There were in the freezing north woods two porcupines huddled together to keep warm. But when they got close, their quills pricked each other and they had to move apart. They needed each other for the warmth, but they needled each other with their sharp quills.
Aren’t people often like those porcupines? We need each other, but we often approach the solution from completely different directions. And when we start to get close and work together we inadvertently poke and hurt one another. Working together requires care and patience; otherwise, someone gets hurt.
Today, I want to talk about how, when we show up, when we engage in that arena—the places where we have public dialog and explore solutions—and we talk about our differences, it changes us. Just by being present and earnestly listening, by practicing discipleship from a center of faith, compassion and vision, we are transformed. Our heart is made new (Ezekiel 18:31). We are changed. We are more (Alma 32:28).
First, the disclaimer—I’m here as Ally Isom, the dark chocolate-loving, mom of four, grandma of one, from Kaysville, Utah, where you are going to find my bed unmade and our food storage lacking. (And for the record: When the big one hits, I do plan to barter with chocolate, so bring your homemade canned peaches and salsa. I’ll be the one with the brownies.)
In my professional life, I’m no historian or academic. I’ve been a spokesperson for other people or the LDS Church, but today my remarks are my own. Given the chance to share my thoughts with other people who also think about and talk about faith, people who want to engage in the public arena and facilitate dialog or dialectic that affirms faith, there are four core concepts I want to discuss.
- Words matter
- People matter
- You matter
- We matter
My intent today in sharing these four principles is not to over-generalize or over-simplify. Rather, I hope to provide a little hope, because it can be risky, even rough, out there in that arena. More importantly, I pray my words provide a platform for the Spirit to instruct you, to provide you custom principles of your own that can help you in whatever arena you find yourself.
WORDS MATTER: CHOOSE WELL
Let me begin with a personal story. It’s a story laced with shame and pain for the little girl in me, but it’s instructive, so perhaps there’s a bit of redemption in that.
I adored my Grandma Katherine Bowman. Widowed relatively young and as hard-working as anyone I know, Grandma encouraged me, loved me, and told me I was smart. I never wanted to disappoint her. I loved the mouth-watering smells in her kitchen and the strong scent of Irish Spring soap in her big shiny porcelain bathtub. Grandma never owned a dishwasher and, on a tight budget, she managed a Christmas gift, usually a pair of socks, for every grandchild. One of my most vivid memories was in Kmart in 1978. I usually only had hand-me-downs from a second cousin, but Grandma bought me the brand new gauchos I wore for my first interview with the bishop, the one where I said (and hoped) I was ready to be baptized.
To provide a little more background for this story, my parents are both farm kids, and, in my early years, they used certain language I simply knew as everyday words. But I found out—the hard way—those words weren’t always appropriate in certain social contexts. Not only were they not appropriate; some were even hurtful.
I think I was around six or seven years old when I learned one of those hard lessons. I was visiting Grandma Bowman. My cousin was there. I thought I was complimenting my cousin, whom I also adored, on the beautiful color of her dark amber skin, likening it to a cherished candy. But Grandma—the woman for whom I would have done anything—became completely unhinged at my use of a racially derisive word and promptly dispatched me to her dark basement to sit on a squeaky bed in solitary for what seemed like hours.
I was supposed to be thinking about what I’d done, but in truth, I could only wonder. I was bewildered. Somehow I made Grandma mad. Somehow I hurt my cousin. But I had no idea until a few years later what any of it meant. And I’ve been so very sorry ever since. In vivid and personal ways, that experience taught me that one’s natural choice of words may cause unintended harm and ignite deep pain for others who have a different life experience. Furthermore, that experience reinforced the Savior’s petition to “Forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 24:34).
Words matter. They have meaning and context to others that we cannot possibly anticipate or immediately understand. But with time, with sincerity, with earnest hearts and a willingness not to be offended, we can learn and begin to understand, and we can allow others time to understand us as well.
Two years ago I received a professional assignment that brought this principle into focus more clearly than ever. I was tasked with a project related to gay issues. I quickly learned that when a 20-year-old says the word “gay” and a 60-year old-says the word “gay,” they don’t necessarily mean the same thing. And that disconnect can be perpetually painful for both until they start to understand what the other feels and thinks.
We see the nuanced differences in the meaning of words when we examine scriptures in different languages. For example, the word “revelation” translates differently in various languages:
Kekchi K’utb’esinb’il na’leb’: “Shown knowledge”
German Offenbarung: “Opening”
Finnish Ilmoitus: “declaration, message”
Greek ἀποκάλυψις: “uncover, disclose”
Note the differences across languages—revelation means shown knowledge, opening, a declaration, to uncover or disclose. Those subtle nuances may completely alter the conversation.
There’s a saying about the public arena: “control the vocabulary and you control the debate.” Words frame the issue; they are the vehicle for meaning and emotion. Some words are incendiary. Some words are empathic. Some words marginalize. Other words are inclusive. But all words have meaning and that meaning is uniquely individual, for both the sender and the receiver of a message.
Until you know another’s heart, until you know their context—who they really are, where they’ve been, what they’ve experienced, how they are hurting, what they love—until you know their context, until you know their heart, you will not know what words mean to them. Paul warned, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but [only] that which is good [and] edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). Isn’t that beautiful? “[T]hat it may minister grace.” Grace—hopeful grace, the divine assistance or strength made possible by our Lord and Savior. Our words can be a vehicle for grace.
If you are to engage in any public arena, I urge you to understand the meaning of words for all key players and then choose your words well.
PEOPLE MATTER: SEE THEM
So often, when we engage in the public arena, it’s us versus them, good versus evil, right versus wrong. We are the defender of truth and righteousness. We must stand. We must fight. But in the public arena, isn’t it often a little more complicated than that?
Consider how often issues are framed with that polarized framework, an over-simplified model that positions people at extremes. It makes for great reality TV or ratings-grabbing journalism, but real life, real people and real solutions are more nuanced. And because we understand the concept of progression, I think this is something that people of an LDS faith can intuit.
Often, I find myself uncomfortable with overgeneralized, false dichotomies. But how do we reconcile that—the rejection of a polarized framework—with Lehi’s teachings about opposition? He taught, for our agency to operate, for God’s eternal purposes, there must be opposites—righteousness and wickedness, holiness and misery, good and bad, life and death (2 Ne 2:11). Without opposites, Lehi said, “All things must needs be a compound in one…wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes” (2 Ne 2:11-12).
Central to the plan for our eternal happiness is the concept of polar opposites, that we might then use our agency to act for ourselves and receive the punishment or “happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement” (2 Ne 2:10). We all know from our own experience that, while framing issues as good versus bad may be helpful, it may also oversimplify life’s decisions.
I will fully own that this concept was a survival technique in parenting preschoolers. Rather than spend all day waiting for a child to decide, I would offer them a red cup or a blue cup, or invite them to choose the pink pants or the polka dot skirt. Indeed, in certain “teaching moments,” I may have framed their choices in a good versus evil way to ensure a preferred outcome.
It is incumbent upon us, as a higher use of our moral agency, to understand a situation in its entirety, or at least as much as we can, to resist oversimplification, to accurately assess the good and the evil. As Lehi points out, some binary frameworks are indeed helpful: Good and evil. Life and death. Charity and selfishness. Virtue and debauchery.
But note, Lehi’s binary frameworks refer to attributes. They refer to behavior. But they do not refer to people. Indeed, in the public arena, in the greater conversation about what is good and what is not, dualities that refer to people, binaries that polarize people, are not only counterproductive; they can be destructive.
So today, I invite you to resist placing people in a polarized duality. Instead, consider a faith-centered framework of complementarity, where each component is part of a greater whole, as interdependent entities: Female and male. Democrat and Republican. LGBTQ and Christian. Active and less active. Black and white. Israeli and Palestinian. Batman and Superman.
The tension in these overgeneralizations is that often, in the public arena and in everyday conversation, these dualities are framed as polar, as oppositional. Of course, there are those who benefit from that oppositional positioning, those who profit financially or politically by perpetuating tension and misunderstanding. Moreover, descriptions of dialog between and about oppositional dualities are frequently reduced to stereotypes or caricatures, because after all, isn’t it so much easier to dislike a caricature, or an avatar, or a pseudonym? Instead, what might happen if those oppositional dualities were framed as complementary or interdependent—each a unique part of a greater whole, each part of the total, ultimate solution?
In 2014, the Pew Research Center reported Americans are more divided along ideological lines than at any point in the past two decades, and partisan hostility runs deeper than ever. One in four Americans have un-friended someone on Facebook for having different politics.
I’m asking an earnest question: Are we hyper-polarized in our rhetoric, not only as a nation, but as people of faith? Are human beings routinely divided along some line? Do we allow a victim vocabulary to frame a situation? Do we recognize battlefield vernacular in the way we talk about issues? Do we label people as evil who simply see things differently? Have we inadvertently turned every issue and every conversation into a zero-sum game where we all lose? Is it always us versus them? Are we asking ourselves who the real enemy is? After all, is it not the Father of Lies who benefits most from contention between God’s children, the same children for whom Jesus Christ paid the ultimate debt? Can we not see the people and resist the poles?
I’ve been thinking about polarization for a long time—since I was a kid, really. Growing up, I was mesmerized by magnets. There was something magical about them. One of my favorite toys was Wooly Willy, a cartoon face within an enclosed clear frame, where you move metal shavings with a magnetic wand to give Willy hair or a beard. Can you believe they sold over 75 million Wooly Willy’s? Now, people are doing incredible things with magnets. Magnetic resonance imaging has changed modern healthcare. Magnetic pads enable electric buses to recharge while boarding passengers. And one company figured out how to print magnetic fields directly onto magnets, turning them into a combination of spring and locking mechanism. All good things, and based on the basic principle we learned in elementary school: polarity. There are two poles: a positive pole and a negative pole.
Yet sometimes, we reject the poles. You may have seen recent reports when, during a Black Lives Matter demonstration following the Dallas shooting, a counter-protest group assembled. Before long, organizers from each group met in the middle, and the protestors crossed the street to combine forces, exchanging hugs and saying, “This is how you break down the walls.” Leaders said, “Today, we’re going to show the rest of the country how we came together.” Then they joined in a group hug and prayer.
Isn’t it fascinating that there’s often something within us that rejects polarization and seeks unity? For example, politically independent or unaffiliated voters long ago surpassed percentages of either Democrats or Republicans. And that number has steadily increasing, with 42% of Americans now rejecting either major party label.
It seems like every possible communication channel is jammed with a cacophony of cutting, conflicting voices screaming at increasing and indecipherable decibels. And all that chaos causes my sleep-deprived head to spin. With so much information flying at us, are we really getting any smarter? Sometimes it feels like confusion, rather than clarity, is pervasive. No wonder everyone is so angry—which is right where the adversary wants us. In one of my favorite scriptural passages, Jesus says, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me… Behold this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:29-30).
So how do you do away with contention? Is it not even more incumbent on us, as disciples and civil residents of this glorious planet, to decipher the good, to seek truth, to share light? We can have an animated—even passionate—discussion about ideas and issues and solutions, without being unkind to the people who support or reject those ideas or issues or solutions. There are many thought leaders calling for a depolarization of the American mind. The cynic in me first thought, “If only it were that easy.”
It’s only possible if we elevate the very nature of the dialog, as well as the conditions for that dialog. It could be possible if we acknowledge the complexities of reality and stop overgeneralizing nuanced and complicated dynamics, and stop overgeneralizing layered and complicated people. That’s a pretty tall order. This isn’t a matter of simply meeting each other in the middle or of splitting up shares. This is a matter of synthesis and integration. This is a matter of mutual understanding. It’s a matter of love. When we truly see another, we come to realize we have more in common than we thought; there is often more that unites us than divides us.
I just re-read Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s a passage where Jem attempts to divide people into four groups, as he sees them. Then Scout says, “Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” Indeed, while we have a great deal in common as human beings, there is often more to and about that person across the table than you can possibly understand. C. S. Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” The assumption of pernicious mortal motives must be substituted with the desire to see another’s eternal potential through the loving eyes of Heavenly Parents. We must see with spiritual eyes and hear with spiritual ears. With that, we begin to get a sense of another’s spiritual identity, of what they offer toward the ultimate outcome. And we begin to realize it is no accident that any of us is in the arena. No matter their lens, no matter their present place on the path, each soul is infinitely valued.
And that leads me to my third point: you matter. You, the disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, matter in the arena.
YOU MATTER: BE YOU
Be you. Be the disciple you have covenanted to be.
If we are to be the leaven in the loaf as prescribed by the One who offers the Bread of Life, we must not only proclaim to be disciples, we must sound and act like disciples. We cannot privately pray in our chapels and homes for the healing of divisions and unity in our hearts, and then publicly berate those whose ideas or practices differ from ours. In other words, how we talk about issues, and how we talk about and to each other, matters.
Now I’m not saying this is easy. It is not. I have listened to Elder Maxwell’s classic companion talks at BYU on patience and meekness hundreds of times. I am still learning. I have spent time on my knees pleading for my heart to be softened toward someone I felt was repeatedly attacking me. I have fasted and prayed, and fasted and prayed, for ideas and ways to work with people who seem devoid of principle or mutual respect. It is not easy to sit quietly and take it. It is not easy to patiently await the right timing. It is not easy to suffer ignorance and insults from those driven by ambition and agenda. The high road is quite often the hard road, even a lonely road, but it offers the most Light.
I am not talking about glossing over differences. I am not saying we compromise principles. But I do know from experience, when we tackle a really tough policy challenge, there are viable solutions that honor the principles of all sides. Sometimes it demands patience, time and multiple iterations, but there are ways to get there. It is not going to be easy. It is going to require work. It is going to require active listening and seeking to understand what is truth—not just eternal truth, but truth about a process, truth about people, truth about solutions, and mechanisms and ideals. In Jacob’s words, it is to see things “as they really are” and “as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).
Often, when you launch a process with partners to find a solution, the optimal solution—the final solution— isn’t even one of the possibilities on the table at first. The optimal solution is often revealed or built, layer by layer, as ideas leapfrog one another, in a wonderful evolutionary and progressive dialog. I love that process! It’s the product of all partners, where each partner has given some, given up some and gained some.
But that progressive, iterative process means laying down our swords. That progressive process means swallowing our pride and seeking truth. That process of progression means setting aside the accusatory, incendiary rhetoric, and focusing on listening, on understanding, on patience, honoring agency, even empathizing with all sides. It means seeing them as an immortal creation of the same immortal God, on their eternally progressive path, doing the best they know to become the creation God intended them to be.
As I share Elder Maxwell’s words, think about your conversations with those with whom you disagree or with those with whom you are seeking solutions in the arena: “Serious disciples are not only urged to do good but also to avoid growing weary of doing good. They are not only urged to speak the truth but also to speak the truth in love. They are not only urged to endure all things but also to endure them well. … They are not only to do many things of worth but are also to focus on the weightier matters, the things of most worth. They are not only urged to forgive but also to forgive seventy times seven. … They are not only to do right but also… to do right for the right reasons. … They are not only to endure enemies but also to pray for them and to love them.”
Now let me be clear: I am no Pollyanna about the public arena. The arena is no place for the faint-hearted or thin-skinned or faith-impoverished. In the arena, there are times you will be on the brink of hopelessly abandoning or even completely dominating the process. There are times you will doubt your capacity or qualifications to engage in the arena or, moreover, make any meaningful difference. And there will be times when the advantage is all yours, and you will be tempted to steamroll your way to the solution you want.
Whether overruled or ruling the roost, whether first to the blocks or last to the party, whether you think you know it all or you know nothing at all, consider the inspired words of a young Nephi who was seeking his own answers and direction: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17). When I see that word “nevertheless” in the scriptures (it is there nearly 350 times), I’ve learned to pay attention. To me, God is saying, “Okay, this is really important.” The word “nevertheless” often links two concepts and serves as a pivot, from one pole to another, or from one purpose to another. “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted” (2 Nephi 4:19). “Nevertheless, all flesh is in mine hand…” (D&C 61:6). “Nevertheless thou shalt forgive…” (D&C 98:42). “Nevertheless they did not cease to pray” (3 Nephi 19:26). “Nevertheless God knoweth all things…” (Mormon 8:17). “Nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36) It won’t be enough to just go through the motions.
So often in this world we confuse motion for momentum. Discipleship is more than a mere exercise. It is more than going through the motions. It is Alma wrestling with God in mighty prayer (Alma 8:10). It is Nephi seeking materials and plans to build a ship in the Lord’s manner (1 Nephi 18:2). It is early Church leaders working through differences in the School of the Prophets and working together to build the Lord’s temple (D&C 95:10-17). Discipleship is the way the gospel is lived. Discipleship in the arena is charity in action. Discipleship is demonstrating a faith in the progressive nature of the Plan of Happiness for all God’s children—a confidence in the possible growth, advancement and understanding of all God’s creations toward the eternal ends envisioned.
Authentic discipleship is the surest way to counter the pervasive anger that is overtaking our communities and politics. Even more importantly, authentic discipleship is the best way to share the gospel’s truth—to live as disciples, to share our light and, in turn, the Savior’s light. In marketing terms, it is called “living our brand.” As disciples, our covenant duty is to resist pride and offense, to “not weary in well doing,” but realize we “are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).
Some academics put it this way: “Fostering this kind of cultural emergence [or depolarization] is more like gardening than engineering, which means working to create the necessary conditions that will allow for a new form of life to sprout up.”
WE MATTER: BE CHANGE AND BE CHANGED
In our home hangs a saying, sometimes attributed to Gandhi. It reads: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Where do we start? How do we create change and allow ourselves to be changed? We are all familiar with the passage from Matthew: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40). Scripturally, time and time again, loving God and loving our fellow human beings are inseparable tenets of our faith and central to the change we can create. Love heals and love unites. At the first Relief Society general meeting, Zina D.H. Young advised: “Purity, love and integrity, let these virtues live in our hearts; then the sunshine of a loving Father’s smile will be ours.”
Love begins in how we communicate with and about one another. Christlike communication does not mock or ridicule; it celebrates the good in others. Christlike communication does not demean or belittle; it enlarges and opens. Christlike communication does not coerce or manipulate; it invites and guides. For the purposes of communicating in the public arena, consider how that communication is not only an exchange of information between two mortals, but that communication is a partnership between heaven and earth.
Now let me explain that partnership a bit. In the last three chapters of 2 Nephi, Nephi states he is making an end of prophesying, Then he teaches the doctrine of Christ before he closes his writings with his personal reflections. In chapter 31, Nephi says he hears the Father and the Son, and he differentiates which voice is whose and what they each express. The Son says, “Follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do,” and then, “After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels” (2 Nephi 31:14).
That gave me pause recently as I re-read and pondered it. A new tongue, even with the tongue of angels. And this passage in 2 Nephi reminded me of Joseph Smith’s frustration with what he called “a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.” We are simply limited by human language. Sometimes there is more we want to convey.
What I’m about to share with you is deeply treasured in my heart, and it is about the constraints of language, but even in sharing with you, I feel constrained by language. I’m praying you will understand my heart, beyond the words.
In addition to many beloved family members who are beyond the veil, I have an angel daughter who left this world and her health-challenged 21-year-old body nearly four years ago. That event and the processes around it constitute one of the singular transformational experiences I’ve had on my journey so far. But that’s a talk for another day. Let me just say, I believe mothers and their children are connected in beautiful and deeply personal ways, almost by invisible threads, no matter which side of the veil they are. Some of my most cherished sacred experiences have been while hearing my daughter’s words from the other side. I say hearing, but it’s really more feeling and knowing her words, in an instant, beyond the constraints of mortal communication. It feels heart to heart to me. It has clarity and emotion, and I have to wonder if that isn’t what we are striving for with our language—a timely, clear and heart-felt message.
Back to 2 Nephi, chapter 31, where Nephi says: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne 31:20). We know this as the doctrine of Christ, and this is the core of discipleship. This is also the very core of a faith-centered dialectic.
Nephi expands this concept in chapter 32: “Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do… if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:2-3, 5).
All things—Whether you are to speak truth to power like Esther, or take your little family to Egypt like Mary and Joseph, or learn from your afflictions in Liberty Jail like the Prophet Joseph, or leave the job you love at the Governor’s office on an exact date dictated by the Spirit so you can grieve and heal and rest to be better prepared for the next opportunity to serve.
In Chapter 33 Nephi writes, “When a man [or a woman] speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men” (2 Nephi 33:1). Then he prays continually, he cries for all his people, he is confident God will make his weak words strong to those who hear them. I’m a little sentimental as I read this last passage in chapter 33, for these are Nephi’s last words. They are his last witness. These words feel much like the last words of Mormon and Moroni in the ninth and tenth chapters of Moroni. It is in Moroni 10 that Moroni reminds us “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5) and that faith, hope and charity allow us the power and grace to accomplish all that is expedient unto the Lord (Moroni 10:20, 23, 32).
When you honestly enter dialog as an earnest disciple of the Savior Jesus Christ, ridding yourself of all ungodliness, and you practice faith, hope and charity, you will exit that dialog a changed person, a better person. The process of discipleship will change you. The Savior’s Atonement will change you. The Savior’s grace will change you. It will enlarge you and allow you to progress. You will see God’s hand in your day-to-day efforts in the arena. You will see the power of the Holy Ghost as it conveys meaning and truth beyond mere words both for you and to you. Can you see that as a faithful, faith-centered, faith-directed disciple, how entering the arena and talking about solutions transforms?
I fully acknowledge this sounds a little idyllic. Sometimes, it’s just plain rough out there. If it is your turn in the arena, at some time you will encounter spiritually blind hypocrisy, ego, pride, ambition or selfishness. Sometimes charity is a commodity hard to come by, especially when the shortfall or weakness is our own. When the dynamics are more about the personalities than possibilities, and it becomes us vs. them, it is exhausting. You can spend a great deal of time on distractions that lead nowhere or wounds that don’t heal.
Those are the times you recall our Master withstood mockery, abuse, derision, injustice and torture, that he might bind our wounds and heal our souls. You recall the Savior spoke with a “voice of perfect mildness” (Helaman 5:30). You also recall his compensatory promise for taking up his yoke in discipleship is “rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29). So, when voices are anything but mild and the process drains or overwhelms you, there is greater light and enhanced comprehension to be found in sacred space (D&C 88:67). And we have the promise that when we receive light, and “continueth in God,” we will receive more and more light, “until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
“True disciples of Christ see opportunity in the midst of opposition,” said Elder Robert D. Hales in reference to the arena. “As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter. And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord.” When you are frustrated or exhausted or all out of answers, I invite you to seek the Spirit for that tailored inspiration. Those are the times you might ask yourself 15 key questions and conduct what I will call “A Disciple’s Reality Check”—
A DISCIPLE’S REALITY CHECK
- Do my words hurt or strengthen?
- Do my words marginalize or divide or unify?
- Does the Spirit tell me to pause and reconsider better words?
- Do I see others through God’s eyes and regard them as part of the solution?
- Do I honor others’ agency?
- What does the Spirit tell me about their hearts?
- What words and tone would Jesus Christ use?
- Do I speak truth in love?
- Am I patient with the progressive understanding and path of others?
- Do I forgive others and myself?
- Do I love and pray for all in the arena?
- Do I trust God and submit to His will and timing?
- Do I recognize my spiritual gifts and accept my stewardship?
- Am I pressing forward, steadfast in Christ, feasting upon His words about this issue?
- Do I allow the Holy Ghost to tell me what to do and how to do it?
I pause here to share my witness and gratitude. In all things, whether personal or professional, the Savior has been my greatest mentor and the Spirit has provided my most profound tutorials. After one particular episode in the arena—I’ll call it a layered learning experience—I earnestly sought feedback through the Spirit for what I said and how I said it. I asked Heavenly Father what I could have done differently. I asked what I did well. I asked specific questions and I received specific answers.
During that episode in the arena, there were moments of complete clarity, where the Spirit provided the exact words to say. There were other moments, when I felt alone and did my best to be honest and sincere. When I asked Heavenly Father what happened in those moments, why the words were not provided, I was taught a profound and memorable lesson. The Spirit told me, “It wasn’t yours to say.” I clearly understood there were others in the same arena with a role and specific words. Later, they spoke and I received a gift of centered peace.
I share my witness: When we seek light, more light comes and truth is made manifest. When I am overwhelmed in the arena, when I feel a loss of direction or a loss of control, I have a mantra about the One who knows all and is in control. I repeat in my mind, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10).
WHAT IF THE POINT IS THE PROCESS?
If we take the long view, we know how this ends. We know it is going to get worse before it gets better. But in the end, all will be well. So why engage at all? Why bother? Why put yourself through that?
First of all, it is not the end, yet, and we are all still living together on this planet, and there is plenty of good we can do. We need not look far. But, as you consider where in the arena you engage, remember who is in charge and whose children they are and what covenants you make. He “hold[s] the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth” (D&C 117:6) and all things in the heavens and earth are His (D&C 104:14). And He is counting on his covenant people, amid the culture wars and the mommy wars and rumors of war, to be both peace seekers and peace makers.
So let me ask you something: Whether it’s in our homes, or on the floor of the legislature, or on a local podcast, what if the point isn’t the outcome? What if the point is the process? Could it possibly be that the process is more important than the outcome? Could it possibly be that good works of discipleship are more important than good outcomes in the arena? What if, in the grander schemes of eternity, it’s not what we fought for, but how we contributed; it’s not the tangible deliverables, but whom we touched; it’s not the widgets produced or the book published or the bills passed or the size of your portfolio? What if it’s the understanding gained, the charity demonstrated, the patience refined, the relationships cherished, the friends kept, the people nurtured, the peace made, the hearts healed, the partnership with Heaven? What if the truest meaning in any arena is not in being right, but in becoming true? True disciples.
Elder Uchtdorf once said, “If you listen for the voice of the Father, He will lead you on a course that will allow you to experience the pure love of Christ.… As we align our lives with this supernal light, it leads us out of darkness and toward greater light. This greater light leads to the unspeakable ministerings of the Holy Spirit, and the veil between heaven and earth can become thin.” When I think about exceedingly high mountains, places where the Spirit ministers and the veil is thin, I think about the temple, how we seek truth and the way we talk there, what we say, how we serve one another. Could that model of earnestly seeking truth, of speaking in love and kindness, of serving one another—could that model not serve us well in the public arena? The core of a faith-centered dialectic is the partnership of heaven and earth in the progression of God’s children—all of them—as complementary components of the ultimate solution. It’s how we create heaven on earth. It’s how we become celestial.
One of my most cherished quotes originated with a she-ro of mine: Alice Merrill Horne. As an educator and legislator, a mother of six, a clean air advocate, a champion of the arts, Alice was extraordinary in so many ways, including the public way she engaged in a faith-centered dialectic and recognized the gifts of others in the arena. She wrote:
Every spirit which enters mortality comes stamped with Infinity — with a power to reach out and grow inimitably. This heaven-given possibility is intensely individual in character; since that identity comes from the fact that each soul has within it a gift, a possibility, a power, a characteristic, what you will, which distinguishes it from any other soul.…
Actual experience demonstrates that each one of our friends is superior in some particular way, not only to us but to all our other friends. The insight to recognize the capabilities of those among whom one moves, marks the degree of greatness in leadership.
About six months into my employment with the Church, I had what some might call a little faith crisis, where I honestly wondered what I was doing there. What was my purpose? What did God want me to accomplish? What was I to learn? As I sought answers, the guiding principles came, but I want to share one in particular. It has some relevance to the concept of binaries and the impressions I had beyond simple words.
In my portfolio are several assignments, one of which is chairing the Women’s Outreach Committee for LDS Public Affairs, where we work to elevate the voice, visibility and perceived value of women, both internally and externally. Too often, the concerns of women are framed in artificial binaries. The easy default is women vs. men. But I believe strongly that meaningful and durable solutions are found when we all engage.
And as I asked, “Why am I here?” the image that came to my mind was two hands, both left and right, cupped together. The Spirit said, “You are here to help men and women work together. We hold more Living Water together than we do separately.”
In the arena, it doesn’t matter who is the left hand or the right hand; what matters is that we work together, in partnership with Heaven, to share the Living Water and Light of Truth with others that all might feast upon the words of Christ and have eternal life.
As I close with the Prayer of St. Francis, note the dualities, and nevertheless, this day, may this also be our prayer:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
 PEW Research Center, “Political Polarization in the American Public,” Jun. 12, 2014. http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/
 The Cable News Network, “Opposing protesters meet in Dallas,” Jul. 11, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2016/07/11/one-dallas-protesters-come-together-nccorig.cnn/video/playlists/dallas-police-officer-shot/
 Gallup, “Record-High 42% of Americans Identify as Independents,” Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.gallup.com/poll/166763/record-high-americans-identify-independents.aspx
 Steve McIntosh, J.D. and Carter Phipps, “Depolarizing the American Mind How America Can Grow Beyond Its Currently Polarized Politics,” Apr. 2014. http://www.culturalevolution.org/docs/ICE-Depolarizing-American-Mind.pdf
 Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 227.
 The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 1980, 19.
 Neal A. Maxwell, “Meek and Lowly,” Oct. 21, 1986.
 Steve McIntosh, J.D. and Carter Phipps, “Depolarizing the American Mind How America Can Grow Beyond Its Currently Polarized Politics,” Apr. 2014, 2. http://www.culturalevolution.org/docs/ICE-Depolarizing-American-Mind.pdf
 Matthew J. Grow, Kate Holbrook, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Jill Mulvay Derr, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History, 2016, 569.
 Joseph Smith, letter to William W. Phelps, Nov. 27, 1832.
 Robert D Hales, “Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship.” Oct. 2008.
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Oct. 2009.
 Alice Merrill Horne, Devotees and Their Shrines: A Hand Book of Utah Art, 1914, Foreward.