Working off of different scripts
How often have you said, “What are we even fighting about?” You are in the midst of conflict and you don’t even really understand why.
Sol Stein, in his book 'On Writing,' tells the story of his early work in theater. In rehearsals of plays still being written, he would take two actors, give them two different setups, and then tell them to improvise once they got to the end of their script.
To one he would say, "You are a school principal meeting with the mother of a recently expelled child. He is a little terror. If this student stays he will sink the entire school into primordial chaos."
To the other he would say, "You are the mother of a sweet child. A brilliant child. He has just been expelled for a misunderstanding. The principle of the school is a jaded old man who ceased liking any children three decades ago. You must convince him to allow your child to stay."
And then he would sit back and see where the scene went. As a writer he was merely doing research. Trying to prime the pump of creative juices. But Stein is really onto something. Because how often is conflict in our lives a matter of two people working off of different scripts. We have different ideas about the kind of scene we are in, thus, the tensions rise.
There is not much to it. One thinks they are the hero of a scene, defending the honor of a friend. The other thinks they are the thoughtfully pious in a scene, talking about staying modest yet fashionable. Each thinks themselves the strong one. Each thinks themselves in the right.
Maybe one is right, maybe both are right, maybe both are wrong. Either way, the ingredients of the conflict are on a slow boil.
If we are in different scenes in our head, casting ourselves into different roles, we need to stop and listen. When you find yourself in conflict, stop and listen. This is the time to remind yourself of James 1:19. "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19b). Because a lot of words lead to a lot of sin. "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" (Prov. 10:19).
But what are you listening for? You are listening to understand. Specifically, you are trying to understand what they think the conflict is about. You are restraining your lips so that you can find the differences between your scripts. Look for the ways you are being cast as the villain, and decide if there is truth to it.
We should, as far as we are able, work to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). And learning to listen carefully is the beginning of peacemaking.