Monday, December 3, 2007

The Importance of Relationships

Penn State University Professor, Dr. Nancy Welsh, has identified four principles that govern how people understand the "fairness" of the conflict solutions they advocate. The word gene can be used as an acrostic to remember the four: generosity, equality, need, and equity.

When conflict participants employ the principle of generosity as a guideline for what is a "fair" solution, they declare that no person should receive more in outcomes than anyone else, even if he or she deserves it. The principle of equality dictates that every person should share equally in the outcomes on the basis of the lowest common denominator. In other words, outcomes are distributed according to what is deserved by the person who deserves the least. Need dictates the distribution of outcomes according to what the parties actually need. Finally, the principle of equity makes the distribution of outcomes dependent on what the individual parties deserve.

As you can see, these four standards of "fairness" vary considerably. It's one reason why both parties to a conflict might claim that all they want is a "fair" solution and yet be miles apart when it comes to the details of what they consider "fair."

According to Professor Walsh, which particular standard of "fairness" someone chooses depends on what kind of relationship he or she has with the others in the conflict. In the absence of a relationship, people will choose the standard that has the greatest utility in meeting their own goals. If there is a relationship, but it's negative, people will hardly care about fairness, much less about how to establish what determines it. Only when there is a relationship that is positive or when there is hope for a relationship in the future will there be a concern about fairness and some deliberation over how it factors into outcomes.

A concern for fairness in resolving conflict plays a significant part in the process and goals of biblical same-mindedness. One way to understand biblical same-mindedness is to understand it as "an equitable use of resources to satisfy the relevant interests of the parties in conflict," which is essentially what Paul commands in Philippians 2:4. I describe the process involved in obeying Paul's command in "Where Do We Go From Here: The Path To Biblically Resolving Conflict."

Interestingly enough, Walsh's findings about the importance of relationship in regard to fairness also ring true with Scripture. In Philippians 4:2, Paul commanded Euodia and Syntyche: "Be of the same mind in the Lord." In the verses immediately before and after verse 2, Paul references the value of relationship. Notice the terms of endearment in verse 1 and all the commonalities in verse 3. It is as if Paul tells Euodia and Syntyche, "Let the realities of a strong relationship between the two of you, which are due to what Christ has done for you, spur you on to the process and goal of biblical same-mindedness.

Application Questions:
1. What other Scripture can you think of that emphasizes the importance of relationships when people find themselves in conflict?
2. If Walsh's observations are correct, if there is no relationship or if the relationship is negative, there is a special danger of either not caring about fairness or of being blind to what a more objective person might consider to be fair. How has the absence of a relationship or the presence of a negative relationship affected conflicts in which you have been involved? As you think through your attitudes and behavior in the conflict, is it possible that your view of fairness became skewed? How so, or why not?
4. What can someone do to build his or her relationship with a counterpart in conflict as the conflict unfolds and develops?

Note: For more information on the process of biblical same-mindedness, check out "Where Do We Go From Here: The Path To Biblically Resolving Conflict" by Randal L. Gilmore. Available here.

To read more on the subject of fairness in conflict, see "Perceptions of Fairness" by Nancy J. Walsh.


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