Conflict resolution: What’s your opinion?

News Tribune editorial

Conflict resolution, ironically, is a topic that invites conflicting opinions.

Disagreement among representatives in Congress has drawn us nearer the “fiscal cliff.” A scriptural method of conciliation was the topic of a Friday news story, and the therapeutic quality of submissions to the “Your Opinion” forum is a subject of a letter included today.

Differences of opinion are not only natural, but necessary. In the absence of differences, people would have nothing to impart, share, teach or learn.

Conflict arises when discourse leads to incivility, invective and belittlement.

Opinions take a variety of forms, among them:

• The battering ram. Some opinions are offered as absolutes that prohibit denial, alteration or discussion. Sometimes, they take the form of a rant or tirade. Often, they evoke Newton’s third law of physics — “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” — and ignite a continuum of similarly intransigent, often inflammatory, responses.

• The reasoned argument. These opinions, like an attorney’s closing argument, are designed to persuade. Facts and citations of other sources form the foundation on which the opinion is constructed, using logic and reasoning.

• The shared offering. These viewpoints are gentle, occasionally accompanied by the disclaimer that the perspective is one of many. These contributions acknowledge that opinions are not necessarily right or wrong, only different.

The opinions we embrace are based on our knowledge and experience. And we believe them to be correct; otherwise, we wouldn’t adhere to them. How does this help resolve conflict? A vital first step is practicing tolerance — acknowledging differing opinions and understanding the various methods of presenting them. Another helpful initiative is to talk to, not about, the person who sees things differently.

A story Friday reported on seeking guidance in the Bible verses of Matthew, Chapter 18. Referring to Scripture, a pastor observed, “It comes down to: Do I want to resolve things? Or, do I want to massage my anger.” Conflict escalates when inflamed by anger and resentment. In contrast, tolerance and respect can transform conflict into conciliation and harmony — a worthy goal in the coming year.

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