When talking about conflict, there is a key ingredient that is renowned for de-escalating conflict, and it may not be what you expect: humility.
When someone takes the posture of humility during a conflict, suddenly the one-upping ceases. It is like turning off the gas burner underneath a pot of boiling water; it may take a few minutes but the water will simmer and cool.
Quite interestingly, humility’s power comes from how it postures us before God, and how it postures us before others. Check out what James says about it.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? … But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 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? (James 4:1, 6, 10 – 12)
There is a lot going on in this paragraph, but here is what is pertinent for our discussion–humility before God plays a crucial role in finding a resolution to our interpersonal conflicts. What seems to be off-topic remarks about humility are—exegetically—James’s antidote to the conflicts taking place. James cuts to the chase and suggests the cure for the conflict is for his hearers to get right with God by taking a posture of humility.
Humility is kryptonite to pride in that humility creates an environment where pride cannot live.
That is because pride and humility are mutually exclusive. The Greek word for “proud” (hyperēphanos) is a compound word from the preposition “above/high” (hyper) and the word for “lamp/light” (phanos). The proud are those who literally high-light themselves! They think of themselves as being in a shining position above others. This is not used in a “let your light shine” kind of way. The proud are those who exalt themselves at the expense of using others as a stepping stool.
Unfortunately, this was a common way of life in the Graeco-Roman world of the mid-first century. The predominant culture was obsessed with status. “Pride” was not even considered a negative trait. Meanwhile, no one considered humility a virtue. No one—except those of a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Pride is a form of arrogance since they exaggerate or assert one’s self-worth (usually at the expense of others or by comparison to others). This is a dangerous ingredient when in the mix of conflict. Arrogance causes conflict because arrogance—by its very nature—is egocentric. With our internal word being all about us, we are more likely going to have conflicts when we feel like our status “at the center of the universe” is threatened or jeopardized. Ironically, an arrogant man presents himself as standing tall and high, but in God’s eyes, He is going to be brought low. That is James’s point.
If arrogance is an assertion of status, humility is a relinquishing of it.
Humility is not self-deprecating, though, or thinking less of yourself. As C.S. Lewis has famously said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself—it’s thinking about yourself less.”
And in God’s eyes it is those of a humble heart that He will raise high (or exalt) with His favor. The power of humility comes from a change of course. Whereas the prideful become deluded by their sense of self-reliance; the humble have no problem relinquishing themselves in light of their reliance on God.
Humility serves to be the indispensable ingredient for conflict resolution because it starts as a posture before God. When we posture ourselves before God, humbly and willingly, we are more likely to see ourselves and the person(s) we are conflict with more light—through God’s light. Meaning, we see the situation with a greater, more accurate perspective when we humbly involve God in the interior of our conflict.
Therefore, humility is the integral ingredient for unity to exist.
Let us, therefore, make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (Romans 14:19)
Let’s face it, unity does not happen automatically in a broken world with broken people (you and I being among them). So, it takes effort, “every effort,” to quote Paul again. That effort is grounded in the attitude and outworking of humility in our lives. But we should be encouraged that leading a humble life will be enriching. After all:
Unity follows those who lead with humility.
There is something disarming about those who approach heated situations with humility. And that is why James offered this as the key solution, the kryptonite to the pride that keeps conflict boiling. This is obvious when we compare the typical attitudes of arrogance and humility when in conflict.
- Arrogance says: “You, listen to me!”
- Humility says: “I want to listen.”
- Arrogance says: “I’ll slander your reputation if you disagree with me.”
- Humility says: “I’ll defend your honor even if we disagree on this issue.”
- Arrogance says: “I am more concerned about being right than being reconciled.”
- Humility says: “I am willing to lay aside the need to be right so that we can be reconciled.”
Here is what it comes down to. If we want someone to approach the conflict with humility, we might have to try leading the charge in it. And when we do so, we may find that not only are we listening more and becoming more peaceable, but the person in conflict is, too.
The more pride dies in me, the more Christ can live in me. The more Christ lives in me, the more I will seek to make peace instead of heightening conflict.
What conflict do you need to bring before God this week in the posture of humility?