All generations share the experience of conflict
By Dale Pyne
I have two sons and daughters-in-law who are Millennials—teens and 20-somethings currently moving into adulthood. I don’t fully understand how or why Millennials think or act as they do, any more than they understand how or why I think and act the way I do.
Millennials, Boomers, Xers, Greatest Generation or The Matures—members of each generation have their own unique perspectives influenced by the culture and climate of the prior generations who raised them. Combined with the political, social, familial and economic environments of their day, these differences are where great things can happen or conflict can begin. In fact, conflict is something we all have in common.
Conflict from the beginning
As long as there are two people on earth there will be conflict. I like to say, “Conflict IS.” From the beginning of time, when there were only two people on earth, there was conflict. In Genesis 3, God asks Adam if he ate of the fruit of the tree. Adam is quick to blame Eve for “making” him eat of it and Eve is just as quick to blame the serpent for deceiving her. A careful read of the first 12 verses shows that God personally instructs both Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit or for that matter, even touch the tree. Yet they each blame the other for their own disobedience.
Some of the common perceptions, stigmas and realities of Millennials that parents, employers, teachers and spouses have shared while I’ve conducted conflict coaching sessions or mediations with Peacemaker Ministries have included things such as:
- Millennials have delayed maturity due to “helicopter parents” who swoop in, rescuing at the first sign of trouble rather than letting their kids face consequences on their own.
- Millennials are disorganized, uncommitted and even lazy.
- They have a decreased tolerance for frustrating circumstances because Millennials are accustomed to instant gratification.
- Millennials are disadvantaged in relationship building because technology has reduced human interaction and engagement skills.
Millennials are also viewed as the most optimistic generation. They are workhorses, often unorthodox in their approach and with a persistent hunger to discover new experiences, take advantage of opportunities and push boundaries that allow them to make a positive difference in the world. Millennials can be more passionate and more engaged in life itself, not just work.
From my personal experience, I would agree that all of the above are true with some Millennials, some of the time.
Some of the time
Some of the common perceptions, stigmas and realities of Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, according to the Millennials I have engaged with are: Boomers are too focused on money and careers, abuse the environment and are hypocrites when it comes to honesty, obeying the law or loving God and others. They can be micromanagers, resistant to change or warmongers, willing to fight for and over anything.
Millenials also see that some Boomers are great leaders, mentors and role models. They see hard workers, dedicated to their careers and families. I agree that all of the above are true with some of the Boomers and Xers, some of the time.
We all have legitimate interests in life. Sometimes our interests don’t align with those of others. That does not make either point of view wrong; they are simply different. How do we respond in a healthy manner to the tensions created by these differing interests?
Healthy tensions are a normal part of good relationships. If we handle the tension well it can be highly beneficial and productive. If we handle the tension poorly we can cause conflict. This often centers on differing generational interests.
What does this mean for how we should engage and be engaged in conflict across generational lines? It means the same thing for every believer. Conflict happens. And it will continue to happen until the Lord returns. So what can we do about it? How are believers called to respond to conflict in a different way? What does that look like?
The conflict addressed in Scripture is no different than what we see today, as evidenced by the marital failures, church splits, murders, suicides and wars reported in the news and of course, the nasty Facebook spats we all witness from time to time. Therefore we should prepare for when—not if—conflict occurs. Many of the severe consequences can be completely avoided if we simply take better paths.
It is difficult, so unnatural, to simply say something like this to God and others: “You are right; I am wrong. I regret this mistake. It must have hurt you deeply and I am sorry. Will you forgive me?” Imagine how much better life would be if we could add these 24 words to our vocabulary! We could have hearts prepared to recall and deliver a sincere, appropriate response at the beginning of a conflict rather than the pride or fear-driven responses like gossip, anger and blame-shifting that cause so much suffering for us and others.
The ultimate love story
God calls us to be intentional with each other when we have conflict. He tells us to go privately when we are offended, to work out differences and, if possible, to make friends (Matt. 18:15). He also calls us to go to others when they are offended by our actions (Matt. 5:23). He tells us to seek him first (Matt. 6:33) and to clothe ourselves with kindness and humility, gentleness and patience, to bear with each other and forgive one another, forgiving as the Lord forgave us (Col. 3:12-14).
Read the story in Matthew 18:12-14 of the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to search for the one that is missing. What a beautiful parable depicting the compassion the Lord has for each of us and the unmerited grace he has given us. God’s plan is the ultimate love story, but it is not just between him and us. He also calls and empowers us to provide that same love for others here on earth today.
How do we do this? How do we stop ourselves in the midst of emotional responses to someone else’s offensive words or actions? God is not asking us to do this on our own. The good news is, he promises to provide everything we need for life and holiness so we can escape the corruption of the world (2 Peter 1:3-4). He does call us to take action. 2 Peter 1:5-7 provides specific instructions: "For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love." Truly, we cannot love one another without the power given us through the Spirit of God.
We know conflict IS. It happens. We know conflict is not unique to one generation. Each generation has its own personality, a unique view of life and perception of the older and younger generations. So what can we all do to honor one another? And the most important question of all: What can everyone do to honor God?
Conflict happens. Prepare for it. Have a plan and practice the biblical applications mentioned above. Look for the good in others while critically looking in the mirror at your own actions. Be grace filled, forgive and don’t separate truth from love or love from truth. These are the activities that bring peace and hope in our lives and in the lives of others.
Dale Pyne is the CEO of Peacemaker Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo. USMB partners with Peacemaker Ministries to train leaders and pastors for conflict resolution and recommends Peacemaker Ministries resources to congregations.