Reverence, Conflict, and Contention – Understanding Improves Capability

Several commenters have erroneously confused conflict and contention and harangued me for promoting conflict.  With this article, I intend to dispel the confusion and encourage understanding.  These three principles, reverence, conflict, and contention, are paradoxically connected, and a greater understanding is needed.

Reverence

Some of you think that reverence only belongs in church settings, and frankly, your lack of insight into this word is why we are discussing reverence.  Please, turn off the voices in your head for a minute.  M. Russell Ballard provided etymological understanding for the term reverences pertinent to this discussion.

Reverence may be defined as profound respect mingled with love and awe. … The root word revere also implies an element of fear.  Thus, reverence might be understood to mean an attitude of profound respect and love with a desire to honor and show gratitude with fear of breaking faith of offending.” – God’s Love for His Children

Webster also provides additional insight into reverence.  Reverence contains definitions, including an action to show respect; a feeling of mingled awe, respect, and admiration; veneration; esteem heightened by awe (wonder), as of a superior; especially, such a feeling toward deity.  Finally, we find more insight; reverence includes treating with profound awe (wonder) and respect, or veneration.

Many Christian religions sing a hymn that encapsulates reverence, “How Great Thou Art.”  The first stanza is my favorite:

O Lord my God!
When I in awesome wonder
consider all the works
Thy hands have made,
I see the stars,
I hear the rolling thunder,
the power throughout
the universe displayed.”

Take anything you see out your window right now.  Flowers, trees, grass, snowfall, frost, cars, asphalt, window glass, etc., and consider the hands, science, and creation of that item with wonder.  With awe, consider the birds, bugs, animals, humans in all their variety.  Want to know a secret?  You just showed reverence.  More importantly, you made a choice to open your mind to see past the mundane and explore the higher plains of existence with your human eyes.  What are the consequences of awe and wonder, joy!  Reverence brings joy!  Want to know another secret; one of the most challenging problems all societies face is choosing to show reverence and look with wonder and awe upon the world around us.

I can build a house; well used to be able to build a house, now all I can do is teach my skills to someone else.  But, guess what, I am the first to declare I am no expert, and their remains much I can and want to learn.  Want to know another secret; learning shows reverence and brings joy.  I marvel in awe at craftsmen displaying their skills, be it building a house, fixing engines, creating delectable goodies, or simply watching small children explore the world, I choose to view in wonder the majesty around me, and this brings joy!

What is Joy?  Why pursue Joy?

Joy is defined loosely by Webster as “Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.”  But does not fully encapsulate what joy is; joy is mental peace, mingled with an uplifting spiritual feeling, leading to physical contentment and feelings of well-being.  Joy is a pursuit, not the object, not the destination, and is a drug you can become addicted to quickly.  However, pursuing joy for pleasure is a pathway to problems, for joy does not contain truth, only the recognition of accomplishment.  Joy is a by-product of choices leading to success in achievement.

The pursuit of joy includes failure, feelings of hopelessness, and even despair, physical and mental pain, and anguish.  Yet, joy is still sought and pursued, why; because at the end of the day, joy occurs when goals are accomplished, and in evaluating the goal, we find the struggle worthwhile!  When we, as individuals, choose to stop pursuing joy or achieving a goal, we die inside, leading to physical and mental disease.  This is why retirement is such a bad idea, why giving up is so physically, mentally, and spiritually destructive, the loss of joy can physically, mentally, and spiritually kill a person.

The lack of joy precedes a loss of hope, bringing with it soul-crushing despair, depression, and opening the door for that individual’s destruction.  Why pursue joy; to avoid the death inherent in hopelessness.

Contention

Let me be perfectly frank, contention and conflict are not the same.  While the terms are close, they are distinct and tell different sides of the same story.  First, contention is an act of striving or an assertion.  Contention is a violent effort to obtain or protect something vehemently!  There is effort, struggle, exertion in contention; there are violent efforts, and the core of contention is pride.  Pride breeds animosity, animosity breeds struggle, and struggle is contention, where pride is demanding that violence is acceptable as a means to achieve the desired end goal.  When contending, “The ends justify the means.”

Contention is animosity personified into action, effort, and desires become evident as contention unfolds.  We cannot forget these facts about contention.  Consider the following; I went to work in a hostile atmosphere; due to a contract signed, I could not quit and find a new job, and reassignment was not going to happen.  Jealousy and pride entered because I was very good at my job, and violence followed like the sun rising after a moonless night.  The result was that contention was born and festered, violence was perpetrated against me, and the violence was acceptable to the leaders as it gave them feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction.

The violence was justified because I was “too good” at my job, made “decisions above my paygrade,” and “I needed to be taught humility.”  The result was four disastrous years of struggle, incredible stress levels, and mental torture, with physical acts of violence thrown in to spice up the environment.  Contention is pride expressed through violence and justified to fit the individual’s desires.

Conflict

I have written a lot about conflict, conflict’s benefits, how conflict is a tool, and the dark side of conflict.  At its most fundamental level, conflict is all about helping spur growth, development and bring about change.  However, I cannot stress this enough; conflict is NOT contention.  Conflict is not born of pride and a desire to feel better about yourself through violence.  Conflict can be observed in a disagreement or difference in opinion, but conflict does not include emotional hyperbole (pride).  Conflict should be about mental disturbances spurred by people seeking greater ideas and ideals, personal growth, or team development.  Does conflict lead to contention?  Yes, because pride enters into the disagreement, emotions are injected, and desires to be right at any cost dictate it is time for violence.

My wife and I have a conflict.  She does not like being mentioned, even obliquely, in these articles as she feels it is disrespectful.  I disagree because she has achieved much, and when she is mentioned, even obliquely, it is not to denigrate or deride, but as an example of what can be achieved and what I want to become.  She has gained a lot in self-mastery, and I long to learn how to achieve similarly; thus, it is not disrespect, but profound awe and wonder, mixed with desire, that I mention her.

Our marriage has been a long string of conflicts leading to personal growth, primarily for me.  I have learned that when I feel my emotions begin to boil, it is not her that is wrong in the conflict, but me.  Those emotions are pride screaming, “Oh, please let me be right!”  When the reality is, if I took some time to cool down, mentally focus, and look at my perceptions, I could see where and how I was wrong.  My parents possess a contentious relationship, and many times I have longed to see them divorce and go their separate ways.  I have observed them get into physical fights, watched them argue over BS while something else was the real problem, and I have witnessed several seasons of intense warfare between them.  Hence, I possess a motivating influence to be different, even if I have to unlearn and relearn.

Thus showcasing the significant difference between contention and conflict, growth never occurs in contention, EVER!  Contention only breeds more violence, not personal growth, not individual development, not team cohesion and goal attainment.  When the dust settles from contention, there are generally physical, mental, spiritual wounds and scorched earth between the opposing foes. In contrast, conflict breeds individual growth, personal strength, and goal success.

Leaders, followers, encourage conflict, teach how conflict can lead to contention, monitor conflict closely, and do not try to solve the conflict.  Settle contention, but do not deprive people of conflict.  Use wonder and awe as tools to breed an inquisitive nature and explore with a mind full of reverence.  Therein lay the path to joy; pursue the path!

© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.