Honor is an affirmation that who someone is and what he contributes is valuable.  Honor is not something that can be selfishly grabbed…it is bestowed.  There is no such thing as self-honor.  Honor is a choice, an act of the will given to someone else to recognize his or her valuable identity and contribution.

It’s easy to offer that honor to others when we feel good about them and about ourselves, maybe on a special occasion like a birthday, an awards banquet, or just strolling along enjoying a sunny day together.

But we know that’s not where we live most of the time.  In the day-to-day grind, honor is tested when we have conflict with the valuable people in our lives, the very people we love and yet who sometime drive us nuts.  How do you treat someone when they are blocking your goals?  I had some conflict recently with a couple of people I love dearly.  One was done well and one was done poorly.  The difference was simply that in the first one I honored the person I was having conflict with, and in the second one I didn’t.

Psychologist James Coleman, studying unhealthy conflict way back in 1957, wrote about the way the pattern of escalation moves from the “the specific to the general.”[i]  Instead of discussing the matter at hand, you hurl words at your opponent like “never” and “always.”

Researching marriage relationships for over 20 years, Drs. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley have identified four “relational germs” that destroy relationships (adapted from their book, “Fighting for Your Marriage”)[ii]:

1. Withdrawal during an argument
“I'm not talking about that any more, it's too hurtful.”
“I'll just leave the house if you continue talking about this. End of discussion; it's over.”
2. Escalating during an argument
“It's your fault that he talks to me like that, you're a great example!”
“Forget it then. Go out with your friends, see if I care! Stay out all night, you like them better than me anyway.”
3. Belittling each other during an argument
“That's the dumbest statement I have ever heard.”
“When will you ever get it right?”
4. Having exaggerated or false beliefs about your mate during an argument
"You don't see it do you? You're too negative and it's driving me away!"
"You say you're sorry, but you keep doing the same mean things over and over. You'll never change!"
All of these four relational germs are germinated in an attitude of dishonor.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book "Blink," he tells the story of John Gottman of the University of Washington who since the 1980’s has brought thousands of couples into his “love lab” and analyzed them while they had conflict.  Over time he has become incredibly accurate at predicting if their relationship would end in divorce or not.   In fact, he only needs to watch one 15-minute video clip of their interaction and can predict within 90% accuracy if they will be together in 15 years.  Over time he honed that down to just three minutes of observation with still impressive accuracy, and now says he can overhear a couple an arguing in a restaurant and tell if they are doomed or not.
How does he do it?  He doesn’t need to read the data from all the devices hooked up to the couples in his love lab.  He only has to watch for one trait emerging in their conflict: contempt.
“You would think criticism would be the worst,” Gottman explained in an interview with Gladwell, “Yet contempt is qualitatively different from criticism.  With criticism I might say to my wife, ‘You never listen, you are really selfish and insensitive.’ Well, she’s going to respond defensively to that. That’s not very good for our problem solving and interaction.  But if I speak from a superior plane, that’s far more damaging, and contempt is any statement made from a higher level.”[iii]
Our conflict with those we love can easily go from bad to worse: through all four relational germs on down to the basement of contempt which of course is the most fraught with hazard.  But what if we did the very opposite, took the higher ground before engaging in battle and verbalized to our opponent, “You are very important to me and I want to work this out!”  What if we climbed up from the basement of contempt and had our conflict with those we love on the rooftop of honor?
In a previous post I’ve written about using a technique someone called the "Grace Sandwich” when you need to bring up something that has a high potential to deteriorate into unhealthy conflict.  Before you get into the “meat” of the offence, you offer a slice of the bread of affirmation first: I really love and value you and I want to bring up something that I think is hurting our friendship….” Then you get into the sensitive issue, and afterwards you follow-up with another slice of affirmation: “I’m so glad we were able to talk about this because I love you and I value our relationship.  Thanks so much for hearing me out.”
Gary Smalley has written a whole book on this subject of how to engage in healthy conflict which I would highly recommend: “Secrets to Lasting Love: Uncovering the Keys to Life-Long Intimacy.”[iv]  The entire book is basically a treatise on how to honor your spouse with lots of research and years of experience to back it up.  The whole foundation of that book is that honor is a choice.
Honor in conflict has been extensively researched but is actually not a new idea.  Take a peek inside the New Testament.  The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.”[v]  And Jesus is our ultimate example, the one who though He had every right to treat others with contempt from His superior plane as the Son of God.  Yet He humbled himself and came to honor us from the lower place of a servant.  If we are following Jesus, then we are bound to follow Paul’s admonition, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”[vi]
You are important!  In fact, you are more important than me! I choose to honor you today (even though you have been driving me crazy).  Forgive me for my harsh words.  I love you and I want to work this out!
Choose to honor you adversary today.
Related Posts
This is the final article of a four-part series on honor.  Previous posts:
Honor Part One: Preamble
Honor Part Two: Our Hearts’ Insatiable Appetite for Honor
Honor Part Three: Slowing Down to Honor Others

[i] James Coleman, “Community Conflict,” New York: Free Press, 1957.

[ii] http://www.growthtrac.com/artman/publish/the-four-relational-germs-736.php

[iii] Malcolm Gladwell, “Blink: the power of thinking without thinking,” Little, Brown and Company, 2005, pp 32-33

[iv] Gary Smalley and Norma Trust, “Secrets to lasting love: uncovering the keys to life-long intimacy,” Simon & Schuster, 2000

[v] Romans 12:10

[vi] Philippians 2:3

David McCullough’s masterful biography John Adams gives us a raw look into the relationships between the founding fathers of America.[i]  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were united in their fight to establish the new nation and were the most responsible for crafting the Declaration of Independence together.  However, the two intellectual giants soon became bitter rivals as two political parties fought for the direction of the new government.  Adams defeated Jefferson by a mere three electoral votes to become the second U.S. president.  In 1800 Jefferson returned the favor and defeated Adams to become the third U.S. president.  On the day of Jefferson’s inauguration, Adams found a good excuse not to attend the celebration and fled the new Capitol City in his carriage.


The tension lasted well into the two founding father’s retirements and greatly troubled their mutual friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush.  He urged these two aging political giants to put the past behind them and begin corresponding again.  He once shared with Adams a dream he had in which he found a future history book of the United States.  In this book he read how the country was strengthened because these two men had reunited after Adams began corresponding again Jefferson in 1809.


Adams laughed off the dream and the icy silence continued between Jefferson’s estate of Monticello and Adams’ Stoneyfield.  But Rush kept at his peacemaking mission.  In Christmas of 1812 Rush carried personal warm wishes from Jefferson  to Adams and wrote, “And now, my dear friend, permit me again to suggest to you to receive the olive branch offered to you by the hand of a man who still loves you.”[ii]


On New Year’s Day, 1813, as if to almost fulfill the prophetic dream, Adams wrote a cordial note to Jefferson wishing him well and offering a book.  “A letter from you calls us recollections very dear to my mind,” Jefferson replied.  “It carried me back to the times when, beset with difficulties and dangers, we were fellow laborers in the same cause, struggling for what is most valuable to man, his right of self-government.”[iii]  The ice thawed and two men’s final days were filled with warm friendship and frequent correspondence.  They both died on the same day, on the Fourth of July, 1825, within a few hours of each other.


Is that a spectacular ending or what?  I will say though that happy endings after bitter disputes don’t come easy.  If you are struggling in head-to-head combat with someone else, you may need to pull in your own Dr. Benjamin Rush into the battle zone.  Or maybe you could become one yourself for two estranged friends, relatives or co-workers.  The Son of God gave a pretty high compliment for such as these: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”[iv]


In this series of “Authentic Community” blog posts we’ve been looking at how our communities can become more vibrant and more life-giving when members are willing to vulnerably share themselves and to engage in healthy conflict with each other.  The best environment for healthy conflict is in private, “just between the two of you,” as Jesus said. “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”[v]  Heaven applauds.


Sometimes though it doesn’t work that way and then we proceed to level two: “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along…”[vi]  We usually talk to all sorts of third parties before we sort it out with the second party because it’s easier to gossip about the issue and we feel vindicated afterwards.  But the Biblical wisdom is to go to step two before step three.


I was once called in to be an arbitrator between two very godly ladies who came into great odds with each other.  It reminded me of the verse from Philippians, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel…”[vii]


I tried my best to be a loyal yokefellow and met with both of them along with their husbands.  The offense between them had eroded their friendship so deeply that they could not be in the same room together without spewing each other with hurt and accusation.  After just a few minutes of talking it through and a touch from the Holy Spirit, they were forgiving, crying, hugging and affirming their love for each other.   They just needed a safe environment to work it out and a third party can help lay out the ground rules for that to happen.


The Holy Spirit was all over that because God is all into this.  The theme of unity flows through Jesus’ last prayer in Gethsemane before he surrendered to the cross.  He prayed for his future followers, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”[viii]  I believe God is intent on answering His own prayer, that we conflict-prone and easily fractioned people would be brought to “complete unity.”[ix]


The Real Thing

Are you desperate for real community?  You’re so tired of shallow chit-chat and you want something real.  Or maybe your heart has been bruised by conflict and you have retreated to shallow waters.


You’ve been playing it safe.  No wonder you’re so bored.


Open up.  Share your true heart with a group of comrades.  Bring yourself to the light and experience an intimacy of friendship that you’ve never dreamed of.  “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…”[x] The Greek work for fellowship is koinōnia and it’s good stuff.


Bring it up.  That little issue has been needling you, that has been causing you distress over the how and what was said, that is isolating you from that once close friendship…time for a difficult and private conversation.  The intimacy of true koinōnia awaits you on the other side of that foreboding wall of conflict.


Help them out.  Do you have two friends or relatives hunkered down on opposite sides of a demilitarized zone?  Offer yourself as a peacemaking envoy.  Don’t take sides but be for both of them.  Create the space for koinōnia to be restored.  You’ll feel the affirmation of Jesus and the appreciation of heaven.



[i] David McCullough, John Adams, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid

[iv] Matthew 5:9

[v] Matthew 18:15

[vi] Matthew 18:16

[vii] Philippians 4:2-3

[viii] John 12:21

[ix] John 17:23

[x] I John 1:7