Most of us have had some great bosses or pastors over the years, those who are educated, experienced, pastoral, and humble. Of course, it is during conflicts that leaders show their true colors. We often hear that leaders are remembered for how they dealt with the difficult times when tensions were high or points of view clashed.
Like many of you, I have watched a very wide variety of responses to these moments of “fight or flight,” from direct and deep engagement to intentional or unintentional cowering, ignorance, or denial. I had one boss who “went to war” every time someone disagreed with her. The proverb, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” was written for her. I can recall one pastor who tended to his flock with humble care and inspired us with his preaching—except for when a conflict arose. He chose to ignore disagreements in the hopes that they would just resolve themselves.
By contrast, I remember other leaders who handled conflict more directly and effectively. I can recall particularly emotional conversations with my mother during my adolescence—she often used her best listening skills to deescalate the conflict by understanding its roots and grounds.
Or there was the boss who, walking into a situation rife with division and anger, dealt directly with the conflict by naming every ugly piece of it, ridding us of the “elephant in the room.” He then invested time and energy in helping us learn how to turn confrontation into outreach with the help of some very simple rules: first, explain your intent and reasoning, and second, focus on interests, not positions. The goal was to help us engage in productive conversation by bettering our understanding of where others were coming from so that we could work together rather than fight against each other. Because the truth more often than not was that we wanted the same outcome. We just approached it differently.
This week’s set of CatholicsRead titles approaches conflict management in a variety of contexts.
First, we can find in the Bible, especially the example of Jesus, a primer on conflict management. Think of the Gospel stories where Jesus is rebuked for interacting with those on the margin or those in need. Jesus’ words so very often show us his reasoning and intent instead of defending himself or challenging those who challenge him. Catholic Book Publishing’s St. Joseph Bible Handbook is a solid resource for those who want a guide through the 73 books of the Bible.
One Disciple at a Time by Everett Fritz and published by Ave Maria Press makes a good argument for changing the way we approach evangelization. Rather than argument or conflict, the book recommends focusing on the other’s interest—in this case, forming and developing disciples in a one-on-one outreach Remember, confrontation and outreach can be just two sides of the same coin!
Liturgical Press’s Wisdom Commentary Series: 1-2 Peter and Jude guides us through reading these books through the lens of feminist and diaspora studies that keeps front and center the bodily, psychological, and social suffering experienced by those without stable support of family or homeland, whether they were economic migrants or descendants of those enslaved by Roman armies.
Synodality, from Paulist Press, poses and envisions “a new way of proceeding in the Church.” Author Rafael Luciani points us toward a co-responsible and participatory Church that calls for recognizing the laity as full subjects in the Church.
Timothy P. O’Malley’s Becoming Eucharistic People, published by Ave Maria Press, takes Eucharistic theology and belief in the Real Presence and challenges us to foster a culture in our parishes that treats this reality not only as an important Catholic doctrine, but also as the most important part of parish identity, one that fosters unity, not division.
There is no greater conflict in the Catholic Church in this millennium than over the clergy sexual abuse scandal. With the distance of 20 years since the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was approved by American bishops, Paulist Press offers Confronting a Church in Controversy by Bradford E. Hinze. This text provides a framework and theological orientation for considering the factors that have contributed to the clergy sex abuse scandal in order to face the detrimental repercussions for the future of the Church and to explore realistic responses based on an assessment of the various issues involved.
One of the reasons explaining our intent and reasoning is so important is because we all come to conflicts with a certain lens on the situation that is both revealing and blinding. It reveals often our unique insight and perspective on the situation, but at the same time blinds us from seeing it the way others do. Stepping out to pursue and investigate other perspectives can help us envision growth through the conflicts in our Church today.
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Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.