How to Have Humility When Both Sides Stop Listening

In a previous post, I claimed that humility is a healing balm for political discord. If we can learn to value others with whom disagree, show them respect, and listen, then we can create a better and more peaceful community without sacrificing any of our convictions.

But what happens when both sides stop listening? What happens when we’ve tried everything and someone will not be at peace with us? What happens when all that’s left is coercion or, in the case of nations, war?

Before I give an answer, let me say this. There are very few who have tried to listen in the way they should. I have found that people regularly think there is no way forward, but there is almost always a failure to listen, to think beyond old ways of doing things, or to respect the other side.

Have we really given humility an honest try?

But back to the main question, what happens when we have done so and still find ourselves in entrenched conflict? Don’t just think of politics. Think of a split family where one side does nothing but attack. Think of a family that is like two armed camps. How do we exercise humility in such situations?

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was an early advocate of American involvement in World War 2. He strongly believed in the Allied cause. However, he also recognized the danger of self-righteousness in war and strongly encouraged those fighting in the war to keep a proper perspective on it.

Niebuhr suggested that Christians must remain in the battle but also above it. Consider his words:

To be in a battle means to defend a cause against its peril, to protect a nation against its enemies, to strive for truth against error, to defend justice against injustice. To be above the battle means that we understand how imperfect the cause is which we defend, that we contritely acknowledge the sins of our own nations, that we recognize the common humanity which binds us to even the most terrible foes, and that we know also of our common need of grace and forgiveness. To be above the battle must also mean some reverent and pitying comprehension of the vastness of the catastrophe which has engulfed us all, friend and foe, and some sense of pity for the victims of the struggle, whether ally or enemy.

Niebuhr describes five ways to be humble in the midst of World War 2, but his points are applicable to any protracted or entrenched conflict.

  1. We must be humble about the imperfection of our own cause and our own sins that are involved in it.
  2. We must be humble in acknowledging that even our worst opponents are still human beings created in the image of God.
  3. We must be humble in confessing that both we and our enemies have a common need of God’s grace and forgiveness.
  4. We must be humble in recognizing the sadness of the fact that we are involved in such conflicts at all.
  5. We must be humble in pitying the victims of the struggle on both sides and the wounds that our struggle causes.

Are you in a long drawn-out conflict in your life? If so, I am not calling you to simply give up. Conflict is sometimes necessary in this world.

Recognize, however, that the heat of the battle can cause us to lose perspective. Keep humble. Think on the five points that Niebuhr suggested, and you will be able to walk in a difficult situation with greater grace and clarity and eventually experience, by God’s grace, a reconciliation.


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