What do you do when someone rubs you the wrong way, does you wrong, or treats you poorly? Our goto is typically to go run and tell someone, gossip behind their back, or cut them off, or even get revenge somehow. Well, there’s this one verse in the Old Testament that gives some pretty solid advice about what to do during interpersonal conflicts. It described to ancient people what to do, and when I read this, it changed how I handled conflict forever. Here is the verse:
A Brother who Sins (Deuteronomy 19:15–17)
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Pause for a second and digest that. Put yourself in their shoes a few thousand years ago and realize how poignant it still is today. Let’s talk about it in brief.
If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: If he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother.
If someone disrespects or hurts you in some way, go and tell them (and only them) to their face how they made you feel. If they listen to you, you’ve actually increased your relationship level with that person.
How many times do we go straight to our friends to talk smack about someone else? How many times do we never tell the person that hurt us what they did, and instead we go to our bosses, or our superiors. We tattle tale. It’s built in from childhood. Does that ever make you like the person more? Do they ever say, “Hey, by the way, thanks for turning me in. I really deserved that, didn’t I?”
The act of confronting someone with open honesty puts them on the spot. It literally makes them face their behavior and who knows, maybe they were oblivious, or maybe they thought they’d get away with it and no one would ever make them take a look at themselves.
This can go one of two ways.
- They can hear you. And they can realize what they’ve done, and they can apologize, and acknowledge their impacts on you.
- Or they can say “No. I disagree. You deserved what I did to you.”
If it goes the way of option 1, you’ve actually improved your relationship with that person. You have humanized each other, and recognized that you each occupy a shared space, and you’ve established that your actions impact each other. Talk about free team building!
If it goes the way of option 2, here is the advice:
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
If they still won’t listen to you, then share with your friends, family, coworkers, and others. Ask them to understand the situation and hear both sides of the story.
This involves bringing it out into small group awareness. It’s beyond gossip and talking behind a person’s back. If it becomes public information amongst your closest, and everyone agrees that what this person did was hurtful against you, and this person still refuses, then we have the third try:
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
If they still don’t listen after a few of you have come to speak to them, tell it to the church, or in modern society, the HR department, your school, the courts maybe, whoever it is that is in charge.
If it gets to this stage, and this individual is firmly adamant about having done you ill, and hurt you, then and only then does it say to write them off.
How often have you gone straight to step three without even trying steps one and two? The issues we face in our society often revolve around behavior that separates us from one another, and isolates us from each other. But how simple and elegant is it to address the person that made you feel bad?
I have taken this advice many times before, and personally, it offloads your burden of having been affronted, and puts it on the other person by saying “Hi, I don’t know if you meant to or not, but you hurt me. Did you mean to?” Every time, the answer has been something in the flavor of “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. Thanks for letting me know.” And we developed a standing respect for each other as a result.
It also lets them know that whatever their behavior was, isn’t something that’s going to fly under the radar, even if they had hoped it would. Additionally, it lets them know they are seen and are a participating member of your social group.
You be the judge of whether or not this will work for your situation. But at least keep it in the back of your mind whenever you feel like someone hurt you. The only thing you have to lose is collecting another enemy; or in the modern world, someone you have to deal with but don’t want anything to do with: a frenemy.
Let’s live in a world where we make social bonds stronger, not weaker. Hope this helps someone!