Pursue Peace With Your Neighbor
TO PURSUE peace with others, you first need to be at peace with yourself. This is implicit in the words of Christ Jesus when he said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) To love your neighbor you must love yourself. Not because you’re perfect. You know you aren’t. You have flaws, make mistakes, feel guilty. You know all of this. But you also know that you are sorry about your shortcomings, seek forgiveness for them, determine to do better, and in this way rid yourself of burdensome guilt feelings.
Out of the abundance of our heart we speak and act. (Matthew 12:34, 35) If our heart is filled with guilts and recriminations, such negative feelings will be unlovingly projected onto others. To love others you must have some feeling of self-worth, self-respect, be able to accept yourself. Even be able to laugh at yourself. Loving yourself in this way, you have no inner turmoil to sour your relations with others. With this inner security, you do not feel threatened by others and can show kindly concern. To reach out peacefully to others, you must have peace within yourself.
In the stressful hustle and bustle of this modern world, however, internal peace is threatened, and the gentle art of being neighborly is disappearing. People face one another like turtles with heads withdrawn, peering out from the safety of their shells, afraid to stick their necks out. Relaxed friendliness has lost out to fear and loneliness. It is regrettable, but understandable, considering the perilous times in which we live.—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
Nevertheless, if a person takes the initiative to be friendly, his effort is usually met with a pleasant response. To speak to a neighbor you pass on the sidewalk, to pause for a few words with someone working in his front yard, to chat briefly with someone as you sit on a park bench—such moments can be enjoyable interludes. There are guidelines we can follow to make such occasions pleasurable and bring added peace to our human relationships. Consider a few of them.
Be a Good Listener
Show respect. Look at the one talking to you. If your eyes wander elsewhere, the message that you’re sending to him is, ‘I’m not interested in you or in what you’re saying.’ You probably do not mean that. So listen to what he is saying and respond specifically to it. Do not interrupt, unless it is to ask for details or to raise appropriate questions. “When anyone is replying to a matter before he hears it, that is foolishness on his part and a humiliation.” (Proverbs 18:13) Listen so as to understand him, his thinking, his position, his feelings. Listen not only with your ears but also with your heart. “Be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.”—James 1:19.
To communicate means “to transmit information, thought, or feeling so that it is satisfactorily received or understood.” Be clear and concise, not wordy or rambling. Be sure the other person understands your point. To converse means “to exchange thoughts and opinions in speech.” Conversing is not a lecturing; it’s an exchange. When you’ve made a point, listen to the other’s reply. You are a listener when someone is relating an experience or giving a report. In a conversation you are a participant. Contribute to it, and allow others to do likewise. And be flexible, open to new ideas. A preconceived viewpoint, dogmatically held, blinds your eyes, deafens your ears, and hardens your heart.—Matthew 13:15.
Be Friendly, Honest, Caring
Don’t be timid. Reach out to others. Your friendliness will usually draw a similar response from them. Feelings are contagious. Feel what you want others to feel. Act as you want others to act. Treat others as you want to be treated. Sow what you want to reap. Be yourself. Be honest. Be genuinely interested in others, caring about others, being of service to others.
Give Others Attention
In one of Booth Tarkington’s novels, he told of a group of children romping on the front lawn. One of the characters, Little Orvie, feeling he was not getting his share of the attention, started running and jumping and crying out, “Now watch me! Now watch me!” Adults are not so obvious about it, but they too want attention. Small babies and the elderly may even die without it. So look at people, listen to them, notice them! Get acquainted with your neighbors, be friendly, admire their dog, their rosebush, their new dress—but always in sincerity, never just for a calculated effect.
It’s invariably futile. It wounds pride and rouses resentment. It comes as an attack and puts people on the defensive. They seek to justify themselves and retaliate against you. Criticize, and you walk on eggs. Remember, people are more often emotional than logical, especially when they are under attack—and that is how they view criticism. Instead of condemning, seek to understand. Words of encouragement work wonders. See their good points rather than focusing on their flaws. “To overlook faults is a man’s glory.”—Proverbs 19:11, The New English Bible.
Be warm, friendly, loving. Let him talk first and at length. Learn why he thinks or acts as he does. Be sympathetic to his desires. See his point of view. Discern the emotional reasons behind his conduct. Let it be known that you too make mistakes, that you share imperfection with him. Then “try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1) Confine your counsel to the point at issue. Tailor it to this individual, kindly helping him to see the point, and speak tactfully. “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Colossians 4:6) Give positive reinforcement, praise improvement.
Have Empathy, Show It
This means you must be able to put yourself in the other person’s place. Sense his needs. Feel as he feels. How would you want to be treated if you were in his place? All of this you must know if you are going to obey the golden rule: ‘All things that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.’ (Matthew 7:12) This is not easy. In some cases it is impossible to put your feelings of empathy into words—it can only be done with tears. The apostle Paul recommended such empathy when he said: “Rejoice with people who rejoice; weep with people who weep.”—Romans 12:15.
After the death of Lazarus, Mary came to Jesus. The account continues: “Jesus, therefore, when he saw her weeping and the Jews that came with her weeping, groaned in the spirit and became troubled; and he said: ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him: ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus gave way to tears.” (John 11:33-35) Jesus knew what he was going to do, yet at the sight of their grief, he was moved to weep with them. He showed empathy.
No Evil for Evil
Do not ‘do unto others as they do unto you,’ as some pervert the golden rule to say. Rather, do not return evil for evil, but conquer evil with good. Jehovah incites love in us by his love for us. “We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) This is not impractical theorizing; it is human nature. A soft answer turns away wrath. Turning the other cheek may halt the onslaught. As the coals banked around ancient furnaces melted the metal from the ore, so your returning good for evil may soften your adversary’s anger and cause it to melt away, thereby conquering it. On the other hand, you may continue to suffer from his evildoing, but you did what you could to promote peace. You were true to yourself, to your principles. You did not allow the evildoer to turn you into a doer of evil.—Romans 12:17-21.
As far as It Depends Upon You, Pursue Peace
Actively “pursue peace with all people.” (Hebrews 12:14) It does not exist automatically. It is not always possible to catch up with it. In some cases you must give up the pursuit of it. “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger; and with a man having fits of rage you must not enter in.” (Proverbs 22:24) However, “if possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”—Romans 12:18.
The Greek word for the kind of love Jesus said to show to your neighbor is a·gaʹpe. The apostle Paul’s definition of this quality, a·gaʹpe, sums up the guidelines for pursuing peace with your neighbor: “Love is long-suffering and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up, does not behave indecently, does not look for its own interests, does not become provoked. It does not keep account of the injury. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”—1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
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Guidelines on human relationships, from the Bible book of Proverbs, chapter and verse
“An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.”—15:1.
“The heart of the wise one causes his mouth to show insight, and to his lips it adds persuasiveness.”—16:23.
“Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.”—16:24.
“The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.”—17:9.
“The beginning of contention is as one letting out waters; so before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.”—17:14.
“Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.”—17:27.
“The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.”—19:11.
“It is a glory for a man to desist from disputing, but everyone foolish will burst out in it.”—20:3.
“Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters, but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.”—20:5.
“Plead your own cause with your fellowman, and do not reveal the confidential talk of another.”—25:9.
“Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.”—25:17.
“Have you beheld a man hasty with his words? There is more hope for someone stupid than for him.”—29:20.