The Power of Counsel in Conflict

ethics, things that last

objective truth

“I am right and that’s all that matters.”

“It doesn’t matter if I make him/her feel inadequate and lesser than they are. That’s their problem. I’m right – this is the right thing to do.”

So often we say these things either to ourselves or others. It’s a legitimate and even a just feeling when you are right in the actions that need to be taken, wrongdoing that’s been done, or changes that need to be made. But being right isn’t everything.

Now, before the eyes start to roll and you start thinking, “Well if being right isn’t everything, then why bother speaking the truth at all? Or correcting anyone for that matter? You’re heading towards relativism!”

Well, I suppose if you take what I just said to the extreme and only at face value – that being right isn’t everything – then yes, certainly, it could lead to relativism. But, if we approach this idea with reason, a Christian understanding, and prudence, it becomes more than a typical and often misused idiom.

“I Am Right” Does Not Always Bear Witness to Truth.

Conflict arises in every part of our lives and in every relationship – between acquaintances and friends, co-workers and professionals, husbands and wives, parents and children, and between siblings. Many times in conflict, one party is right and speaks the truth and one party is in the wrong. Obviously, this is not the case across the board as sometimes conflicts are not so black and white, and both parties are to blame. However, for simplicity’s sake, let’s stick to the general approach to conflict that one person is wrong and the other right.

Even thinking “I’m right” can lead to feelings of haughtiness and pride and even a total neglect of the other person – their thoughts and their feelings on the situation.  In a conflict that leads to the “I’m right; you’re wrong” speech, it places one person as the judge while the other is placed on the judgement seat, oftentimes exacerbating the argument and even neglecting a resolution.

And, although I’m all for justice and putting people in “their place”, I’m always left wondering if the conflict was really resolved. Does the person in the wrong really understand they were wrong or have they been left with feeling shame and degradation? Did I help them understand why it’s wrong, or did I merely point, blame, and judge? Did I help change their heart, or make them even more hard-hearted and steadfast in their ways?

More often than not, the “I’m right; you’re wrong” approach leads either to shame with no understanding or hard-heartedness with no change or improvement. In either case, a change of heart or ways has not been reached. In conflict, the goal is to not just point out the wrong but also help the person understand why it’s wrong. It’s leading the person – mostly by example and prayer; taking them by the hand and lifting them up, not tearing them down and making them feel like a lesser person because of their wrongness. Furthermore, it’s not disregarding the wrong entirely; nor is it ignoring the seriousness of wrongdoing. Instead, it’s approaching conflict with love, not emotional anger and pride.

“Whichever of You Is Free From Sin Shall Cast the First Stone”

 And now the scribes and Pharisees brought to him a woman who had been found committing adultery…Master, they said, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Moses, in his law, prescribed that such persons should be stoned to death; what of thee? They said this to put him to the test, hoping to find a charge to bring against him. But Jesus bent down, and began writing on the ground with his finger…Whichever of you is free from sin shall cast the first stone at her…And they began to go out one by one…till Jesus was left alone with the woman…Then Jesus looked up, and asked her, Woman, where are thy accusers? Has no one condemned thee? No one, Lord, she said. And Jesus said to her, I will not condemn thee either. Go, and do not sin again henceforward.

John 8:3-11 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation

This passage is often misused and quoted as an excuse to not point out someone’s wrongdoing nor administer justice, or to point out hypocrisy. Indeed, hypocrisy is one of the main points of this passage. However, Jesus is not just pointing out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees and teaching about true judgement. He is giving us the perfect example of the use of counsel – one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Counsel perfects the virtue of prudence, assisting a person in just and right judgements, especially in difficult situations and conflicts. Instead of reacting with emotion, anger, and pride, a person with the gift of counsel is able to speak through the heart with enlightenment and act accordingly. This is precisely what Our Lord was exemplifying in the above passage.

Among all her accusers, He was the only one who could rightly judge her. Notice, He did not say the Law of Moses was wrong or that even her accusers were wrong in their accusation. Rather, He strictly focused on addressing their actions and reactions to the judgement. Under the law, she did deserve the stoning. However, the main question has to be asked at this point: What good would it have done? Other than perhaps dissuading others from committing adultery, no change was made and, more importantly, no chance would have been given to make the change. One of the hidden points of this passage is allowing someone in the wrong to change their heart and their ways, and this is precisely what Jesus allowed.

So, How Does Counsel Help Us In Conflict?

 A couple of years ago, Pope Francis centered one of his general audience addresses on the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel.

“It illuminates our heart and makes us more sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, so that we do not get carried away in our thoughts, feelings and intentions by selfishness or our own way of looking at things, but by the will of God,” he proclaimed.

Take notice of the last part of that observation – “our own way of looking at things”. It’s this approach that leads to the “I’m right; you’re wrong” argument and does nothing more than point blame and judge. Indeed, “our way of looking at things” might be just, but our actions in dealing with conflict should not come from this place of pride, but rather through the light of faith and love. More importantly, the gift of counsel directs our thoughts, words, and actions in accordance with God’s will and leaves the judgement to God, as Pope Francis taught in the same address.

And now once more Jesus spoke to them, I am the light of the world, he said. He who follows me can never walk in darkness; he will possess the light which life…You set yourselves up to judge, after your earthly fashion; I do not set myself up to judge anybody. And what if I should judge? My judgement is judgement indeed; it is not I alone, my Father who sent me is with me.

John 8:12-17 – Msgr. Ronald Knox Latin Vulgate Translation

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2 thoughts on “The Power of Counsel in Conflict”

  1. This is really excellent, Steffani! It’s something I began to understand as my faith deepened. It’s changed my interaction with family and my own kids. And, of course, we can see the negative side playing out on social media everyday. There’s little point in being right if the message is lost. Nice job!

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