You & Your Family

Conflict and reconciliation


The week’s news is sadly all too familiar. Suicide bombings killing dozens, hate crimes targeting places of worship and an attack on a tourist site – mass murders, all in the name of ethnic or religious cleansing. By their frequency, these horrendous acts have reached a point of banality and no longer draw a shocked response from many of us. Today’s news reminds us that humankind appears more in conflict than at peace with itself.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have conflicts not through the taking up of arms but by words and protest; conflicts not across nations but within social groups. We have groups of Christians who disagree very publicly over views on marriage and sexual orientation. There are also the day-to-day conflicts within the home that do not make the news unless you are a celebrity. Nevertheless, these conflicts are just as distressing and destructive.

The good news is that all this conflict stands in direct contrast to the identity and message of believers. We are called not to conflict but to bring about peace. For those of us who are not statesmen, we may feel powerless in working towards a more peaceful world. Yet, each of us is called to be an ambassador of peace within our families and amongst our circles of contact. We are reminded by the apostle Paul of our calling to the ministry of reconciliation. We can exercise this in four practical ways.

Firstly, when we have wronged someone, we need to take ownership of our actions by admitting our transgression and making restitution where possible. This is the first step in peacebuilding which the transgressor can and must do. Admission of our fault identifies the part we play in the breakdown of the relationship and also acknowledges the hurt caused to the other. Many victims of hurt suffer the dual pain of the initial offense and then the hurt of the lack of its recognition.

Understandably, this first act alone does not make for peace, especially if the transgressor commits the same offense repeatedly. The second action is for the transgressor to stop committing further offense of this nature. Saying one is sorry and yet acting the same way again and again invalidates any statement of remorse.

The third action is now in the victims’ hands – they can choose to forgive and take steps to restore the relationship. For transgression between strangers, this restoration may not be necessary. Between family members, however, it is an essential step if one wants to move away from replacing open conflict with an equally destructive cold war. The act of forgiveness begins the process of freeing both transgressor and victim from the anger and hurt of the offense and preventing a cycle of aggression and retaliation from developing.

Finally, the fourth action goes beyond reconciliation and can help build greater peace and harmony. This step involves being more tolerant and accepting of others.

One of the characteristics of people with anger problems is that they are highly sensitive and take offense easily. To develop tolerance, we need to learn to suspend quick judgement of others and exercise more empathy. We can also remind ourselves that since Christ Himself loves us despite all our failings, should we not try to be more tolerant of others and practise more forbearance?

Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.