The algorithms of social media encourage polarization. However, I do not mean this in some conspiratorial way. To the contrary, the programming that determines what we see on social media combines several metrics, including, but not limited to: (1) words and phrases that reflect high interest subject matter, (2) attention demonstrated by others regarding certain posts, and (3) our own habits, including what we tend to like or comment on. Thus, this combination can have a divisive effect, bringing users into greater conflict by highlighting controversial opinions and arguments. It ensures that we see people with whom we have disagreed even more. However, conflict has existed throughout the ages, and therefore people have needed to resolve conflict since the Garden of Eden. Little has morphed in essence; only the medium has changed. As a result, the principles that resolved or prevented conflict in the past will work in the present if people will only apply them. Proverbs 18 contains a mountain of wisdom on a variety of subjects; however, as a whole, its content speaks volumes in regard to resolving conflict for those willing to read and heed its message.
Sadly, people often come to social media, the church, and life itself expecting no disagreement. Such an unreasonable expectation underlies many of these types of problems. While self-isolation in response to a pandemic has its place, when people self-isolate in thought they can quickly become inflexible even when presented with evidence (Prov. 18:1). This we must avoid. Likewise, maturity demands a willingness to listen and learn rather than just bloviate (Prov. 18:2). If we want to be known for wisdom of speech, our lives must reflect something far better than sin and ignorance (Prov. 18:3-4). Instead, we must learn to show discernment and fairness to keep partiality always at bay (Prov. 18:5). If we fail to approach others with an attitude of openness and justice, we hinder resolution of any disagreement and hurt the possibilities of bettering that relationship.
Unfortunately, some approach conflict with an even more problematic manner. In recent days I have witnessed numerous occasions on which a friend posted something about a current event only to receive sharp rebuke for wording a phrase imperfectly, failing to clarify endlessly, and seeking to avoid political extremism (on both sides). Some people simply will not settle for anything less than perfect agreement—on their terms and with their opinion. And they appear quite vocal about it. However, only a fool tries to provoke a fight (Prov. 18:6). There remain plenty of issues with which we can wrestle without having a fresh burden piled on at every turn. Those who speak (or post) nonsense will destroy themselves in their foolishness (Prov. 18:7). That does not mean that they will not do damage but rather that no one should use this as an excuse to “fight fire with fire.” More than that, we must learn to be careful regarding what we listen to because the effects can last longer than we expect (Prov. 18:8). If you believe gossip, lies, logical fallacies, and conspiracy theories at every turn, you soon will not be able to discern truth from fiction in anything. And that applies on the spiritual level too.
Therefore, whether in person or online, rather than falling into the problems cited above, please work to instill the following into you normal patterns of interaction.
- Wait for the facts before forming an opinion, and then make sure the facts are relevant rather than just self-justification or confirmation bias (Prov. 18:13).
- Be careful not to get so absorbed in conflicts, whether online or in politics or both, that you let them overwhelm you (Prov. 18:14).
- Approach life and others with the desire to learn more than the desire to speak your mind (Prov. 18:15).
- Give more; demand less (Prov. 18:16).
- Listen to opposing sides of arguments and apply the standard of truth and godliness to both for proper discernment (Prov. 18:17).
- Seek resolution rather than constant contention (Prov. 18:18).
- Give all diligence to maintaining peace (Prov. 18:19).
Until we address these underlying issues, conflict will be a constant part of our lives. We expect relationships to be easily made and easily mended. However, as will comes into conflict with will, and as pride comes into conflict with pride, the resulting clash can inflict lasting damage on all involved. Every word chosen—and how many—carries both great power and tremendous consequences; therefore, every man should choose wisely the words that come from his lips (Prov. 18:20-21). This affects every relationship a man may have, including marriage and family (Prov. 18:22), which is why everyone must bring an attitude of resolving conflict to relationships instead of an attitude intent on provoking it. Different people bring different backgrounds and different challenges into any conflict and therefore have different challenges to overcome (Prov. 18:23). Nevertheless, those who persevere in resolving conflict by displaying the proper demeanor and character throughout might just end up with a friend in the end (Prov. 18:24).