So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
C. S. Lewis once wrote an article entitled, “How to Get Along With Difficult People.” In the article, he says that people often tell you that when you have conflict with someone you should go confront that person. The logic is that all you have to do is to “explain it to them in a reasonable, quiet, friendly way.”
But, countered Lewis, “And we, whatever we say outwardly, think sadly to ourselves, ‘He doesn’t know X. We do. We know how utterly hopeless it is to make X see reason. Either we’ve tried it over and over again—tried it till we are sick of trying it—or else we’ve never tried it because we saw from the beginning how useless it would be.”
“We know that if we attempt to ‘have it all out with X,’ there will either be a scene or else X will stare at us in blank amazement and say, ‘I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about’; or else (which is perhaps worst of all) X will quite agree with us and promise to turn over a new leaf and put everything on a new footing—and then, 24 hours later, will be exactly the same as X has always been.’” (C.S. Lewis, “How To Get Along With Difficult People,” Family Life Today, Sept. 1976, p. 4).
Once we have gotten to that point, suggests Lewis, we have begun to see people exactly as God sees them—stubborn, prejudiced, unforgiving, hard-headed, and most difficult. But he suggests there are several differences. God not only sees their faults but He also sees ours, as well, something which is concealed or denied. We know we are not the problem—the other person is. Of that, we are certain. He also suggests that another major difference is that God loves the other person in spite of his faults, and He goes on loving that difficult person whereas we reject the person, build a wall and want to walk away from that miserable, disgusting individual—be it a neighbor, your husband or wife, or your mother who wants to run your life.
“Of all the awkward people in your house or job,” says Lewis, “there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin.” Obviously, it is yourself! Rather than changing the difficult person in your life, whether by using your greater logic or persuasion, winning the argument, or convincing him of his error, go to work on yourself.
When we see ourselves as problems, just like the other person, we have begun to see ourselves as God sees us and also move into the position of understanding the one with whom we have a disagreement.
When Jesus talked with the disciples about conflict resolution, He talked about the importance of confronting the person with whom there is disagreement—which I am sure Lewis would not minimize. But the attitude you have when you confront has everything to do with whether your conflict escalates into a real battle or finds resolution.
Understanding that there can be no conflict without two opposing forces and that you are one of them is a humbling experience. Fighting may well be natural, but forgiveness is supernatural; and when we forgive, it is amazing how others appear different.
Ultimately, change which is effective and enduring is the work of the Holy Spirit, something which we cannot do ourselves. You don’t have to take responsibility for the difficult person in your life, only yourself.
When you follow that, it is amazing how quickly the difficult person in your life begins to change. Change in the difficult person begins with you.
Resource reading: Matthew 7:9-12