Creating Contention-Free Zones

Contention Free Zonel


Contention keeps erupting in my worlds—my teenagers wanting independence, someone who is difficult to work with on a project and argumentative voices online. Is contention pervasive in your life, too?

We can’t realistically eliminate all contention within our realms, but wouldn’t it be great if we could?

Seeds of contention don’t  start simply with a difference of opinion, belief, or idea. Difference certainly make for a more challenging environment than one that’s just the same. But contention grows in soil fertilized with self-focused reactions and watered with negative emotional responses.

And this louder than life world that we live in just adds volume to that mix.

We might think we are simply sharing our thoughts, trying to solve a problem, state a difference, persuade someone to our side, or stand up for our beliefs. But we find that, instead, we’ve engaged in contention.

I’ve seen a lot of “discussions” online like that lately, and unfortunately, closer to home. I sense the contention of the THAT world has come inside to THIS one, and I want to send it back out again.

But, as you probably know, it’s not that easy since this general “world” isn’t just about a general “them;” it’s about you and me.

I’ve done an exercise to understand my role in contention. I visualize these zones of my worlds and how contention can exist in each of them.

The largest circle is the world community which holds the whole gamut of people, ideas, beliefs, everything. I don’t  interact every day there, but I brush up against it most regularly when I participate through media–social networks and digital, print, or broadcast media.

Between this community and my own friends and family are subsets of different communities where I venture because of topics or people of interest, beliefs I hold, or learning I seek. I may personally know some of these people but many are acquaintances.

The next circle holds my friends and family. It includes extended family and people I’ve known well through the years.

Then, I have an intimate circle of my immediate family. And finally, just me.

These are my zones, and they will be slightly different for others based on their occupation and circumstances.

In each of my relationship and communication zones in the last month, I sensed differing levels but abundant evidence of contention. In some it is outright picking of a fight where none existed just to agitate for a cause, in others it is blaming, but it can be as simple as an undercurrent of a difference of opinion or personality that fester like an unhealed wound. And sometimes the contention I feel is just anxiety within myself.

As I tried to evaluate the source of that contention, I had to visualize it in these levels to identify where it started impacting the circles closest to me. I also saw how I can choose to carry that contention back into myself or how I can introduce it back into any or all of those circles.

So, how am I going to minimize or eliminate contention? I know building a contention-free zone at every level is not realistic. As we move outward it is more challenging to not be influenced by the contention that already exists.

But you or I can start at the very basic level–within ourselves. Then we work outward. Even if every community we are in does not become a contention-free zone, bringing an ideal of peaceful cooperation and communication into it will improve dialogue and relationships.

I’m focused first on creating contention-free zones in the closest circles–self and home.


Jesus Christ has to be right at the core of my inner circle. I’m not just being theoretical here. His gospel is becoming so practical to me in three ways.

1. Christ brings peace to my soul.  I don’t want to simplify emotional or mental disorders. Feelings of anxiety may persist from both internal and external sources, but coming to know, understand and trust my personal relationship with God has to be part of the way for me to deal with contention that both comes at me and the starts from within me.

2. The principle of repentance and the power of Christ’s atonement answer the contentious feelings in my own heart toward others. A friend recently shared her experience about praying for charity and identified that we can get specific with God by praying to have the help of Christ’s atonement to reduce and even eliminate the very thoughts that create irritation and annoyance that lead to contention.

3. The love of God is real. When I go directly to Him through prayer, worship, and study as that source for understanding about myself and affirmation of His love, I find that I am more confident and able to cope with or deflect the negativity or contention that is coming at me from others, intended or not.


We’re teaching, praying, studying and striving for these Christ-centered principles in our family, too. But we’re also practicing on each other. And in that process, we bump up against each other a lot.

The inevitable bickering and teenage battles hit a high point this year in our home. We’ve tried contracts and this rule and that rule, but even those become a point of contention in the moment. That’s the point when I realized I didn’t want to engage my teenagers in any more contention–theirs or mine.

So, we had a family council and laid it out.”We have a zero-tolerance policy for contention,” my husband said. In our contention-free zone we pointed out three important points.

1. Find a way to  diffuse it, not fuel it. Even when we think we’re right, both parties have a responsibility to diffuse contention. We can fuel it with a sneering or defensive tone of voice, a disconnected or intentional look, a harsh word.  And just watch the contention build. But where does that end? When does that end? We can also diffuse it with a soft tone of voice or word, thoughtful look, or even a hug. Each of these cause us to pause and intentionally shift the direction of the conversation.

2. Assume the best of others. Defensiveness assumes the words or actions coming at you are intended to hurt, harm, belittle, diminish or even disagree with you. That wall isn’t necessary, especially with those we love the most. This is the most challenging for teenagers who believe parents just don’t understand. I’ve decided not to try to prove that I do understand or prove why I made a particular decision. I’m just stopping the fight and showing them through love that I do care, even if that still means no.

3. Take responsibility. Accept your part and don’t point fingers of blame. This is so important with sibling rivalry and in marriage relationships. Blame and fault-finding seem to be instant fuel starters. As parents we absolutely have to follow the same rules and principles we lay out for the family, especially admitting we are wrong when we are. But we also have responsibility to gently but firmly enact consequences for contention.

My youngest sister just had her first child. She’s trying new ideas and patterns on an almost daily basis to help her new baby sleep, eat and not cry. Family life and communication in broader circles is also a figuring out process.

But contention isn’t something we have to accept as a normal pattern anywhere. We can set an expectation of contention-free zones in how we handle contention ourselves and then work toward that ideal with our own patterns to invite peace, minimize the fights, and correct it when it continues.

What have you tried that works? How do you create contention-free zones?





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