After two fruitless mediation sessions, Dave and Don were still miles apart and more bitter than ever.
Best friends since high school, Don had hired Dave to manage his construction crews. Working long hours together, they built a highly successful company. But then a series of management disagreements escalated into a heated argument that resulted in Don shouting, “You’re fired!”
Dave stormed out the building and filed a wrongful discharge lawsuit the next day.
A few months later, they were both sitting in my office, hoping I could mediate a settlement that would prevent a prolonged lawsuit. But their hearts were so hardened against each other that they rejected every solution I suggested.
So I gave them an unexpected homework assignment. First I read a peacemaking principle that I’d read many years earlier:
Whenever you’re in conflict, make a deliberate effort to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or praiseworthy in the other person.
Then I said, “I want you to go home and write that wisdom principle at the top of a piece of paper. Then try to remember everything about the other person that is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise, and then write those things on your piece of paper.”
One of the men mumbled, “That won’t take long.” The other said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
I gave them a stern look and said, “I’m absolutely serious. When we meet tomorrow I will ask each of you to read your list out loud, and we won’t go back to discussing your legal issues until you’ve made a sincere effort to see each other in the light of this passage.”
When they walked into my office the next morning, something had obviously changed. We sat down at the table, and then I asked Don to read his list. He slowly unfolded his piece of paper but was unable to speak for a few moments. Finally, the words began to flow …
Don admitted that when he first tried to write his list he had a hard time thinking of anything positive about Dave. But as he kept thinking, old memories started coming to mind. Their crazy high school years together. Double-dating the girls they would one day marry. The graduation trip down the California coast. Launching a business and struggling to turn a profit.
The emotions triggered by these memories helped Don to see past the bitterness that had been clouding his heart for the past few months. As a result, he was able to describe some of the commendable, excellent and praiseworthy qualities Dave had displayed over the many years of their friendship, which included loyalty, honesty, diligence, fairness, integrity, patience, humor, perseverance, forgiveness … to name just a few.
But the climax of his statement came when he recalled the summer he and Dave had been completing a project in Yellowstone Park. Looking at Dave, Don said this:
“Do you remember that we took our motorcycles with us that summer? One evening we went for a ride and stopped overlooking some ponds near Yellowstone Lake. Down below us was a moose and her calf. As you looked at them, tears came into your eyes. When I asked what was going on, you told me that Cindy had called that day to tell you she was pregnant. You shared how excited and how scared you were at the idea of being a father. Janie and I were expecting too, so you and I just sat there and shared our fears and our dreams about raising our families.” After a long pause, Don continued, “I don’t think I’d ever felt so close to another man in my entire life as I did at that moment.”
By the time Don got to this point in his story, both he and Dave had tears streaming down their cheeks. Don finally collected himself enough to say, “The dumbest I’ve ever done was to fire you. Could we somehow turn the clock back and undo my stupid decision?”
At that point, they no longer needed a mediator. I just sat back and listened as two old friends confessed and forgave their wrongs against one another, and then moved on to restore the relationship that they had nearly lost.
It doesn’t always turn out like this, but you’ll still have a clearer perspective and a freer heart if you make a concerted effort to see and acknowledge whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise in the people around you … especially when they disappoint, irritate or even sue you.
– Ken Sande
PS: With in minutes of sending this post, I received the following text message from a dear friend, which reinforces my point so perfectly:
I cried when I read reconciled by a moose. I think every small business owner like myself can relate to that story. I think of my brother, my brother-in-law, and my current partner Greg. In each case (three different businesses) I can still picture the moment of conflict that nearly ruined us. We had a choice, either reconcile or part ways. By God’s grace we reconciled in all three cases. I cried because while reading the story I flashed back thinking through the conflict and then reflecting on all the good of these men. So I could totally identify with this story. Years of business have a way of tiring us out and our filters get clogged and we snap at things we shouldn’t. It was a good reminder to clean out my filter. Sorry for the long text but this one just hit home and I had to reach out and say thank you for all you do. RZ
- When you’re in conflict with someone, are you inclined to focus on that person’s virtues or flaws? Why do you think that is?
- Does your natural tendency in this regard tend to make the situation better or worse?
- How does thinking about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise in the midst of a conflict help you to have a “clearer perspective and freer heart”?
- How could you apply this wisdom principle to a difficult relationship in your life today, or how do you wish you’d applied it in the past?
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© 2016 Ken Sande
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