The Benefits of Making Peace

ED WAS dying, and Bill hated him. Two decades earlier, Ed had made a decision that cost Bill his job, and that tore these once close friends apart. Now Ed tried to apologize so that he could die in peace. Bill, however, refused to hear him out.

Almost 30 years later as Bill approached death, he explained why he did not extend forgiveness. “Ed didn’t have to do what he did to his best friend. I just didn’t want to make up after twenty years. . . . I may have been wrong, but that’s the way I felt.” *

Personal differences do not usually have such a tragic outcome, but they frequently leave people feeling hurt or bitter. Consider someone who feels as Ed did. Realizing that his decision caused damage, such an individual might live with a guilty conscience and an overwhelming sense of loss. Yet, he feels hurt when he thinks of how his offended comrade discarded their friendship like so much trash.

Someone who shares Bill’s view, however, sees himself as an unsuspecting victim and might be deeply bitter and resentful. To him, his erstwhile friend knew better and might have caused harm on purpose. Often, when there is a difference between two people,  each one is convinced that he is in the right and that the other bears all the blame. Hence, two former friends find themselves at war, as it were.

They carry on a fight with silent weapons​—one turns away when the other walks by, and they ignore each other when they meet in a group. From a distance, they watch each other with furtive glances or lock their eyes in cold, hateful stares. When they do speak, they clip their words or offer insults that cut like knives.

Yet, while they seem completely opposed to each other, they likely agree on some matters. They may acknowledge that they have serious problems and that breaking with a close friend is sad. Each one likely feels the pain of the festering wound, and both know that something should be done to heal it. But who will take the first step to fix the damaged relationship and make peace? Neither is willing.

Two thousand years ago, the apostles of Jesus Christ sometimes got into angry arguments. (Mark 10:35-41; Luke 9:46; 22:24) After one of their altercations, Jesus asked: “What were you arguing over on the road?” Silenced by shame, not one of them replied. (Mark 9:33, 34) Jesus’ teachings helped them to get back on good terms. His counsel, and that of some of his disciples, continues to help people solve conflicts and repair broken friendships. Let us see how.

Strive to Make Peace

“I do not want to talk to that person. If I ever see her again, it will be too soon.” If you have spoken such words about someone, you need to take action, as the following Bible passages show.

Jesus taught: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother.” (Matthew 5:23, 24) He also said: “If your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15) Whether you have offended someone or someone has offended you, Jesus’ words emphasize the need for you to talk the matter out promptly with the other person. You should do this “in a spirit of mildness.” (Galatians 6:1) The goal of that conversation is, not to preserve your image by making excuses or to pummel your adversary into apologizing, but to make peace. Does this Bible counsel work?

Ernest is a supervisor in a large office. * For many years, his work has required him to handle sensitive matters with all kinds of people and to maintain good working relationships with them. He has seen how easily personal conflicts can develop. He says: “I have had differences with others at times. But when this happens, I sit down with the person and discuss the problem. Go to them directly. Face them, with the goal of making peace. It never fails to work.”

Alicia has friends from many different cultures, and she says this: “Sometimes I say something, and then I sense that I may have offended someone. I go and apologize to that person. It may be that I apologize more often than I have to  because even if the other person was not offended, I feel better for it. Then I know that there is no misunderstanding.”

Overcoming Obstacles

The way to peace in personal disputes, however, is often blocked by obstacles. Have you ever said: “Why must I be the first one to make peace? He caused the problem.” Or have you ever gone to someone to clear up a problem only to hear that person say: “I have nothing to say to you”? Some people respond in those ways because of the emotional hurt they have suffered. Proverbs 18:19 says: “A brother who is transgressed against is more than a strong town; and there are contentions that are like the bar of a dwelling tower.” So take the other person’s feelings into account. If he rebuffs you, wait a short time and try again. Then the “strong town” may be open and the “bar” may be removed from the door to reconciliation.

Another obstacle to peace may involve a person’s self-respect. To some people, apologizing or even speaking to an adversary is a humiliation. Concern for self-respect is proper, but does refusing to make peace enhance a person’s self-respect or diminish it? Could this concern for self-respect cover up pride?

The Bible writer James shows that there is a connection between a contentious spirit and pride. After exposing the “wars” and “fights” that some Christians wage among themselves, he goes on to say: “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” (James 4:1-3, 6) How does haughtiness, or pride, hinder peacemaking?

Pride deludes people, making them believe they are better than others. Haughty ones feel that they have the authority to judge the moral value of their fellowman. In what way? When disagreements arise, they often view their antagonists as lost causes, beyond hope of improvement. Pride moves some people to judge those who differ with them as undeserving of attention, let alone a sincere apology. Hence, those driven by personal pride often allow conflicts to continue rather than resolve them properly.

Like a barricade that halts traffic on a highway, pride often halts the steps leading to peace. So if you find yourself resisting efforts to make peace with someone, you may be struggling with pride. How can you overcome pride? By developing its opposite​—humility.

Do Just the Opposite

The Bible highly recommends humility. “The result of humility and the fear of Jehovah is riches and glory and life.” (Proverbs 22:4) At Psalm 138:6, we read God’s view of humble individuals and of proud ones: “Jehovah is high, and yet the humble one he sees; but the lofty one he knows only from a distance.”

Many people equate humility with humiliation. World rulers seem to feel this way. Although entire nations submit to their will, political leaders shrink from the challenge of humbly admitting their errors. Hearing a ruler say, “I am sorry” is newsworthy. When a former government official recently apologized for his failure in a fatal disaster, his words made headlines.

Note how one dictionary defines humility: “The quality of being humble or having a lowly opinion of oneself . . . the opposite of pride or haughtiness.” So humility describes the view that a person has of himself, not the opinion that others have of him. Humbly admitting his mistakes and sincerely asking for forgiveness does not humiliate a man; rather, it enhances his reputation. The Bible states: “Before a crash the heart of a man is lofty, and before glory there is humility.”​—Proverbs 18:12.

 Regarding politicians who do not apologize for their errors, one observer said: “Unfortunately they seem to think that such an admission is a sign of weakness. Weak and insecure people hardly ever say, ‘Sorry.’ It is large-hearted and courageous people who are not diminished by saying, ‘I made a mistake.’” The same is true for those without political power. If you put forth the effort to replace pride with humility, your prospects for peace in a personal dispute are greatly improved. Note how one family discovered this truth.

A misunderstanding caused tensions between Julie and her brother William. William became so angry with Julie and her husband, Joseph, that he broke off all contact with them. He even returned all the gifts that Julie and Joseph had given him over the years. As the months went by, bitterness replaced the closeness that this brother and sister once enjoyed.

Joseph, however, decided to apply Matthew 5:23, 24. He tried approaching his brother-in-law in a spirit of mildness and sent him personal letters in which he apologized for offending him. Joseph encouraged his wife to forgive her brother. In time, William saw that Julie and Joseph sincerely wished to make peace, and his attitude softened. William and his wife met with Julie and Joseph; they all apologized, embraced, and restored their friendship.

If you long to resolve a personal conflict with someone, patiently apply Bible teachings and strive to make peace with that person. Jehovah will help you. What God said to ancient Israel will prove true in your case: “O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river.”​—Isaiah 48:18.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 3 Based on The Murrow Boys​—Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism, by Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson.

^ par. 12 Some names have been changed.

[Pictures on page 7]

Apologizing often restores peaceful relations