If someone could peek inside my mind, they’d see an amazing ninja scene playing out at all times. Me, turning all wrong things right—in some sort of hero outfit. It’s one giant movie. And that’s the beauty of movies! I’m convinced that the reason people (myself included) are so attracted to movies is that there is, more often than not, clearly resolved conflict that satisfies our desire to see justice. The bad guy got caught! Justice. The jock lost the girl! Justice. The mystery was solved! Justice. I wish that all conflicts were so easy to tie up!
Resolution—in real life—is simply not that simple. And therein lies the challenge. Christian schools and the families they serve are in a partnership; how should we approach conflict in a way that fosters community? Being partners in a child’s education means putting aside our innate desire for justice in conflict and choosing instead to pursue resolution and relationship.
Often when people think of resolution, they immediately hear compromise. Those with very strong convictions about what is wrong and what is right cringe at the thought of compromise. It means they lost. But did they? Conflict management from the biblical worldview involves compassion and empathy much more than it involves “winning.” As Nancy Ortberg wrote in her book, Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands, there is a great need to identify the difference between “a tension to be managed and a problem to be solved,” (pg. 71). Think about the last conflict you had with a teacher, staff member, fellow parent, or even a family member. How did that go? Did it end in frustration? Did it result in continued confusion and thoughts of, “Okay, so what now?” Were you just trying to be right?
As followers of Jesus Christ, our attitude toward conflict resolution has to be in accord with the words of the Gospel. First of all, there is only one Judge. Only one who is Truth and knows the heart of man. James 4:12 says, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (NIV). If we believe and understand what that means for human relationships, it has to change the way we approach conflict. So following are three clear points that I believe are essential to not only finding resolution over justice, but to successful family partnerships with your Christian school.
Put away the motives you have created for the other person. Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler in their book, Crucial Conversations, call these “clever stories,” (pg. 116). If you can suspend your belief for the briefest of moments that the school is inflexible, or the neighbor has it out for you, or your teenager doesn’t care about other human beings, you’ll have a much better probability of understanding the heart of the conflict. The reality is that most of what you think others think about you has been created by you. Resist the temptation to tell the other’s story and you’ll find yourself in a much better position to…
Listen. Oftentimes, the hurt just want to be heard. I once found myself on the opposite side of a very angry parent phone call about one of our school policies and how it was negatively affecting her child. After a few minutes I asked, “Do you trust that Evansville Christian School keeps the best interests of your child at heart?” That’s a scary question. Her response? “No.” This was a critical point, right? It was like the Boston Massacre’s “shot heard ’round the world.” What we both did instead was step back. I asked what had led her to feel that way, and we began a dialogue that became about understanding. In the end, she and I had a clear respect for the heart of the concern, and we (as a school) were pretty quickly able to address some policy concerns and start the healing process. What began with fireworks concluded in partnership. No one a winner. No one a loser. Just resolution. But this is only possible if you can…
Be willing to act on a solution. Nothing is worse than when a solution presents itself, but leadership and/or families are too stubborn to reverse course. Some policies are stupid and need to be challenged. Some are a little outdated and need revised. Those who hide behind “what has always been done” blind themselves from opportunities to build partnerships. In many schools that have been around for a number of years, there is a way that everything should be done. Those who are not willing to at least philosophically challenge what should be and what could be are in danger of pursuing justice in lieu of resolution. As a parent of a child in school, you’ll have so many opportunities to point how things should be. As a parent of a child in a Christian school, you can biblically hold the expectation that school leadership should be quick to listen and slow to speak. And they can hold the same expectation of you. Think of where Elijah finally found the path to move forward. It wasn’t in the earthquake. It wasn’t in the fire. It was in the stillness. The willingness to listen…and then do something!
Resolution is not as clear cut as a game of rock-paper-scissors. Let’s be honest: in real life the scissors can be dull, the paper can be wet, and the rock can be tiny. Often it is the humble leader who fundamentally understands conflict resolution. John Dickson, author of the book, Humilitas (2011), defines humility as “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influences for the good of others before yourself.” Put more simply, it is “a willingness to hold power in service of others,” (pg. 24). I love the idea that true servant leadership and partnership are the strengths that come with humility.
Movie drama is rarely willing to see through to the heart of the difference and work to move forward in partnership. But real life can! Justice is the Lord’s business. Resolution should be ours.
Michael W. Allen
Head of School
Evansville Christian School