The current online MSR class I am taking is "Utilizing Church Conflict." It's a good course, and has me thinking about a lot of things, especially my approaches to conflict, where they come from, and which parts need correction. The text is Managing Church Conflict by Hugh F. Halverstadt. It is an interesting book, although I find its language a bit tedious and tiresome, especially it's overuse of the word "one," as in:
One does not choose one's role as a party to a conflict. One's role results from how one's own interests are involved in the situation. However, one does make a choice to manage a conflict's process as well as to stand for one's own interests. One's role is determined by one's interests. One's ministry of conflict management is a response to one's Christian vocation.
HUGH F HALVERSTADT. Managing Church Conflict (Kindle Locations 591-594).
But the ideas in general are valid, so I have been slogging through. A week or so ago, however, I read the following, and I must say it has been in my mind ever since. It is on the difference between "guilt" and "shame," which I had never thought of before, or never in this way (emphases mine):
Many Christians may agree with all these theological and ethical arguments but still find themselves blocked from behaving assertively. It takes more than cognitive understanding for them to behave assertively. The key to anyone's being assertive lies in one's fundamental sense of oneself: of shame or of self-worth.
Christians behave aggressively or manipulatively in conflicts when they are informed by habitual, unexamined beliefs they gained in childhood. Christians behave assertively in conflicts when they are informed and reformed by Christian beliefs that they are fully loved by God. That is why learning to practice Christian assertiveness involves a continuing reflection about one's gut Christian beliefs.
What can block any Christian from being assertive is shame. Shame is a different form of sin than wrongdoing. Merle Fossum and Marilyn Mason explain:
Guilt is the developmentally more mature, though painful, feeling of regret one has about behavior that has violated a personal value. Guilt does not reflect directly upon one's identity nor diminish one's sense of personal worth.... A person of guilt might say, "I feel awful seeing that I did something which violated my values." . . . In so doing the person's values are reaffirmed. The possibility of repair exists and learning and growth are promoted. While guilt is a painful feeling of regret and responsibility for one's actions, shame is a painful feeling about oneself as a person. The possibility for repair seems foreclosed to the shameful person because shame is a matter of identity, not a behavioral infraction. There is nothing to be learned from it and no growth is opened by the experience because it only confirms one's negative feelings about oneself'
Shame-based people cannot assert themselves because they secretly think of themselves as inferior to other parties in a conflict. They perceive of conflicts as occasions when their secret defectiveness will be found out. Therefore, shame-based parties experience conflicts as occasions when they must prove to be right at whatever cost. They are literally driven to be right.
Their goal in conflicts is to be a winner, so as to seem superior. Their terror is to be a loser, which they perceive as being defective.
Obviously, a shame-based mentality in conflicts sets up compulsive behavior. In some win/lose conflicts parties fight aggressively or manipulatively to get what they want at others' expense. They act sinfully. But in other win/lose conflicts one or more parties fight compulsively to be what they fear they are not: worthwhile beings. When parties act sinfully, they can repent and choose to fight constructively. But when parties perceive that they are not of worth, they must be healed before they can choose to fight constructively. Such parties fulfill the profile of a church antagonist drawn by Haugk:
Antagonists are parties who, on the basis of nonsubstantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity.
Tragically, many antagonists cannot even consider repenting without experiencing self-hate. They don't know how to be different without being better or worse than others. When they shame themselves or others for being wrong rather than doing wrong in conflicts, they may regret their behavior, but they see no way to change the reality they perceive and defend at all costs. Reinhold Niebuhr's distinction between repentance and remorse is applicable here: "Repentance is the expression of freedom and faith while remorse is the expression of freedom without faith. The one is the `Godly sorrow' of which St. Paul speaks, and the other is `the sorrow of this world which worketh death.' "" Shame-based people hear God calling, and they hide. Shame-based parties do not hear God call their names because of the bedlam of name-calling going on inside themselves. The only way shame-based antagonists know to resolve conflicts is to determine who is right or wrong, good or bad. They cannot resolve issues without judging persons. Nor can they accept or offer compromises without feeling that they are acknowledging imperfections that might expose their defectiveness. Such tormented parties are often major players in chronically destructive church conflicts.This alone was worth the price of admission.
HUGH F HALVERSTADT. Managing Church Conflict (Kindle Locations 492-516).
Have you ever thought of guilt as being different from shame?