How To Resolve Conflict Peaceably
In one of his most famous parables, Chuang Tzu (Arguably, the most spiritual of all the Chinese philosophers) addresses managing our expectations of others and finding ways to let go of our need to be in control of other people's reactions.
The parable, known as "three in the morning," shares the interaction between a bunch of monkeys and their keeper, who gave them three measures of chestnuts in the morning and four at night.
The monkeys complain about this, demanding four measures in the morning. So the keeper changes his approach, giving them four measures in the morning and three at night, which mollifies them.
Like much of Chuang Tzu's work, there is an element of the absurd in this story, and it would be easy to focus on the foolishness of the monkeys who end up getting the same amount of chestnuts, seemingly outwitted by the keeper.
But the more profound meaning here is that the keeper doesn't insist on doing things his way; he recognizes that the arguments of the monkeys are irrational but gives them what they want without sacrificing the integrity of his overall care for them.
The lasting truth in this quirky tale ought to instruct you and me in our dealings with others. It's about letting go of our need to be right without selling our integrity down the river.
Sometimes the way to peace can be found by not insisting that others be reasonable and do things our way, particularly when we can compromise and find another solution.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his followers to go the extra mile and give the clothes off their backs to those who ask for them. He even told them if they were struck to turn the other cheek.
These instructions were absurd to the hearers, but they spoke directly into the notion of doing all that we can to live peaceably with others and do whatever is within our power to hold on to our self-worth even when we compromise or "give in" to the unreasonableness of others.
There is a cycle of aggression and even violence that gets perpetuated when we enter into every conflict with the desire to win at all costs. Wisdom, humility, and grace should be our only weapons in conflict, and we should learn to wield them well.
People who are hurting, fearful, or in need can often sound unreasonable to us, and the temptation to respond in kind is powerful. But when the cycle of aggression is halted, the real work of relationship-building can begin.
May you find ways to resolve the conflicts with others in peace, holding on to your dignity and sense of hope all the while. May it be so for you and me, and all of us.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all now and forever. Amen.