When I was in high school we read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In it, shady Svidrigailov pursues Dounia, who has no interest in him at all. She fends off his advances and proclamations of love by shooting a gun, which grazes him. She threatens to kill him and he eggs on that challenge, but she ends up tossing the gun aside. He asks asks if she loves him and she does not. She says she can never when he asks one more time. And that’s what makes him send her away.
When we discussed this in class, the teacher suggested that it was both Dounia’s lack of love as well as her inability to kill Svidrigailov that made him resign. Both emotions, of loving and despising someone enough to kill them, take emotional energy, a level of commitment, even if one of the emotions is negative. When Dounia wasn’t emotionally invested, positively nor negatively, Svidrigailov realized it would go nowhere.
A month ago I had a conversation with someone who I haven’t spoken with in a long time. We had differences and conflicts for years. There were a couple of attempts at talking about things- one over chat and another via email exchange a couple of summers ago. But each time, the other person would leave the conversation if they felt like “contention.” This meant any amount of discomfort meant they ended the conversation and left. After the email exchange, I figured if they wanted to try making amends, they’d have to be the one to initiate since they were the one who ended it. We hadn’t interacted since.
We did end up having a chat via Zoom a month ago. Mutuals wanted us to try again at a relationship, so we gave it a chance. We spent about an hour talking over Zoom, sharing where we were hurt. It took energy and about an hour of time, but afterward, we decided to try a relationship again. I’m not sure how they felt afterwards, but personally, I felt great about the prospects of a future relationship.
The years of shutting down and leaving the conversation prior felt like this person didn’t want to spend the emotional energy on building a relationship, addressing concerns. Running away at conflict or contention told me, “I’m not invested in this relationship.” When we finally had a real discussion and they didn’t run away, I felt better about our relationship in years.
I know not everyone is like this, but I want to challenge our concept of “contention is of the devil.” We need to discuss the hard stuff in life. We have to challenge things. Putting in that energy and effort demonstrates our commitment to the relationship. This pertains to personal relationships as well as our relationship with our ward, our community, our world at large. Have the hard conversations; contention can be a sign of commitment.