The Social Insights of Jesus Christ
While reading the chapter on Social Conflict, I could not help but notice a similarity between the concepts of making resolutions from social conflicts and the main themes in the subject I teach, Christian Living Education. Perhaps, if Jesus Christ took formal education, he would have enjoyed Social Psychology, because his ideas amazingly echo the findings of different literature about resolving social conflict.
The authors summarized that: “conflict emerges when outcome deprivation is attributed to interdependent other’s intentional actions or inactions”, where it is escalated by the limited cognitive processes that people naturally have. Because of the natural tendency to associate with a group and, in the process, create out-groups, conflicts escalate because of faulty heuristics that influences a person and/or the group to elicit the behavior they assumed the other group was disposed of. Conflict, according to the authors, can work for the benefit of the groups (promoting innovation, creativity, social change etc.) or their detriment (increased experiences of stress and possible violent actions). However, there are ways to resolve these conflicts and one of them is through reconciliation—an evident theme in Jesus’ actions and teachings.
It is interesting to note that according to the doctrines of the Church, Jesus seemed to have arrived at an insight in human relations that Social Psychologists are only beginning to uncover today, that violence is quelled with love and mercy. There is value to this insight because if we look at the socio-historical context in his time, he lived in a nation greatly divided by in- and out-groups (The Roman Conquerors and Tax Collectors, the Elite Pharisees and Scribes, and the Sinners) and is located in a rather extreme climate that instigated conflict. If anyone understood how conflict operated, it was him.
Based on tradition and doctrine, Christ was sent to repair a broken relationship between man and a deity more commonly known as God. His message to the people was a message of hope, a vision of a world where conflicts could not exist and everyone would live in harmony—the Kingdom of God. However, as he described through parables and analogies (harvesting both the weeds and wheat but eventually burning the weeds, or catching a school of fish composed of both the good and bad), this Kingdom is a state where there are no out-groups, and all are simply part of one entity under the leadership of a loving deity called God. Through his life and works he was able to give the people he preached to a glimpse of this Kingdom.
At a time where much of the processes in social conflict was not discussed, but accepted, Jesus’ teachings and actions proved to be counter-intuitive and counterattitudinal for the major groups. In fact, it was this love-rebellion that would eventually get him killed. Among the counterattitudinal acts and ideas he shared, mercy was one of them. The whole of the New Testament spoke of mercy that ranged from parables (The Good Samaritan, The Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Unforgiving Servant) and acts (restoring the health of the oppressed and abandoned, restoring life to those who were physically and spiritually dead). Catechesis would explain that Jesus’ healing of the sick—who were considered sinners or outcasts at that time—was a way of restoring their status in society, a way to include them once again in the in-group in order to be treated more humanely.
Furthermore, he saw the value of non-retaliation as a response to direct or indirect violence when he taught about loving enemies. From a social conflict, he reminds his audience that in order to end the spiral of violence from happening, we need to be aware of our tendency to arrive at hasty but often erroneous attributions of other people’s or group’s action or inaction and their effect on our outcome deprivation. He was reminding them to not let the automatic processes of our own biases cloud the way we evaluate other people’s action or inactions. As stated by De Dreu, studies show that conflicts escalate because of self-fulfilling prophecies that arise from the victim’s evaluation of the possibility of the offender taking advantage of them. The only way to end violence, is not by striking a counterblow, but by responding in a more prosocial but more cognitively taxing manner: with compassion.
Admittedly, this path that Jesus has set out appears to appeal more to those who are prosocial in dispositions, however, this is perhaps where the value of productive conflict comes into place. For those who have a more proself disposition, engaging in meaningful contact with those who have a more prosocial disposition would create opportunities for innovation and creativity. This should hopefully distill any biases against each other which should reveal a bigger reality: we are all human.
To conclude, much of the conflict we experience today is a result of the limited cognitive processes our minds are able to exert. These cognitions create unfounded assertions that often produce actions that will create the perceived assertions of their situations. This makes me wonder if there will ever come a time where people are more aware of their own mental process and cognitive biases and have made appropriate actions avoid and minimize unnecessary conflict. Perhaps this is one of the reasons I was called to this profession of teaching: to help people realize their biases and hopefully let them live lives with less unnecessary conflicts. But I find consolation in the reminder of Jesus that this state of universal conflict resolution will come at the right time, and my efforts today will matter in the facilitation or the prevention of its arrival.
Until that day comes, I am tasked to love and show mercy the best way I can in order to be able to promote a more inclusive community.