How Do You Handle Differences?

DAILY we interact with a variety of personalities. This often brings us joy and new perspectives. At times, it also gives rise to differences, some of which are serious while others are just minor scrapes in our day-to-day life. Whatever their nature, how we deal with our differences impacts on us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Doing what is within our power to resolve differences agreeably will contribute to our enjoying a healthier life and more peaceful relationships with others. An ancient proverb says: “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism.”​—Proverbs 14:30.

In stark contrast stands the truism: “As a city broken through, without a wall, is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.” (Proverbs 25:28) Who of us would want to make ourselves vulnerable to the invasion of wrong thoughts that can cause us to act in improper ways​—ways that can bring harm to others and to us? Uncontrolled, angry responses can do just that. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recommended that we examine our attitude, which may influence how we handle any differences we may have with others. (Matthew 7:3-5) Rather than our being critical of others, we should think about how we can cultivate and maintain friendships with those of diverse views and backgrounds.

Our Attitude

A first step toward resolving a perceived or real difference is to recognize that we are susceptible to wrong thoughts and attitudes. The Scriptures remind us that we all sin “and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Additionally, discernment may reveal that the source of our problem is not the other person. In this connection, let us consider the experience of Jonah.

Under instruction from Jehovah, Jonah had made his way to the city of Nineveh to preach about God’s impending judgment upon its inhabitants. The happy result was that the entire city of Nineveh repented and put faith in the true God. (Jonah 3:5-10) Jehovah felt that their repentant attitude merited forgiveness, so he spared them. “To Jonah, though, it was highly displeasing, and he got to be hot with anger.” (Jonah 4:1) Jonah’s response to Jehovah’s mercy was surprising. Why should Jonah be angry with Jehovah? Apparently, Jonah had become preoccupied with his own feelings, thinking that he had lost face in the community. He failed to appreciate Jehovah’s mercy. Kindly, Jehovah led Jonah through an object lesson that helped him change his attitude and see the excelling value of God’s mercy. (Jonah 4:7-11) It is clear that Jonah’s attitude, not Jehovah’s, needed altering.

 Could we at times likewise need to change our own attitude toward a matter? The apostle Paul admonishes us: “In showing honor to one another take the lead.” (Romans 12:10) What did he mean? In one respect, he is encouraging us to be reasonable and to treat other Christians with deep respect and dignity. This involves recognizing that each individual has the privilege of free choice. Paul also reminds us: “Each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5) Hence, before differences cause a rift, how wise it would be to consider whether our own attitude needs to be adjusted! We must work hard to reflect the thinking of Jehovah and preserve peace with others who truly love God.​—Isaiah 55:8, 9.

Our Approach

Imagine two young children tugging at the same toy, each pulling harder and harder with a view to having it. Angry words may accompany the struggle until finally one relinquishes his hold or someone else intervenes.

The Genesis account tells us that Abraham heard that an argument had taken place between his herders and those of his nephew Lot. Abraham took the initiative to approach Lot and say: “Please, do not let any quarreling continue between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we men are brothers.” It was Abraham’s determination not to let any conflict damage their relationship. At what price? He was ready to sacrifice his privilege of choice as the older man; he was prepared to give something up. Abraham allowed Lot to select where he wished to take his household and flocks. Lot subsequently chose for himself the verdant area of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham and Lot parted company in peace.​—Genesis 13:5-12.

To maintain peaceful relations with others, are we prepared to act in the spirit that Abraham did? This Bible episode sets for us a beautiful model to imitate when handling a difference. Abraham appealed: “Do not let any quarreling continue.” Abraham’s genuine desire was to arrive at an amicable solution. Surely such an invitation to keep peaceful relations would help to set aside any misunderstanding. Abraham then concluded with the expression “for we men are brothers.” Why sacrifice such a precious relationship for the sake of personal preference or pride? Abraham kept a clear focus on what was important. He did so with self-respect and honor, at the same time dignifying his nephew.

While situations arise where outside intervention may be required in order to resolve a difference, how much better if a matter can be resolved privately! Jesus encourages us to take the initiative in making peace with our brother, apologizing if necessary. * (Matthew 5:23, 24) It will require humility, or lowliness of mind, but Peter wrote: “Gird yourselves with lowliness of mind toward one another, because God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (1 Peter 5:5) The way we treat fellow worshipers has a direct bearing on our relationship with God.​—1 John 4:20.

Within the Christian congregation, we may be called upon to relinquish a right in order to maintain peace. A goodly number of those now associating with Jehovah’s Witnesses have  come into God’s family of true worshipers in the last five years. What joy this brings to our hearts! The way we comport ourselves surely affects these and others in the congregation. This is a good reason for giving careful thought to our choice of entertainment, hobbies, social pastimes, or employment, considering how others may perceive us. Could any of our actions or words be misunderstood and thus be a cause for stumbling others?

The apostle Paul reminds us: “All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1 Corinthians 10:23, 24) As Christians, we are genuinely concerned with building up the love and unity of the Christian brotherhood.​—Psalm 133:1; John 13:34, 35.

Healing Words

Words can have a powerful effect for good. “Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24) The narrative of Gideon’s averting a possible conflict with the Ephraimites illustrates the truth of this proverb.

Gideon, heavily involved in battle against Midian, called on the tribe of Ephraim to help. However, after the battle was over, Ephraim turned on Gideon and complained bitterly that he had not called on them at the outset of the fighting. The record states that “they vehemently tried to pick a quarrel with him.” Gideon said in response: “What now have I done in comparison with you? Are not the gleanings of Ephraim better than the grape gathering of Abiezer? It was into your hand that God gave Midian’s princes Oreb and Zeeb, and what have I been able to do in comparison with you?” (Judges 8:1-3) By his well-chosen, calming words, Gideon avoided what could have been a disastrous intertribal war. Those of the tribe of Ephraim may have had a problem with self-importance and pride. However, that did not stop Gideon from working to bring about a peaceful outcome. Can we do similarly?

Anger may well up within others and cause hostility toward us. Acknowledge their feelings, and work to understand their views. Might we in some way have contributed to their feelings? If so, why not admit the part we had in creating the difficulty and indicate our sorrow for adding to the problem. A few well-thought-out words may restore a damaged relationship. (James 3:4) Some who are upset may simply need our kind reassurance. The Bible notes that “where there is no wood the fire goes out.” (Proverbs 26:20) Yes, carefully chosen words delivered in the right spirit can ‘turn away rage’ and prove to be a healing.​—Proverbs 15:1.

The apostle Paul recommends: “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.” (Romans 12:18) It is true that we cannot control others’ feelings, but we can do our part to promote peace. Rather than being subject to our own imperfect responses or those of others, we can act now to apply well-founded Bible principles. Handling differences in the way that Jehovah instructs us to will result in our everlasting peace and happiness.​—Isaiah 48:17.

[Footnote]

^ par. 13 See the articles “Forgive From Your Heart” and “You May Gain Your Brother,” in The Watchtower of October 15, 1999.

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Do we insist on having things our way?

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Abraham set a fine example of being yielding so as to resolve a difference