As you wish

Family Ties

October 26, 2011 | Viewpoints | Volume 15 Issue 21
Melissa Miller |

In The Princess Bride, a 1987 comedy film, the haughty princess takes great pleasure in giving orders to her farmhand. He readily complies, often with the slightest of smiles on his face—perhaps even a smirk—and the words, “As you wish.” The princess eventually realizes that her servant’s accommodation is a declaration of his love for her, a love which she returns. After many adventures, the loving couple share a great and passionate kiss sealing a happily-ever-after-ending.

“As you wish” are the words of an “accommodator.” Conflict-resolution teachers speak of five possible responses to conflict, which vary in terms of accommodating the other person’s goals and pursuing one’s own goals. People who accommodate put a high priority on the other person’s agenda, while simultaneously setting aside their own goals. Sometimes such people are called “harmonizers” because they like peace and happiness.

They may choose this response:

1. Because, at the time, getting what they want is less important than keeping the relationship calm. They want their relationships to be harmonious, to sing like a well-tuned choir.

2. When they don’t have strong feelings about the matter under discussion.

3. When they determine that the other person cares much more strongly about the outcome than they do.

4. When they feel insufficient power to lobby for their goals or are unwilling to block the other person.

5. Because of limited time or energy.

All five conflict responses have more or less appropriate times to be employed. Accommodation can be inappropriate or ineffective when it is used habitually and leads to resentment and low self-esteem. (Like the person who walks away from such encounters muttering, “If I just had any backbone, I’d stand up for myself!”)

It is also not useful for harmonizers to accommodate when the other person sincerely wants to develop a mutually satisfying solution, but they are not willing to hang in with the process of naming their hopes and interests while listening with equal care to the hopes and interests of their partner.

Each of the five conflict styles can be seen in the life of Jesus. To hear Jesus accommodating, we turn to Mark 7:24-29, which is the story of his conflict and conversation with the Syro-Phoenician woman. The story begins by noting that Jesus was looking for some time alone, a break from his demanding life of teaching, healing and debating. Instead, he meets a woman who wants him to cast out a demon from her daughter. Jesus initially resists, drawing a line between himself and the woman, who is Gentile, telling her that his work is for the Jews, not “the dogs.” The mother persists, actually taking Jesus’ language and flipping it to pursue her cause, saying, “Even the little puppies get crumbs.” For whatever reason, Jesus relents, and moves from initially denying her request to accommodating her, almost saying, “Okay, you win! The demon has left your daughter.”   

In the example of the accommodating farmhand, his strategy was quite successful. He not only “kept the peace” with his princess, but he also had the satisfaction of pleasing her. And he advanced his hopes of securing her heart, and becoming her equal in love. Accommodation has its time and place, but long-term relationships cannot be healthy and balanced when based on the acquiescence of one party to the other.

Melissa Miller ( lives in Winnipeg, Man., where she works as a pastor and counsellor. Her family ties include that of daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.

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