Nothing Like a Venn Diagram

J. Keith Hughey


Volume XXII,Number 15 (Issue 1071) April 8, 2024

Nothing Like a Venn Diagram

Let’s hear it for the good old Venn Diagram (see illustration below)! When it comes to explaining certain affinities, differences, and possible sources of tension and conflict, this depiction of set theory comes in pretty handy.

For those who may be struggling to recall your high school math lessons in set theory, the overlapping circles above are meant to illustrate the collection of thoughts and views held by two different individuals (or groups). In this case there is an element of overlap. [Note: For the trivia buffs among you, John Venn, an English mathematician and philosopher popularized this method of presenting the intersection of various sets in the 1880s. In doing, so he lent his name to the model.]

As you can see in this example, there is not a lot of commonality between the two parties when it comes to their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. However, and this is the important part, in this representation there is enough of an area where their respective views align to allow us to leverage that connection. From there we can start to address and resolve the differences (conflict) that exist. Provided, that is, their disagreement stems from a failure to communicate effectively rather than being due to differing values. That is because the resolution of value-based conflict requires that one or both parties accept that some of their long-held beliefs are incorrect. It is an easy ask; it is seldom an easy “yes, I now see I was wrong.”  

Our work and study in conflict resolution tells us the likelihood of some element of intersection between the two sets, no matter how small, is quite prevalent. This is never truer than when there is at least one common denominator such as place of employment, gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, faith-tradition, etc. That such overlaps exist is a wonderful thing since it is within and from that common ground that affinities can be identified. Once those shared beliefs are acknowledged we can begin the process of addressing and resolving most conflicts.

Now comes the hard part where you must get the two parties to name the source of their conflict, describe their thinking and the feelings that are triggered, own their actions, and finally see it from the other party’s point of view. That is, both must own their respective roles in the conflict after which they both must demonstrate sufficient empathy to be able to walk a mile in the other party’s shoes. Again, in the case of values-based conflict, that is nearly impossible for either party to do.

It should go without saying there is more to the conflict resolution model than I have described here. However, if you can get to the point of finding common ground, you will have taken a huge step in creating a durable, peaceful solution.

Soli Deo Gloria“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

J. Keith Hughey

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Copyright 2024 by J. Keith Hughey. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for reproduction and redistribution of this essay as provided under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Recent issues of Musings may be found at  Your comments are always welcome.

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