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It’s on all our lips—the world is growing more and more polarized. People are slamming each other on social media. Family rifts are widening. People speak out about politics, casting courtesy aside. Fights, arguments, defensiveness, anxiety, hostility—all are on the rise.
Conflict seems to permeate our homes, schools, the workplace, even church. More and more family gatherings now begin with the plea to avoid touchy subjects. Satan would have us believe that strife is just the inevitable result of varying opinions. He doesn’t want us to know how destructive contention can be.
But our leaders have been very clear. First of all, Christ said, “… he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Nephi 11:29-30)
The Lord pointedly says that it’s Satan who stirs up the hearts of the people regarding points of doctrine (D & C 10:63) and we’re told that “only by pride cometh contention” (Proverbs 13:10).
President Thomas S. Monson said, “Home should be a haven of love. Where love is there is no disputation. Where love is there is no contention. Where love is there God will be also.”
President Russell M. Nelson said, “Shun contention. Seek godliness. Be enlightened by eternal truth. Be like-minded with the Lord in love, and united with Him in faith.”
Is there a scriptural example of what happens when we do? Yes! In the beginning of Fourth Nephi we read of great blessings, spiritual progress, and prosperity, including “no contention in the land, because of the great love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (verse 15).
But how can we actually achieve this? I may not know how to get an entire society to live peacefully, but I do have one technique that can help at home or in other social settings. This can mitigate tension on a personal level, for those times when you are face-to-face with confrontation:
Buy time. I’m serious. When someone says something that triggers an angry response, start by saying, “I’m so glad you asked that.” Sounds like Pollyanna, right? Satan is right now whispering, “This is too simplistic; it can’t work.” But it does. I’ll show you how.
Someone says—or asks—something offensive to you. Don’t address it immediately. Say a line like the one above, or some variation: That’s an interesting question. You’re giving me food for thought. I think I have the right response to that. Or even just, I need a moment to collect my thoughts.
This simple purchase of a couple of seconds can make a world of difference. As your mouth is forming just a few short words, your brain will be racing to formulate a response that’s thoughtful, respectful, intelligent, and kind. You can still stand your ground, but without offending back and escalating a disagreement. After uttering that short line you can take a breath, and I guarantee the next words from your mouth will be less flammable than if you had given a knee-jerk response.
Have you ever noticed how fast your brain thinks when you say, “Well…” or “Umm…” and that’s just one word! We do it all the time to help us be more diplomatic or to think for a second. And now, with your practiced sentence at the ready, you can avoid jumping into the fight and making matters even worse.
What if your teenager accuses you of being a horrible person who’s totally unfair? Try saying, “Wait a sec’. So you think the rules are not fair in this situation. You’re angry. Talk to me about that.” This doesn’t mean you agree with their opinion, just that you’re hearing them out. Ta-da! Progress. Rephrasing the offensive comment gives you time to think. And, in the case of someone saying something hurtful, it gives them a chance to see how they’re coming across and often people will jump in to correct a miscommunication.
What if someone makes a political statement opposed to your way of thinking? How about, Now that is an interesting perspective. Tell me why you feel that way.
Maybe my brain needs even more time to work. Usually I’m dumbfounded by sudden rude comments, only much later thinking of the clever comeback (and those come from pride, so we need to eliminate those, anyway). The other mistake I’ve often made is to instantly apologize. It probably comes from the era when I grew up, when girls were taught not to rock the boat and to accept blame for just about everything.
So I’ve practiced and can now say, “I’m so glad you asked that. It tells me you’ve given this some thought, and I’m also glad you feel you can be open with me.” Already you are disarming them a bit. Remember how great it felt in school when you raised your hand and a teacher or a professor said, “Good question!” Right away you felt a little surge of confidence. We never outgrow the appreciation of a sincere compliment. It gives just a hint of “we’re on the same team; let’s work toward a solution or at least a compromise, here.”
But a longer response like the multi-sentence one above gives you even more time to react calmly, without a counter accusation or an emotional outburst of some kind. And guess what—if the question is out of line or too personal, you can then say, “I prefer not to share that information, but I do love talking with you.” And then change the subject. Save a friend, don’t make an enemy. Someone once told me they said to an in-law, “I don’t think we’re going to agree about politics, but I’ll bet we can talk sports or movies!” It shows a desire to preserve the relationship, and a willingness to overlook areas of disagreement.
I’ve even watched this turn strangers around online. I have a Youtube channel and occasionally I’ll get someone who disagrees with one of the life hacks I’ve posted. Instead of just deleting their comment or correcting them, I’ve thanked them for sharing a great idea of their own, for watching, and even used humor with them. Invariably they write back again and it’s like a totally different person. Suddenly they’re nice, sometimes even apologetic, if they’re from Great Britain they say “Cheers,” and they wish me well. What the heck?! Responding with gentleness works!
This is actually an easy technique to master, but you do need to push pride aside. If you want to get even, be right, or prove someone wrong, you’ll want to jump in and argue. Instead, replace pride with love and a genuine desire for peace. People love to be heard and genuinely cared about. Buying time is a powerful way to diffuse a heated situation and give them both.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is destined to become a Christmas classic. This tale, for any reader of any faith, teaches us all the magic of gratitude (and it’s less than the price of a greeting card).
All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.