (talk in person whenever possible)
  • Assume the best about the other person until you have facts to prove otherwise (Prov. 11:27)
  • Listen carefully (Prov. 18:13)
  • Speak only to build others up (Eph. 4:29)
  • Ask for feedback from the other person
  • Recognize your limits (only God can change people; see Rom. 12:18; 2 Tim. 2:24-26)

(4) Go and Be Reconciled

Just think, however, how you would feel if God said to you, “I forgive you; I just don’t want to have anything to do with you again”?

Praise God that he never says this! Instead, he forgives you totally and opens the way for genuine reconciliation. He calls you to forgive others in exactly the same way: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:12-14; see also 1 Cor. 13:5; Psalm 103:12; Isa. 43:25). One way to imitate God’s forgiveness is to make the Four Promises of Forgiveness when you forgive someone:

  • “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  • “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  • “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  • “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

If you want to learn more, please let me know and I’ll help you with resources.  My phone number is 803-414-0185.


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