I’ve been pondering recently on our column title—Life Together. How do we do life together in a world as divided as ours has become?
A couple of weeks ago I read an article about people of a particular religious persuasion who have taken over a small town and turned it into a place where they can openly practice their strict interpretation of faith, electing their own to controlling positions in the community. The remaining people who lived there before feel they must bow to the religiously-driven strictures of the newcomers or leave the homes they have known all their lives.
This community is certainly not the first to face this situation—there are many such towns throughout the United States. The idea of withdrawing from a challenging world to create a utopia that is homogenous and safe can seem like the ideal solution to conflict. But history tells us that such communities are rarely successful in the long run; they usually fail as dissent inevitably grows. Conflict in unavoidable no matter where humans are. Could that it mean it has a purpose?
Conflict, as difficult as it can be to handle, can in fact be a positive force. It compels us to look outside our own worldview and see life from someone else’s perspective. If we do conflict well, it means we listen for understanding and we learn from someone else’s experience without having to live that other person’s life ourselves. We might even find ourselves changed by conflict, newly able to appreciate life and the world in a different way than we ever had before. It can bring about compromise and can truly draw us closer together.
On the other hand, conflict can also cement us in our divergent viewpoints. If we fail to listen for understanding, if we cling rigidly to our own point of view without ever considering the possibility of seeing things in another way, conflict can tear us apart. We are seeing this happening all around us right now. When we are polarized on opposite sides of an issue, when we think “my way or the highway,” we set ourselves up for the kind of conflict that destroys lives, livelihoods, and people.
We can try to withdraw from conflict like the people in the community I described, remaking the world in our own image. But here’s the thing—God created the world and its people in God’s image. And that means all of us, whether we are Republican or Democrat, black or white, male or female, or anywhere in between those opposites. God created humanity as a lively spectrum, not as one homogenous lump. And that is going to mean conflict, because we are each unique. But if we start from the place of commonality, the humanity that we all share, and remember that we are all God’s children, then we can learn to handle our conflicts in ways that are positive and healthy. And then we can truly have life together.