Monday, September 21, 2009

Thoughts on Turning Hearts -- not to fathers or children this time, but to each other

My husband and I were talking in the car tonight about the gay marriage issue. One of the hardest things I see about the issue, and other issues, for that matter, is that there is too much of closed-mindedness on both 'sides' of these issues. It's too easy to REact without thinking, and without trying to let the Spirit guide choices and actions.

There are many examples that come to mind:

  • I saw it with the recent reaction to Pres. Obama's speech to children about education. Truth be told, I'm not a fan of Pres. Obama. Even as I can understand the initial response of concern, I was deeply, deeply disappointed that parents sought to shut down the chance for children to hear a message about education from our president. It was a chance to respect the office, and even to talk about how we don't have to agree with someone to show respect for them and listen to them. I think our children need to see us modeling reasoned, respectful handling of hard issues, and of responding to those with whom we disagree. I know I can do better in this regard in general, and it is my goal to do so.
  • Another example of emotional reaction that I think created some problems was with the Big Love episode on the temple ceremony. Even as I, too, was disappointed (even shocked) to hear that this was going to happen, I felt there was too much emotional reaction that actually added fuel to the fire.
  • This reminds me of emails that are forwarded without thinking, without checking, without caring about details. ( is great {wink}) BUT -- haha -- in writing that, I realize that sometimes my annoyed reaction to such lack of checking reflects a way I can open my heart more. SO WHAT if someone sends me such an email? I can choose to ignore or check it out myself, right? :) Really, don't I have better things to do than to get frustrated when someone sends something they happened to enjoy, and they send it because I'm on their list of people they love and care about?? Yes, I do, and I should take a moment to check my heart and trust theirs.
  • On this issue of SSA/SSM, I have seen closed-minded and unkind statements made by those against SSM. It's most disturbing to me in the Church, but worries me at any level. Such unkindness is contrary to the Church's teachings, and contrary to the Church's position -- even as their position re: gay marriage and homosexual behavior is clear. On the flip side, I have seen closed hearts and minds from those who support SSM. Too often, assumptions and accusations are made that are unfair and often untrue. To label all those who support the Church's position and/or those who have taken positions on measures such as Prop 8 as hateful homophobes is unfair and unkind, and not helpful to the cause of respect, dialogue, and agreeing to disagree.
  • I see this dynamic in discussions on hot topics like educating our children, childbirth, efforts toward healthy living, plastic surgery, family/work balance decisions, and myriad (!!) other topics. So much of things like these are about respecting and understanding agency. Even as there are guidelines and principles (take general Church teachings about caring for our bodies, for example, or about the importance of mothers' primary role as nurturer), we really have no room to judge others' choices, OR to insist that our personal choices reflect absolute truth that should be chosen by (or imposed on) others.
  • I saw emotional reaction to Sister Beck's Mothers Who Know talk. (I have been online discussing LDS women's issues for nearly 15 years. I dare say I have never seen such a reaction, and it was very disappointing to me.) Before people really even had taken time to process the message, the internet was awash with angry vents and criticism of and misrepresentations of Sister Beck and her words. (Please note: I understand completely how painful mommy (and other) guilt is. And I even felt some of that creeping in when she talked. Fortunately, in this case, the Spirit had already been teaching me and preparing me to hear what she was *really* saying. I *know* how hard it can be to feel the pangs of guilt. And I have had my moments of wanting to throw an Ensign or a lesson out the window. But when I compare those REactions to how I feel when the Spirit is softening my heart and helping me to see things -- and myself -- as they/I really are/am...the difference is night and day! The kind of self-destructive guilt we often feel is not others' fault, and not of God. The Spirit helps calm my initial reactions and helps me process things more clearly. I'm working hard (and it IS hard work) to try to check my REactions and to test them according to the tests we have been given (see, for example, this one). To try to ACT and not be acted upon by my emotions, not at least without seeking the Spirit's guidance.

We don't have to *like* what someone is doing, saying, choosing, or believing, to at least show some respect for differing actions, words, choices, or beliefs. More often than not, when taking a step back from our initial reactions, I think we can usually see that there are holes in our understanding and perception. We ALL are dealing with incomplete pictures and fallen tendencies (our beams). There is, imo, a reason the Lord uses the council system in families and in the Church -- it's because none of us has a corner on truth. There is, imo, a reason we are commanded not to judge -- it's simply because we NEVER have all the information about someone else's heart or life or situation or layers or experiences. And our emotions and experiences -- even our positive ones -- can never can fully reflect the breadth and depth of what God sees and knows.

I know how easy it is to fall into this trap of REacting instead of choosing compassion and care and caution, but I am trying to do better, both in my personal life and also on more general issues, to not close my heart in anger, fear, or other negative emotions. (It's hard work! I fail too often, but I am trying!)

I think more clearly when I take a moment to try to care, to think of others with whom I may disagree or who may have triggered an emotion in me somehow (intentionally or not) as a child of God. I am blessed when I try to stop to realize and remember what anger and closed-mindedness do to my spirit and to relationships, and to my ability to have compassion and to understand beyond my own limited experiences and understanding.

At some point, we will all do what we feel is best, to act on what we know and believe. Sometimes our conclusions or choices will differ. There will always be issues upon which there will be disagreement. Examples are plentiful in our political, cultural, and social climate, and are also present in the Church.

We are all children of God, and ALL deserve respect, kindness, and love -- even when there is disagreement. I believe the best progress is made toward truth when dialogue can take place, even -- and perhaps especially -- when there is disagreement. This requires open-hearts and respect on BOTH sides. Always. "Us" vs. "Them" thinking so often leads to wrong-headed REaction. Without open hearts, we restrict potential for personal and general progress, and, imo, stunt our spiritual growth.

And there are still so many commonalities that we can enjoy, even if and as we disagree on some issues.

That reminds me of something Pres. Eyring said:

You could be one of those peacemakers, whether you are in the conflict or an observer.

One way I have seen it done is to search for anything on which we agree. To be that peacemaker, you need to have the simple faith that as children of God, with all our differences, it is likely that in a strong position we take, there will be elements of truth. The great peacemaker, the restorer of unity, is the one who finds a way to help people see the truth they share. That truth they share is always greater and more important to them than their differences. You can help yourself and others to see that common ground if you ask for help from God and then act. He will answer your prayer to help restore peace, as He has mine.

That same principle applies as we build unity with people who are from vastly different backgrounds. The children of God have more in common than they have differences. And even the differences can be seen as an opportunity. God will help us see a difference in someone else not as a source of irritation but as a contribution. The Lord can help you see and value what another person brings which you lack. More than once the Lord has helped me see His kindness in giving me association with someone whose difference from me was just the help I needed. That has been the Lord’s way of adding something I lacked to serve Him better.

I believe part of the natural man is to REact without seeking that kind of peacemaking. We are wired to self-protect, and will often use whatever tactic to accomplish that protection -- often without thinking, without giving the Spirit a chance to work with us and guide us.

I know I have fallen into reactive trap too often. Again, I am committed to trying to be better, to check my heart more often and more honestly.

Whaddya think? Wanna join me in this effort?

p.s. One of the BEST books I have ever read that has helped me understand mortal reactive and closed-hearted tendencies is The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Group. This book dissects our mortal tendency to go to war with each other with our closed hearts. The book is on my list of the top five books that have had the greatest impact on my life. Were I not big on trying hard to respect others' agency, I would say it should be required reading for all humans. :)


Annette Lyon said...

This is absolutely beautiful and so well said. Yes. Exactly.

SilverRain said...

Once again, you display your wisdom.

Samantha said...

Thank you for this post, and for thinking, as well as feeling.

Rosalie Erekson Stone said...

Thanks for this wonderful and very wise post!

Jennifer B. said...

Thank you for this!

Alison Moore Smith said...

I keep seeing complaints about those opposed to Obama's speech to kids. I'm sure they happened, but all the "controversy" I ever saw wasn't about the speech at all. It was about the teaching packet that WH aides wrote along with the DoE for teachers, asking kids to write letters showing how they would "help the president." The letters were to be gathered up and redistributed later to provide "accountability."

The lesson plan was changed, appropriately IMO, to have the kids write letters about their short- and long-term goals.

m_and_m said...

Alison, I think you are right.

Still, I think it was a bit too much fury over something that could easily be managed with a conversation or two with a child.

I know there is a concern about some of the cultish following of the president (and frankly, I share it), but I still think extreme responses were unwarranted and problematic in their own right.

Jocelyn said...

Michelle, I don't know why I hadn't found your blog until now. I'll be a faithful reader from here on out!

Jocelyn said...

I loved this post very much.

jendoop said...

So well put!

I loved the quote from Elder Eyring, esp this line, "God will help us see a difference in someone else not as a source of irritation but as a contribution." That is when the counsel system works! We all need humility. Which is why some 'worldly' counsels don't work.

I need to go to Amazon right now and get that book, you've recommended it to me before.

Heidi said...