How do you become proficient in anything? As with so many things, the answer is simple but not easy. The path to proficiency is through practice. Reflection is important in peacemaking. Discussion is often helpful in conflict resolution. But in the end practice is the key to living a life marked by relational wisdom.
The book of James affirms that this is true. In writing to people whose lives to some degree were marked by conflict, he says: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? (James 4:1). In the passage immediately preceding, he teaches them something very important about living in peace with others. “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of his wisdom.” (James 3:18)
There are two things to notice here. First of all, don’t overlook the repetition of the phrase “among you”—exegetically, it connects the two thoughts. Because there was conflict in their congregation, they also needed relational wisdom. Secondly, any true wisdom would manifest itself in their works, in their practices.
The application of these two observations takes us back to what was said in the beginning of this article: practice is crucial. Since there is conflict in our midst—the breakdown of relational wisdom in our interactions with one another—we need to take practical steps that will make for peace.
Specifically, we must practice the SOG model. Remember that SOG stands for self-aware, other-aware, and God-aware. Imagine it as a circle divided into three sections. In your daily interactions, review all three as you encounter people and issues that might lead to conflict.
Begin with self-awareness (Psalm 42:5-6). Ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I feeling? Why?
- What do I feel like doing? What are the likely consequences?
- What can I do instead?
Move to other-awareness (1 Peter 3:8) Ask these questions:
- What do others seems to feel? Need? Want? Fear?
- How am I impacting others?
- Is this really the best time to talk, counsel, or correct?
- How can I best serve, love, or forgive others?
Wrap up with God-awareness (Proverbs 3:5-8) Use these questions:
- Who is God? What is he like? What is He doing?
- Am I acting in faith or unbelief?
- Do I trust in him or in myself?
- What difference does the gospel make?
- How can I pray? What Scriptures can guide me?
- How can I show that I love, trust, and obey God above all things?
The point is not to necessarily go through this sequence in exactly this order every time. You might start with being God-aware because of your sensitivity to the Holy Spirit at that moment or you might begin with other-awareness because you notice the emotional state of another person. The key is to make sure that all of these SOG areas are covered.
When I think of practicing the basics, I think of Spring Training in professional baseball. Every year in February and March, major league baseball players gather in warm weather locations to get ready for the upcoming season. They spend their time practicing the basics—throwing, catching, hitting, running. They aren’t looking for new methods necessarily, but trying to get better at the same practices which they have always done.
I think the same is true with relational wisdom. What makes the difference is not some new insight about conflict but rather the constant, repetitive practice of wise behavior founded on divine truth. Use the SOG model (and other tools like it) to explore and apply the fundamental principles of relational wisdom.
Brett Selby is the Southwest Regional Ministry Partner for Oklahoma Baptists and can be reached at email@example.com.