Disengage Over Disagreement?

I’ve been noticing how easy it is to have unity and good feelings towards others when conflict is absent but how quickly warm feelings vanish when there’s a simple difference of opinion. As a general rule, I don’t think it’s right to cut people off from our lives due to a disagreement. Yet it happens all of the time in marriages, friendships, employment, churches and other relationships. It’s amplified when intolerance of opinion is not only justified but embraced systematically in the forms of group-shaming and other dehumanizing purges. Tolerance vs purging. Inclusion vs exclusion. Freedom vs oppression. Understanding vs ignorance. The olive branch vs the sword. Love & forgiveness vs anger & bitterness. These are some of the choices we face when we have differences of opinions with others. 

Have our past convictions been so flawless that we can, with confidence, state that our current convictions are beyond question? Do we have all of the facts and perspectives that would make us capable of judging a topic competently? Is our moral arsenal so complete that even if we had a full understanding of the facts that we would be able to make a rightful judgement? Is it our right to judge? In other words, are we perfect? If not, why do we expect others to have the same convictions as we do? Other’s possess perspectives that can help refine our own, if we will search their minds with an open heart. Purging people tends to make their ignorance worse and therefore the likelihood of misery worse. Loving people, despite our differences, can make incremental advances towards love, truth, completeness and fulfillment. Thank goodness we all have different perspectives.

“Ah, but what about the nihilist?”, says one? “Or what about the racial supremacist?”, objects another. “Are we to embrace these nasty ideologies?” Objections to tolerance are constantly made on the grounds that it is condoning symptomatic ideas and behaviors. But tolerance is not condoning anymore than listening is agreeing. We can love the sinner and still hate the sin. 

Daryl Davis was able to convert over 200 people away from the KKK, including multiple upper-level leaders of the group. What makes this feat most meaningful is the fact that Daryl is an African American, the target of much of the group’s intolerance and violence. His success hasn’t come from shunning, screaming, deplatforming, ignoring, fighting or any other form of purging. Rather, Daryl reached out, talked with, listened to and befriended some of the very people who initially viewed him as inferior. These actions ultimately humanized his race to a large segment of an organization that society had thought irredeemable. His kind actions dispelled the darkness that clouded these people’s minds. That light was not and could not have been instilled through dark methods. 

Daryl observed a timeless lesson about the importance of actively trying to understand each other during an interview he had with a few of the KKK members. No violent intentions were being expressed during their meeting but tensions were still high. Neither trusted the other. All of a sudden, a loud noise occurred that startled Daryl. He was afraid that one of the other two was making a quick movement to hurt him. As he glanced at the others, he noticed the same startled look on their faces – they were on high alert that something might happen to them. It turned out that the noise was just a can of soda settling in a bucket of ice next to them. Daryl associated layers of meaning from this incident by pointing out that: “Ignorance breeds fear. We fear those things we don’t understand. If we don’t put a lid on that fear and keep that fear in check, that fear in turn will breed hatred because we hate those things that frighten us. If we don’t keep that hatred in check, that hatred in turn will breed destruction. We want to destroy those things that we hate. Why? Because they frighten us. But guess what? They may have been harmless and we were just ignorant.” 

Take parenting as another example of how seeking understanding can make everyone’s lives better. Many parents will play behavioral whack-a-mole with their children not understanding that their attempts to correct their children’s behavior could actually be making things worse for the child and requiring more energy on their part overall. In order to help children, or anyone for that matter, long-term successes are tied to the means in which the corrections are consistently, patiently and lovingly applied. A parent will see a child acting out – yelling, crying and throwing a tantrum when they don’t get what they want – and the parent often responds, usually with good intentions, with authoritarian dictates or force (or in some cases, rewarding the child for the bad behavior). None of this helps because none of it is getting to the root of the issue. The child’s tantrum is a symptom. The symptom is an opportunity to stop and dig deeper into why that child is acting out to begin with. Perhaps their love-tank has been running on empty for an extended period of time and what they really need, instead of lectures and punishments, is genuine attention that is meaningful to them. Or perhaps they were bullied, abused or they made a critical mistake and they are too afraid to raise a sensitive topic up to someone who will make them feel smaller than they already do. Or perhaps they’ve been conditioned to behave this way from others who constantly give in to those styles of demands. The root causes will vary almost as much as there are different personalities and circumstances. What is not needed, though, is ridiculing or verbally discarding that child because of their behavior. What is always needed is love, understanding and appropriate boundaries.

Just like there are boundaries for many other good things (e.g. charity, freedom), there are boundaries to tolerance as well. First, as mentioned previously, we ought to separate the sinner from the sin. Always viewing a person through the lens of love and choices through the lens of truth helps us to not debase each other to varying degrees of worth. Second, if someone’s choices are aggressing on someone else, those breaches don’t have to be tolerated. We can and should forgive and have mercy but that doesn’t mean that we need to continually put up with abuse. As an exception to the general rule to be tolerant, there are occasions where we can admit that another’s actions have actually severed their bond to us. After agressions are repeated so often and after so many petitions to stop, the only choices left are to cut yourself off from the abuser (if escape is possible) or fight back (if escape is not possible). Though, as was the case with Daryl Davis, this doesn’t mean that we should stop extending the olive branch. The behaviors of those who we perceive to be hopeless are often just symptoms of deeper problems that can be healed with our patience and love. The problem is that most of us jump straight to the exception (of separation) rather than living the rule (of tolerance).

The Beggar & The Three Travelers: Adding To The Golden & Platinum Rules

Beggar WaterThere’s an ancient proverb about The Beggar and The Three Travelers. It’s a hot, dry day. A man is begging in the streets of a city. Another man, dressed in a yellow robe, is traveling through and sees the beggar. Before the beggar could ask for anything, the man gives him the last of his favorite nuts and then continues on his way. A while later, a second traveler dressed in a gray robe sees the beggar and asks what he wants. The beggar says that above all, he would like some wine to help him cool down from the day’s heat. The traveler obliges, gives him wine and continues on his way. A third traveler, dressed in a white robe, assesses the needs of the man, gives him a drink of water and helps him find a continual source of water before continuing on his way. The beggar was allergic to nuts and would have died if he had eaten them. He was also dying of dehydration and the alcohol would have sped up his demise. What he truly needed wasn’t what another person wanted for him nor was it what he wanted for himself. He simply needed water. 

This proverb isn’t ancient. I just made it up. But it illustrates a timeless principle – the need to rise above the limited perspectives of desires when serving others and instead look at needs. The story depicts three ways which we can treat others:

  • The Golden Rule: I will treat others the way I want to be treated.
  • The Platinum Rule: I will treat others the way they want to be treated.
  • The Celestial Rule: I will treat others the way they ought to be treated.

The Golden Rule is commendable. My one year old son recently offered me a soggy animal cracker that he was sucking on with an innocent “It’s good, you’ll like it” expression on his face. His intentions were good. He wanted to share his joy with me. I admit – when I give gifts – I do the same thing. I often give others what I want them to have rather than what they want. I wonder how often they perceive my offerings with the same humored disgust that I felt with the soggy animal cracker. There’s a better way to give.

Living the Platinum Rule means that we escape our own self-centered perspective and see the thoughts, emotions and desires of others from their perspective. Once we do this, we are better equipped to empathize and provide others with what they want. When it comes to harmless offerings, the Platinum Rule is the way to go. But it definitely has its shortfalls. When what a person wants for themselves is unhealthy – physically, emotionally or spiritually – then we should not be giving that person that thing. There’s an even better way to give in these cases.

The Celestial Rule means that we perceive others through the lens of the higher law. The higher law requires that we treat others the way that they ought to be treated within the bounds of tactful, loving kindness. For example, when someone is going through a difficult time, some people will express their sympathies in ways that make it about themselves rather than the person going through the difficult problem (Golden Rule). Others will act as enablers and give the person attention in a way the person wants but this is unhealthy when it feeds negative energy and grants permission to the person to see their problems through the lens of victimhood or helplessness. This is an example of how the Platinum Rule falls short. The Celestial Rule helps us to see the struggling person through the lens of love and the circumstances surrounding their struggles through the lens of truth. When that happens we can, like Christ, empathize with their pain and provide empowering guidance for healing – all in a spirit of love.

Victim vs Victor Mentality

muhammad ali knocked down

In an attempt to help individuals solve their own problems and be happier, good friends, parents and psychologists will try to help those who blame their problems and suffering on external factors (aka external locus of control) strive to take responsibility and control of what they can within their own lives (aka internal locus of control). Victim mentality, a form of external locus of control, has permeated much of our culture. It’s fruits are sour. They include dependency, helplessness, unfulfilled potential, regret, anger and unhappiness. This innately human problem is progressively becoming worse through its broader acceptance in the forms of party blaming, parent scapegoating, identity politics and an obsession with an equal-outcome form of equality.

Even though victim mentality can be identified all throughout the history of mankind, the appeal of not taking responsibility of one’s own life and placing blame on others is at the philosophical core of marxism and its various flavors (including national socialism). As the psychologist Jordan Peterson concisely put it – “Leftist politics always depends on identifying a victim and an evil oppressor who is responsible for that victim’s suffering.” It’s no wonder that nations who embrace this attitude deteriorate into helpless, angry, intolerant, bitter doles who see violence as justified means for their envious ends. If the only lense by which you see the world is through the lense of a constant victim/oppressor struggle then you’ll amplify the miniscule, make up the non-existent or you’ll miss out on some important perspectives and opportunities. Regardless, victim mentality has no place amongst anyone wishing to live after the manner of happiness.

As extremely imperfect people living in a fallen world, we are desperately in need of help. God’s grace, available through His atonement, provides the greatest hope for redemption from life’s suffering, if we do our part. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only. Victim mentality is a barrier to God’s grace.

The Book of Mormon contains a history of the Nephites and Lamanites, the descendents of an Israelite family who left Jerusalem to settle the American continent around 600 BC. The Nephites, decedents of Nephi, are constantly driven and harassed by his brothers’ posterity – the Lamanites (descendants of Laman & Lemuel). These Lamanites perpetuated the damning traditions of their fathers by:

“Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea…And again, they were wroth with [Nephi] when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him. And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.” (Mosiah 10:12-16)

Contrast this Lamanite victim mentality to Nephi. He never aggressed against his brothers, never acted violently against them, quickly forgave them when they repeatedly made fun of him, complained against him, tied him up and beat him almost to death. When God had a task for them, Nephi’s response was affirmative. Even after multiple failed attempts to accomplish tasks, he still had faith and pushed forward. Even though Laman and Lemuel experienced miracles, they would find ways to perceive their condition through the lens of victimhood. As was often the case with the Lamanites, victim mentality leads people to be idle and justify their idleness due to the perceived injustice of others.

Scapegoating and mercy are incompatible. Those who hold the olive branch aren’t quick to blame their plight on others. Those who prefer the sword (justice) over the olive branch are prone to see their condition as a result of some injustice. Not coincidentally, it was the Nephites mental shift from the olive branch to the sword that resulted in their destruction. Victim mentality in individuals does the same thing.

Another great depiction of victim mentality can be found in the 2006 movie, Rocky Balboa. After Rocky’s son finished complaining to him about how hard his life was and blaming others for his problems, Rocky responded with a sharp, yet empowering mental course correction:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

Holocaust survivor, author and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl experienced and witnessed some of the most tragic suffering that mankind has ever seen. After years of persecution, imprisonment, forced labor, starvation, infectious disease, forced family separation and murder – millions of people were vanquished – his parents, his brother and his wife being among them. Frankl was one of the few prisoners to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. In his classic book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he contrasted the opposing perspectives of the prisoners who kept purpose in their lives and those who were hopeless victims of their conditions. The factor that made the difference, as Rocky articulated, is determined by choice: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” In Steven Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, he reiterated the same point – “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

The first truth of Buddhism, that Life is Suffering, is an inevitable fact of life. From the moment we are born to the moment we die – pain, loss, injustice and all manner of hardships will cause us to experience suffering. The manner in which we perceive and choose to respond to suffering determines whether we have, what some term – victim mentality or victor mentality.

  • After failure, victims say “It’s not my fault.” Victors say “I’ll do better next time.”
  • When victims find themselves in a dire situation, they expect others to save them from hardship, regardless of whether they have exerted any effort to help themselves first. Victors exhaust all of their conceivable options before petitioning for help but they don’t feel entitled to it.
  • Victims are obsessed with fairness and believe that if someone has more than they do then it’s at their expense. Victors don’t compare their circumstances with others.
  • Victims envy the success and well being of others. Victors are genuinely happy for the success and well being of others, even for those who aren’t popular.
  • Victims don’t recognize their blessings. Victors gratefully count their blessings.
  • Victims covet. Victors are content.
  • Victims dwell excessively on the source of their pain. Victors attempt to overcome their hardship by focusing on a better future.
  • Victims keep picking at their emotional scabs. Victors seek healing.
  • The difference between a reason and an excuse is attitude. Victims give excuses. Rather than try to accomplish something hard, their initial reaction is to look for ways to get out of doing them. Victors prioritize their goals and will look for ways to accomplish the most essential ones.
  • When someone else is experiencing hardship, victims act as enablers and convince them that they are a victim from external factors. Victors help that person to internally overcome their problems.
  • Victims don’t recognize their mistakes. Victors seek to recognize their mistakes and fix them.
  • When victims experience loss, they dwell on it. Victors move forward to the future.
  • When victims receive correction they get angry and try justifying why they’re not in the wrong. Victors respond to correction with gratitude. They are able to dispassionately filter out destructive criticism and take to heart constructive criticism.
  • Victims complain about the hard things they’re asked to do. Victors say, “I will go and do.” (1 Ne 3:7)
  • Victims are acted upon. Victors act. (2 Nephi 2:14)
  • Victims take no responsibility for their lives. Victors are agents unto themselves, are anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will. (D&C 58:26-29)
  • Victims allow their emotions to rule them. Victors attempt to rule their emotions.
  • Victims sound the alarm about their hardships. Victors only raise their hardships in an attempt to overcome them or when helping others learn how to overcome theirs.
  • Victims “keep score” in relationships by comparing their contributions to others’. Victors expect little from others.
  • Victims constantly believe others owe them something. Victors recognize themselves as an essential source of their own success.
  • Victims confuse permissive enablement for loving empathy. Victors love the sinner but hate the sin.
  • Victims wait. Victors do.
  • Victims damn their own progress. Victors seek to be better.
  • Victims perpetuate misery in themselves and others. Victors spread hope and light.

Recognizing the difference between victim and victor mentality is not an excuse to ignore the source of one’s suffering. People have experienced true injustices. People are experiencing internal struggles we’ll never comprehend. It’s important to acknowledge the weight and cause of people’s suffering. When appropriate boundaries can be established, they should be sought for. Along the same lines, shame and guilt shouldn’t be attached to grief. We all suffer. Being harsh on ourselves or others who are experiencing pain stifles healing. As is often the case, healing requires time and time requires patience and understanding. Recognizing this is important else we are tempted to bury our problems or kick others while they’re down. The important choice to make is at the crossroads of suffering. Accepting that healing requires time isn’t an excuse to wallow in self-pity. Rather, we ought to choose to move forward with an olive branch extended outward and its healing effects applied inward. The choice is ours.

After berrading his son for seeing himself as a victim, Rocky expressed the reason for his reproach which can serve as an additional example for how we can help ourselves and others overcome life’s crosses – “I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens… But until you start believin in yourself, you ain’t gonna have a life.” 

 

Victim

Victor

Spiteful Loving
Judging Uncritical / Tolerant
Complaining Grateful
Dependent Responsible
Blaming Accountable
Entitled Self Reliant
Comparing Content
Helpless Self Empowered
Idle / Unproductive Active / Engaged
Constrained Free
Bitter / Resentful Forgiving
Quits Endures
Fearful Courageous
Scarcity Mentality Abundant Mentality
Enable Empower

 

The Endurance, Shackleton & Finding Strength In Tribulation

the-enduranceThe Word

My favorite mission companion, Elder Ieremia, was a soft-spoken, faithful and courageous polynesian from Oahu. We served together in a rough part of the Washington DC area known for it’s high crime and drug rates. One day, Elder Ieremia and I were walking passed a group of about seven or eight young men who were getting high on the stairs of a building’s entrance. The alpha male, sitting in the middle of them, offered up his hand and said “You two want something that’ll make you feel real good?” To this my companion responded, “Na, we’ve got something better.” The young man jumped to his feet – “What ya’ll got?!?!” Without skipping a beat Elder Ieremia held up his scriptures and exclaimed emphatically – “The word!”  I’ve never witnessed such a righteous roast. The guys’ friends all roared “Ohhhhhhhhhh…!!!” while covering their mouths and pointing their fingers at him. I’ll never forget the shocked look on this poor kid’s face; that he just got burned by a “Jesus Boy”.

The Savior taught:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

How often do we seek relief from life’s trials through the temporary, silly or harmful means of the world? Contrast those occasions to how often we seek relief through the lasting and healing means of the Word. Man’s solutions to hardship include escape and dulling life’s pains through artificial means. God’s solution to our hardship is to come to Him and let Him carry our load. Hardship is a necessary part of life. We can’t learn or grow without it. But just because hardship is necessary that doesn’t mean that life has to be hard.

The word “comfort” is derived from Latin and means to support, console and strengthen. Seeking comfort, or strength, isn’t passive. It doesn’t mean removing or dulling our pain like a sort of emotional anesthetic. It requires action, movement, progress, patience, faith and endurance.

The Endurance

One of my favorite stories about finding strength in difficult times is about the Antarctic voyage of the Endurance. The year was 1914. Ernest Shackleton was an explorer who wanted to lead a British expedition across the Antarctic continent – a feat which had never been done before. To advertise help for this mission he allegedly placed an ad in the newspaper which read:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Over 5000 people responded to this ad. He and 27 others along with 69 dogs embarked on the adventure aboard a ship appropriated named The Endurance. Before they could reach the shore of Antarctica they got stuck in the ice pack of the Weddell Sea. For months they tried to free themselves from the ice but eventually the ship was crushed and sank. They were stranded on a large, flat sheet of ice (aka floe) and slowly drifted further from land.

After several failed attempts to reach land on foot they set up a long-term camp to wait for the ice to melt so that they could reach land by several rafts they salvaged from The Endurance before it sank. Over this period of time – boredom, hunger, homesickness and cold challenged them daily. Food became so scarce that eventually they had to turn to penguins, seals and their own dogs for survival. Rations grew smaller and smaller to the point that bone broth became a delicacy.

Finally, months later, when the ice pack began to melt and the floe their camp was on was too small to fit on, they put their rafts in the water and attempted to row towards the closest island. The flows were breaking up but with the movement of the sea, the floes would constantly collide with each other which created constant danger for them and their little rafts. For days they tried rowing their way through the crushing ice. They’d constantly have to bale water out of the rafts to keep them from sinking. Once they found a floe big enough for them to fit they’d pile on top to rest but the floes were breaking so fast that they couldn’t stay on them long enough to rest before they had to get back in the water.

After finally escaping the crushing ice, they set sail for Elephant Island. Never before had man placed foot on this pile of ice and pebbles. Here the team set up another long-term camp as Shackleton and a few others embarked on what they saw as their best shot for reaching rescue. Their aim was a whaling station island called South Georgia. Fierce winds and waves, strong currents, some amazing navigational skills and 800 miles later, they finally reached the island.

They barely made it ashore but they landed on the opposite side of the island and their raft was in no condition to take them any further. Shackleton and two of the crew had to make it on foot to the other side of the island to reach rescue. It was unexplored, mountainous, rocky and icy terrain. They drove nails from the raft through their shoes so that they could climb the ice. They were in a race for time, not only because of their starving and exposed companions who were depending on them but also because they didn’t have the means to stay warm when the temperature dropped at night. As their march progressed they would climb cliffs only to find out that their was no way down on the other side and so they’d have to climb back down and find another way. Finally, after one of these failed attempts on a high mountain Shackleton pointed out that, due to the dropping temperature, going back down where they came from wasn’t an option so the only option they had was to slide down the mountain and hope that there weren’t any cliffs or sharp rocks at the bottom. After miraculously surviving the slide down, they soon found the station.

The station foreman received a knock at the door. When he opened it he saw three men with long hair, long beards, ragged clothes and filthy faces. When he realized who they were his tears wouldn’t let him speak. Several years had passed since the voyage began. Everyone assumed they were dead.

Our hardships have differing sources including our choices, others’ choices, accidents or natural causes. Regardless of the source, God will provide comfort and strength to endure and overcome those hardships if we will turn to him.

Shackleton discovered the support which God can provide during hardship when he later wrote:

“I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels “the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech” in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.”

Attempts to cross South Georgia have been repeated several times since Shackleton’s rescue mission. Each one with the benefits of planning, rest, better equipment and the means for food and warmth. Those who cross the island admit that it would have taken a miracle to survive the trek. I don’t want to spoil the whole story of the Endurance so I’ll stop here.

Gethsemane

While those on the Endurance expedition suffered greatly, there isn’t a greater example of suffering than what the Savior experienced in the garden of Gethsemane when he suffered for all of our pains and sins. So great was His pain that He bled from every pore. The Savior’s example in the garden teaches important truths about how we can find strength during our suffering:

“Jesus asks his disciples to stay awake with him. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed.” (Matthew 26:38, 40-45)

The Savior ended up asking his disciples several times to stay awake with him but they kept falling asleep. There are several key points I’d like to point out from this scripture:

  1. Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask for the help of others when he truly needed it. Are we afraid?
  2. How often is the Savior asking for our help but we are spiritually asleep?
  3. Jesus prayed.

 

When sore trials came upon you,

Did you think to pray?

When your soul was full of sorrow,

Balm of Gilead did you borrow

At the gates of day?

(Did You Think To Pray, Hymn 140)

Despite the failings of Christ’s disciples, strength was provided from the other side.

“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.” (Luke 22 – 43)

Note how the pains and hardships of the atonement weren’t removed by this heavenly help. Rather, Christ was strengthened; much like the people of Alma who, while in bondage, did not have their burdens removed right away but rather “the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease.” And this because they “poured out their hearts to him.”

When we find ourselves alone; in a dark, cold place spiritually or emotionally – when we turn to the Word. To God. When our voyage in life is directed heavenly homeward we will receive strength from the other side.

 

The Olive Branch Or The Sword?

great-sealTo commemorate its newly established nationhood, the continental congress adopted a coat of arms known today as the Great Seal. This emblem portrays a bald eagle holding arrows (symbolizing a readiness for war) with one talon and an olive branch (symbolizing peace) in the other. The eagle’s head points towards the olive branch, symbolizing the nation’s preference for peace. The significance of this allegory, while meaningful for a people, also carries an important application for individuals seeking to follow the Savior.

The Savior taught in word and deed the importance of holding the olive branch of love and mercy. During his sermon on the mount, Christ taught: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. This teaching came in rebuttal to the philosophy “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy”. It’s easy to hate our enemies and retaliate against those who have done us wrong when our predisposition is to react to wrongdoing with the proverbial sword. Mercy is a harder choice than justice.

“May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” Thomas S. Monson (Choices)

The parable of the King and the servant reiterates the importance of being merciful. The king, who was rightfully owed a return for a large sum of money, forgave (olive branch) the pleading servant’s debt. Once forgiven, the servant went and imprisoned (sword) one of his debtors when he was unable to pay back his small amount. The principle of receiving the level of judgement that we resort to in life is depicted in the tragic ending of the parable. The king discovers the servant’s lack of mercy and imposes that same level of judgement on him by casting him into prison.

When presented with the adulteress to be stoned; while in the act of being unjustly arrested; and even during his wrongful execution, Christ held the Olive branch by rescuing and defending the very sinners that we probably would have fought and condemned. While admonishing the early elders of the church to overcome the world, Christ taught: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men”. Christ, the eternal judge, whose right it is to fix and wave punishments, chose not to condemn but to liberate and heal. Conversely, we take it upon ourselves to vigilant around with our sword of “justice” by seeking to right the wrongs committed against us and remove the motes from other people’s eyes.

When presented with the heavy or seemingly insignificant scenarios of life, the question can be asked: are we holding an olive branch or a sword…

  • when someone is driving in a manner we disapprove of?
  • when someone close to us says or does something thoughtless or hurtful?
  • when a co-worker, roommate or associate lives by different rules than we do?
  • when we’re communicating a difference of opinion with someone else?
  • when someone else is communicating a difference of opinion with us?
  • when someone isn’t pulling their weight?
  • when someone broke their commitment?
  • when a neighbor is in need of help and we have other things we’d rather do?
  • when an ecclesiastic or secular leader doesn’t meet our expectations?
  • when someone is dressing in a manner that we don’t approve of?
  • when our prejudices seem to be vindicated?
  • when a child is being rambunctious?
  • when we find out our parents aren’t perfect?
  • when someone’s pride shows through?
  • when we see the poor as deserving of their condition?
  • when we covet what the rich have?
  • when we want the youth to experience the hardships that we’ve experienced?
  • when we see the worth of souls as greater within one boundary than another?
  • when someone holds a differing worldview than us?

Are any of these condoning adultery, aggression, dishonesty or any other form of wrongdoing? Of course not. Being merciful towards people doesn’t mean that we reject God’s law in the process. Also, we can’t control the thoughts and actions of other people. All we can control are our own thoughts and actions. Preferring the olive branch over the sword will make our responses to life’s tests become easier to endure and will fill our souls with peace and love.