Kraybill: Letting the other guy win

Jul 31, 2017 by

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With wars festering in many countries, and continuing conflict over land in the West Bank, I pray for political leaders who have the reconciling spirit of Abraham.

Shortly after returning to Canaan from Egypt, Abraham found himself in conflict with his nephew Lot over access to grazing (Genesis 13). Abraham was rich, and as patriarch could have demanded that his herds get the best. Instead, he chose generosity.

This view eastward across the Jordan valley, north of the Dead Sea, shows land that Lot chose as grazing territory for his flocks. — J. Nelson Kraybill

This view eastward across the Jordan valley, north of the Dead Sea, shows land that Lot chose as grazing territory for his flocks. — J. Nelson Kraybill

“Let there be no strife between your herders and my herders,” Abraham told Lot, “for we are kindred. Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Hearing such a gracious offer, one might expect Lot to defer to his uncle. But Lot looked eastward and saw that the “plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (where the Nile River creates a long, lush ribbon of agricultural land).

Genesis says Lot “chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan.” Abraham settled in Canaan, the drier highlands, while his nephew went to the far side of the valley and set up camp near Sodom.

Today travelers along eastern edges of highlands in the West Bank can look down across green vegetation in the Jordan valley below. On the far side of the valley, just before the mountains, there is an unexcavated tel (archaeological mound) that may contain ruins of ancient Sodom. There Lot settled after helping himself to what appeared to be the best land when Abraham the peacemaker made that possible.

Social theory identifies five negotiation styles in conflict: 1) compete (I win/you lose); 2) accommodate (you win/I lose); 3) avoid (I lose/you lose); 4) compromise (I win some/lose some, you win some/lose some); and 5) collaborate (I win/you win). Abraham accommodated.

A University of Notre Dame website says, “Giving in or accommodating the other party requires a lot of cooperation and little courage. . . . This style might be viewed as letting the other party have his way. While this style can lead to making peace and moving forward, it can also lead to the accommodator feeling resentment.”

Yes, that is a hazard. But after Lot and Abraham parted, Abraham rescued his nephew when he was abducted (Genesis 14), and later pleaded (unsuccessfully) with God to spare the city of Sodom, where Lot lived (Genesis 18). There is no hint of resentment in these actions of Abraham, but neither is there evidence that the accommodating and rescuing he did led to a close bond between him and Lot.

But by taking generous initiative for a peaceful solution with Lot, Abraham was not burdened with bitterness. I admire his willingness to share with Lot and even accept loss to keep peace. Sometimes accommodation, or going the second mile (Matt. 5:41), is the best strategy in conflict. Abraham had faith in God’s call and confidence that God would make good on the promise to bless him and his descendants.

J. Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his reflections at peace-pilgrim.com.


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