How to combat conflict Entrepreneurs

This piece was adapted from Russell Moore. Newsletter. Subscribe here.

TOAn episode of my podcast must have struck a chord with many of you, because countless people have mentioned a section of my conversation with Amanda Ripley: the part where she talks about “conflicted entrepreneurs.”

Whether in business, families, or church, dozens of people have identified exactly this phenomenon in their own lives. For many, the question is: “How then do we confront conflict entrepreneurship without becoming conflict entrepreneurs ourselves?”

First, a reminder of the definition. in his book High conflict: Why we get trapped and how we get outRipley notes, “One way to prevent a high level of conflict is to learn to recognize disruptive businesspeople in your orbit.” These are people for whom keeping those around them in a state of high conflict is the goal itself.

Ripley offers some tips for figuring out who, if any, are the troubled business owners around you. “Look who delights in each new plot twist in a dispute. Who is quick to validate every regret and articulate mistakes that no one else has ever thought about? “We all know people like that and it is important to keep them at a safe distance.”

In an article about current foreign policy obstacles (which I first saw in Jonathan V. Last’s excellent article Substack), Peter Singer and Josh Baughman report in the way the Chinese government is counting on a “cognitive war” against the West. The main arena for this type of battle for minds is, of course, social media.

One of the ways the Chinese Communist Party seeks to do this (like Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian Russian regime) is through a “trolling strategy,” which aims to “‘fan the flames’ of existing prejudices and manipulate emotional psychology to influence and deepen a desired narrative.” Social media works perfectly for such a strategy, because once the emotions are stirred a few times, the algorithms will take care of the rest, giving the person more and more of it.

Do Chinese autocrats really care what kind of body image the teenager in their church youth group has? Not on his own terms, of course. However, what they care about is a demoralized and psychically crippled American population, and that is one way to get there. The issue is usually not the end result of policies (although sometimes it clearly is; both Russia and China have an interest in NATO falling apart or Ukraine surrendering). Generally the point is the conflict itself.

Conflictive businesspeople in your church lobby or family gathering don’t have sophisticated tactics or strategies like this, of course. They often do not even consciously reflect on the fact that they are fueling the conflict. They just know that they are bored or lifeless without it.

Often, the reasons for this type of conflictual marketing include envy. Consider the lyrics to Lee Ann Womack’s song “I’ll Think of a Reason Later”:

All the answers may be inside your head.
To cure diseases from baldness to cancer.
Salt of the earth and very good dancer.
But I really hate her
I’ll think of a reason later.

The Gospels give us multiple examples of business dynamics in conflict. The Herodians and the Pharisees, for example, asked Jesus whether or not he was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. This was not a debate about fiscal policy. They wanted to “entangle him in his words” (Mark 12:13).

If Jesus had said to pay taxes, he would have been accused of heresy, of saying that the throne of David should remain vacant and be occupied, not as God commands, by a descendant of the line of Judah, but by the puppet of a foreigner. empire. If he had said that he should not pay taxes, he would have been accused of trying to overthrow the Roman government. The point was not the problem. The issue was a means to the conflict itself.

Jesus, of course, recognized all of this. So he returned the coin to them, noting Caesar’s face on it, in a way that he dismissed the imperial claims to divinity. In the same way, Jesus recognized that the same people were attacking John the Baptist for fasting and abstaining from alcohol, while they were attacking Jesus for feasting and drinking wine. He compared it to children teasing each other with a kindergarten song: “We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance; We sang a dirge, and you did not weep” (Luke 7:32).

The uproar that greeted the apostle Paul in Ephesus was, among the crowd, about a synthesis of Ephesian nationalism and the religion of Artemis. But behind all that talk about the goddess and the country was a much more specific motive: to keep the silversmiths and the tourist board in business (Acts 17:21-41).

Discerning things like this requires wisdom to be able to distinguish between genuine, healthy conflict and conflicted endeavor. That is a wisdom we often lack. We sometimes assume that appeasing those with a list of grievances will make them less unhappy. That’s true, unless unhappiness is the goal and complaining is simply how to get there.

That means that to confront conflicting business owners, we need to know when there should be conflict. Jesus sometimes walks away from a conflict. He sometimes he rephrases it. Sometimes he hits it head on. However, conflicted businessmen, like some real businessmen, want a monopoly. They want to generate conflict while counting on “normal people” to feel “divisive” or “not united” if they don’t get sucked into the cycle.

Every golden calf in the Bible is an exercise in unity. Everyone dances in concert. They all sing in unison. The Israelites do not have to leave to go to Jerusalem; They can stay where they are and not continue the difficult journey. That’s a kind of unity. However, it is the type of unit that disintegrates. Sometimes unity means asking who is being hurt and whose voices are not loud enough to be heard.

That requires people who don’t like conflict to be the ones to lead it when necessary. General Dwight Eisenhower defeated Hitler not even though he hated war, but because of it. An Allied commander who was simply emboldened by carnage for carnage’s sake could never have planned for D-Day.

In a religious context I was once in, I heard myself complain to a friend: “I feel like we have a two-party system here: dumb as hell and infernal.” I was exaggerating, of course, but the point is that in any system, evil triumphs because good people assume that embattled businessmen will be ashamed of their actions, and so we just politely pretend the situation doesn’t exist until then.

Shamelessness doesn’t work like that. Sometimes people (not pugilists or warhorses) come to unity and peace by standing up and saying, “What you are doing is out of step with the gospel and stop now.”

If that prospect sounds exciting to you, take a step back. If you fear it, take a step forward. Conflicted entrepreneurs can only be successful when there are conflicting customers. Always, on this side of the eschaton, we will have businessmen in conflict. However, we may decide to invest elsewhere.

Russell Moore is the editor-in-chief of Christianity today and directs its Public Theology Project.

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