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Problems stem from approach to a conflict

OK, ok... I know its after the heights of the voting season and many of you are tired of hearing about it, thinking about it, etc., etc.  Regardless of how relieved I may not be about all of the results from this last election cycle, I am relieved the darn thing’s over.  Elections have become nastier, louder and cruder.

Mike Denton
Mike Denton

I go in to each voting season with low expectations and those expectations have been pretty consistently lowered further.  I was tired of this round of things weeks ago and am thrilled its done.  I’m done with it.

Well, almost done.  In this last election cycle, many of the pre-voting polls were inconclusive because the “undecided” block of folks were large enough to make the results of many polls inconclusive.  Its a growing voting block, and I think churches have something to learn from “the undecideds.”

There have been times I’ve thought the differences were so clear that I couldn’t figure out what this group of folks could exactly be undecided about.  In the last presidential cycle, in particular, this group was frequently derided; it was suggested they were naive, stupid and excessively wishy washy.

According to Pew Research polls, those who describe themselves as “undecided” make up about 7 percent of likely voters and their numbers are increasing. 

In an Associated Press poll released a week before Nov. 2, a whopping third of those polled said they were undecided about who to vote for in the upcoming congressional election.  As these numbers increase, so does interest in finding out how those who describe themselves as undecided think.

There were two ideas that came from a recent study by Drew Westen, professor of psychology at Emory University, about undecided voters that stood out to me. 

• The first was that undecided voters tended to be pragmatists.  They don’t have strong beliefs but simply want to see solutions and “don’t care if they come from the right or left.” 

• The second was that undecided voters are less likely to believe inaccurate or incomplete information that comes from candidates and backers of various initiatives than are decided voters.

These really are good reasons to remain undecided.  Let’s think about instances of heightened conflict we’ve been in.  Essentially, election campaigns are a period of orchestrated conflict (in the midst of much larger conflicts) by folks who are trying to convince/manipulate us with the presentation of their perspectives. 

Although usually to a different degree than an election, most heightened conflicts have this same element; disagreements in the contexts of larger conflicts where people are trying to convince/manipulate us to agree with them.

One of my frequent prayers is for “congregations in conflict and those that think they aren’t.” 

Conflict is a normal and natural part of human life, and so of course its part of church life.  The problems don’t come from the existence of conflict but by the way we approach it. 

Most of these problems come from our impulse to choose a side instead of trying to solve the problem.  Once we’ve taken a side, we tend to get so personally invested that we only believe what we hear from “our side.” 

We don’t take enough time to figure out whether what we’re hearing may be based on perspective, partial truths, projections or even out right falsehoods.  The conflict becomes exacerbated instead of improved.

I think we have quite a lot to learn from “the undecideds.”  It’s not as much that they never make a decision as much that they delay it. 

Without question, there are urgent problems in the world where decisiveness is needed but, more often than not, it’s worth taking the time to get the facts. 

What are those places in our congregational lives where it might be helpful to move from trying to “win and argument” to solving a problem? 

How sure are we that all the information that we have about this problem is an accurate description of the problem as opposed to a perception that may not be wholly based on facts?


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © November-December 2010





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