Narcissists create strife in their pursuit of dominance, winning, or getting what they want, but may also throw fuel on fires that are already burning.
Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. Proverbs 26:21
The Hebrew term in this verse is translated “kindling” – throwing a lit match onto fuel – but in Jeremiah, it’s translated with an image of a bellows – blowing air on a lit fire to make it hotter[i]. So, a contentious person will either take the “seeds” of conflict and turn it into a real conflict or take an existing small conflict and turn it into a full-blown conflict. Narcissists can be agents of chaos.
How does this play out? One example may be when someone is criticizing someone else, the narcissist “piles on” and tries to top the story already being told – with a statement like “that’s nothing, you should’ve seen what he did to me last week.” But sometimes the narcissist will whisper a criticism that stirs up a negative spark deep in someone else’s heart.
For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Proverbs 26:20
The reason the tactic of whispering gossip works to stir up contention and strife is that most people love to hear dirt on someone else.
The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body. Proverbs 18:8 (& 26:22)
The narcissist takes advantage of people’s natural desire to hear dirt on others (“dainty morsels”) to create the doubts/controversy that in the end puts them in the lead or controlling position. It is a common move on the narcissist’s part to stir up strife in a way that is not readily visible to others.
This process can expand to infect an entire group or organization. Proverbs describes this metaphorically when it says:
Scorners[ii] set a city aflame, but wise men turn away anger. Proverbs 29:8
This is also what James meant when he said:
So also, the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell…….
….. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing……
……What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.
James 3:5-6, 13-16, 4:1-2