Assumptions are dangerous things. They are built by our upbringing, previous interactions, and past experiences. When you add all those things up, they become like a set of lenses that form the way we see the world – and others – around us. It’s the wise person that knows they are wearing these lenses and therefore chooses to self-identify what assumptions they are bringing with them into a situation. Doing so helps us treat people and circumstances objectively. It helps us see things as they truly are without imposing our preconceived notions on top of them.
This is especially important when it comes to conflict. Conflict is hard enough without bringing our own assumptions into it. When we don’t identify our assumptions, then we will almost inevitably become more angry than we need to be, say things we don’t need to say, and let the conflict continue on longer than it needs to. That’s because we aren’t fighting another person – we are fighting what we assume that person to be doing, saying, or believing.
Get rid of assumptions, then. Treat people and situations objectively. Work the problem in isolation.
Except when it comes to some assumptions. Some assumptions we shouldn’t fight when it comes to conflict; in fact, there are some assumptions, for the Christian, we should fight to maintain when walking into conflict. Here are three of them:
Assumption #1: I am in part to blame.
Most of the time, we enter into conflict assuming that we are right. Totally right. Even if we don’t acknowledge it, we assume that the goal of the conflict is to convince the other person that he or she is wrong and that they need to come around to out point of view. But the Christian is self-aware enough to know the depth of our own sin.
We know our pride. We know our tendency toward self-protection and advancement. We know the anger, jealousy, and bitterness that lives in our hearts. Because we do, it’s the safest thing in the world to assume that we are at least partly to blame in this conflict. We walk into the conflict assuming that we have something to apologize for, even if we don’t know what it is yet. Doing so will make us quick to listen and quick to own up to our part in what’s happening.
Assumption #2: I don’t know the whole story.
The safest and most productive posture to take during any kind of conflict is that of listening. Problem is, we usually enter conflict with our guns up – ready to talk, argue, and defend. We assume that we fully know and understand the situation, and therefore we already know the right path forward. But the Christian assumes different. The Christian knows how much he or she does not know. So the Christian assumes the humble posture of listening first, because the Christian assumes he or she does not know the whole story.
Often, the quickest way to diffuse a conflict is to make this assumption. It’s to let someone share their side of the story, their feelings, and their perspective.
Assumption #3: There is a way forward in grace.
Unfortunately, many times we enter conflict with the goal to be right. To have our position acknowledged and validated. If we have that assumption, it’s going to color every part of our interaction during conflict. But as Christians, we should actively fight against that assumption – that compulsion to be right. We should instead assume that there is a way forward in grace.
We can do that, of course, because we have experienced grace. And no matter what degree of grace we will be required to extend during a given conflict, it will pale in comparison to the grace that has already been extended to us through the gospel. That experience we’ve had in the gospel is what fuels our confidence that there is a way forward in grace through this conflict as well.
Everyone makes assumptions. And everyone brings those assumptions into conflict. But for the Christian, our assumptions, too, should be brought under the rule and reign of Jesus. When they are, these assumptions are yet another example of the way the gospel permeates everything we do.