Peacemaking worst case scenarios

Recently, I was part of four people playing a game in which people guess how someone will rank five totally disastrous scenarios.  The choices are bad, very bad, awful, horrible, or simply the worst!  Players gained points depending on how accurately they guessed what other people thought about the scenarios – is being fired out of a canon worse than being betrayed by your best friend or being taken down to a downed submarine?

What was super interesting was seeing the people who knew each other best get totally wrong what their partners thought was more or less awful.  And how they reacted to this…

How do we react when we are misunderstood?

Sam and Sandiya* have known each other for years and are incredibly close.  When it was Sandiya’s turn, Sam laughed, confidently saying “I have so nailed this, I have got every one of her choices in order – I am sure of it!”.  As the choices were revealed, and he got none right, it was what happened next that was interesting.   

Sam started to explain his choices for her, saying “But I thought you…”.   And Sandiya kindly and calmly explained why some choices were worse than others, including referencing her personal values as well as her deeper fears.  It was fascinating stuff.

Sandiya was very patient and gracious – rather than arcing up either at Sam’s (over)-confidence or the fact that for some choices, it could be argued that Sandiya’s choices well-reflected her personal values, and it was surprising that he didn’t pick it.

But sometimes, when people attribute motives to our behaviour, or think they understand what we will choose and why, it can be deeply upsetting.  Especially if people attribute bad motives to us, this can quickly lead to conflict and even broken relationship.   And at that point, the “But I thought you…” can sound like poor listening at best, or justifying the unjustifiable at worst.   The person has dug themselves into a hole with a false assumption and is now digging themselves deeper by trying to explain it – rather than admitting that they were wrong.

The issue of assumicide

A basic reason the game is so much fun is that you have to guess the other person’s choices (and therefore their underlying reasoning and yes, even in some cases personal values) without asking them what they think.  And of course the scenarios are extreme and often very funny.

But how often do we find ourselves thinking we know what someone else wants, thinks or is motivated by and then act on that without actually asking them?   

So, a person might be unusually aggressive in a car park, asking us to move, and we judge them as impatient or rude – what we don’t know is that they are trying to get out because their parent is dying in hospital.   

Or we are annoyed with someone at work for not completing the report we asked them to prepare for us in time for our meeting and tell them so directly, and then watch them go red and say nothing.  Then later a co-worker tells us that the boss instructed them to prioritise the report they were preparing for them and to prioritise that over all other work until it was done.

Within PeaceWise, we call this “committing assumicide”.  Making an assumption about someone’s behaviour without asking them to explain what they did or why.  And we have seen over the years that time and time again conflicts have arisen for this very simple reason that could have been avoided if we’d just stopped to ask one or two curious questions first.

Making things right if I’ve jumped the gun

And the truth is that we’ve all done this, lots of times.

So how do we make things right?  Let’s use some words from Proverbs 15:1-2 for help:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.

The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
    but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

Proverbs 15:1-2

So, we don’t dig in deeper – we don’t get angry or use harsh words, trying to stubbornly justify the wrong we have said or done.   This is the foolish peacebreaking response, gushing forth in self-defence.

Instead, we accept that we’ve done wrong.   We give a humble, gentle answer to what has been said to us about our wrong assumptions and how we’ve expressed them.  And we apologise for what we have said or done.  This is the wise, peacemaking response – swallowing our pride and taking responsibility for our hurtful behaviour.  For how to give a good, authentic apology, you can visit our peacemaking principles page.

If we are willing to set our heart on being a peacemaker, then we can be a peacemaker, even in our worst case scenarios.   I encourage you to have the courage to make that choice.

*Names changed to protect the innocent!

This article was written by Bruce Burgess.

Bruce is married to Helen and they have two adult children.

Bruce is the Founding Director of PeaceWise and is Australia’s first Certified Christian Conciliator™. He holds degrees in Arts, Law, Christian Studies and Theology. Bruce has extensive legal, risk and governance expertise, advising in these areas professionally on the day’s that he is not working for PeaceWise. 

Bruce’s peacemaking work has led him to become involved in teaching and working with schools, workplace disputes as well as church and para-church based conflict cases. He is a sought after international speaker and his two particular areas of passion are working with organisations to build cultures of peace and teaching children and young people peacemaking so that they become peacemakers for life. 

stay updated on prayer points through our monthly e-newsletter Peace it together

On an ongoing basis, the easiest way to know things to pray for us is to sign up for our monthly e-newsletter Peace it Together, which you can do below.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

PeaceWise store

Looking for more peacemaking resources? Check out our store, which has a great range of books, group study materials, booklets and brochures as well as our range of PeaceWiseKids and PeaceWiseYouth courses for school aged children!

Find out more