George Albert Smith: Loving Persuasion Over Force

Disclaimer: the following post contains the author’s opinion and may not necessarily reflect the complete views of George Albert Smith.

A year after being called to be an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and at the age of 34, George Albert Smith wrote his personal creed—11 values by which he wanted to live by.  The creed emphasized his desires for peaceful living, service, love of mankind, faith in God and using loving persuasion.  His creed is as follows:

“I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.

I would visit the sick and the afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed.

I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of all mankind.

I would seek out the erring and try to win him back to a righteous and a happy life.

I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.

I would live with the masses and help solve their problems that their earth life may be happy.

I would avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends.

I would not knowingly hurt the feelings of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend.

I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the success of all the children of my Heavenly Father.

I would not be an enemy to any living soul.

Knowing that the Redeemer of mankind has offered to the world the only plan that will fully develop us and make us really happy here and hereafter I feel it not only a duty but a blessed privilege to disseminate this truth.”

Many who knew George Albert Smith exclaimed that his creed was not just what he believed but the manner in which he lived. When one carefully reads each point they will realize Elder Smith’s understanding of truth and his attitude towards his relationship with God and fellow man far surpasses most of that age. It’s interesting to note that all of those values are selfless. Paradoxically, those few who live this creed (sometimes unaware) are the happiest, fearless, peaceful people on Earth even though they seek little for themselves.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:24)

The most notable goal Elder Smith brought up, as it pertains to liberty, was his desire to use persuasion rather than force: “I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.”  If parents, teachers, businesses and governments were to follow this simple principle authoritarians would turn to loving parents, disciplinarians to mentors, despots to developers, and tyrants to statesmen. Persuasion rather than force is also more likely to turn offspring to family, student to learner, staff to equals, and serfs to freemen.

While those who act in accordance with persuasion instead of force are guiltless of any wrong doing in that particular thing, there is no guarantee that those who are acted upon through loving persuasion will actually repent of their wrong doing. But, as it pertains practically, persuasion has a much higher success rate than force in the long-term. While force might yield temporary results it is the nature of the human spirit to resist force and thus force ultimately fails. On the other hand, when persuasion and truth are paired the results are everlasting. As it pertains morally, persuasion is the only just method of using power and influence that are positive in nature. Force is only justified when it is negative—as an act of defense of last resort.

Mark Skousen (author, professor and statesman) wrote a pamphlet titled Persuasion vs. Force in which he argued that persuasion is the morally justified use of power. President Hinckley received this pamphlet and replied in letter:

Dear Brother Skousen, I have read with appreciation your pamphlet, “Persuasion vs. Force.” Would that the world and its leaders might follow the philosophies set forth therein. As I read it I thought of the 121 Section of the Doctrine and Covenants verses 39–44. Keep speaking along these lines. It is a message that needs constant repetition.

Sincerely,

Gordon B. Hinckley

The moral use of power through persuasion also passes the Benson Test—that is that we can only delegate to government the powers which we have as individuals. If a person doesn’t have the moral authority to force their neighbor to live by their dietary code then they are not morally justified in delegating that authority to government. That is why legislating vices is wrong. A person would not be justified barging into their neighbor’s home, confiscating their mind altering substances, destroying their contraceptives, and taking their money to pay for someone else’s education and retirement. Yet, there are many who feel justified in imposing their moral codes under the banner of government, in the name of morality but in the reality of mob-rule. Though their intentions are usually pure—to rid the world of evil—they unintentionally perpetuate the very thing they aim to annihilate. How are their methods any more justified than the crusaders who wished to bring people to Christ? Whose plan was it to force all mankind to be righteous? Conversely, whose plan was it to allow man their agency and to use love and persuasion to win them back? (Moses 4:1-2)

Not only is it immoral to make laws forbidding vices, it doesn’t make practical sense either. Prohibition in the 1920’s and the war on drugs since the 1970’s serve as sufficient examples of why punishing vices through force is expensive, impractical, and unsustainable.

There are a myriad of reasons why people support liberty or freedom of choice. Some are good and some are bad. George Albert Smith taught many important lessons in his creed. One of them being that loving persuasion ought to be used instead of force (D&C 121:39-42). Freedom is an empty vessel. With what freedom we have we should fill it with good things. The more freedom- the greater our capacity to do good. The more good we do- the fuller our joy.

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.
He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.
(Know This, That Every Soul Is Free)

Two-Dimensional Thinking

It would serve us well as a society and individuals if we quit seeing the world two-dimensionally.  “There are two sides to every coin”, “Both sides of the political spectrum”, “Both sides of the isle”, are common terms used in an attempt to more easily understand issues or categorize people.  This pattern of thinking, though, severely limits other, often more viable options from being considered in the first place.

For example, take the scam known as the “political spectrum”.  Whether by design or accident we, as a society, have accepted the false notion that there are only two options available to us politically—either you’re a conservative on the right, or a liberal on the left.  If you are a conservative you are a republican.  If you are a liberal you are a democrat.  Deductively a two-dimensionalist would reason that if a person is not a democrat than they are automatically a republican and vise-versa.  Partisans who assume they know what others think based off of this mis-applied reasoning often find themselves puzzled or embarrassed when they discover that the labels they attempted to stick on people don’t always stick.  The reason for this is because, like individuals, possibilities and choices are unique.  When people follow a left to right scale that places big-government fascists and zero-government anarchists next to each other on the far right it is obvious why there is so much confusion and narrow-mindedness.

The monopolistic stranglehold that both major political parties have in the United States contributes to this inconsistent narrow way of thinking.  Perhaps this is why more and more people are considering themselves independents instead of affiliating themselves with one of the major political parties.  Or perhaps people are becoming disfranchised by partisan politicians saying one thing and almost always doing another.  Either way people are beginning to wake up to the failures of the American one-philosophy/two-party system.  Perhaps one day soon, if this trend continues, other parties and independents will receive mainstream attention and credibility.  In reality, a political system which truly reflected the will of the people would have more than just two “viable” options.

Us-vs-Them-syndrome is common amongst sports fans.  People grow up with “their team” not ever questioning why their team is so special or why the rivalry is the enemy. Team dynamics may shift.  Strategies may evolve. Players may change.  None of these seem to sway the loyalty of the sports fanatic though.  While this mostly harmless attitude exists amongst most sports fans this same attitude is detrimental when applied to the field of politics.  When people unquestioningly align themselves with an ever-changing philosophy/group they fall victims to groupthink and are tossed to and fro by the whims of the collective body or controlling bureaucracy.  Political fanatics care more about beating the rivalry than about winning what matters most—moral victories.  Partisan rivalship distracts participants from alternative solutions and perpetuates narrow-mindedness.  Even more common than partisan opposition is when both major political parties adopt the same horrible policy (ie- an aggressive foreign policy) or completely ignore a crucial policy.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught this applicable principle for the best way to prioritize our decision-making:

“As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best.” (Good Better Best)

While most choices made by the party-spirited don’t deserve the label of being “good” the principle still applies that there are better and even best choices to consider above what is “good”.  The idea that there is a best option coincides with the only true two-dimensional reality—that is that there is right and wrong, good and evil.  Considering alternative solutions is not moral relativism.  It’s acknowledging that there are more than two possibilities to a given scenario—especially when those two choices are bad.

Alternative solutions, thinking outside the box, or questioning the status-quo earns people labels such as being extreme or irrational but there are more than two possible solutions to the issues which face society—many of these solutions are better than what is being considered.  Only those who monopolize one of the top two mainstream ideas would have you believe otherwise.  Let us give alternative choices a chance by removing two-dimensionalism from our vernacular and thinking.

Ambition: Virtue or Vice?

Before this world was there was a war between opposing ideologies.  One person presented his own plan of salvation before God—“Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.”  Another Person testified in word and deed—“Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.”  The first person, Satan, referred to himself six times to this ambitious endeavor to save all mankind while the second, Christ, didn’t mention Himself once, but rather glorified His Father. (Moses 4:1-2)

Ambition has permeated much of our society.  Striving for one’s own power, status or wealth are often seen as worthy and virtuous endeavors by the world.  Letting these goals go unchecked, though, can destroy a person’s life along with many around them.  In D&C 121 we learn that “many are called but few are chosen”.  The first reason listed for this catastrophe is because “their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men (v. 35).”  Two verses later ambition is mentioned again, “when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man (v. 37).”

Vanity, that nasty ingredient, when added to ambition produces a recipe for spiritual disaster.  Ambition and her close cousin vanity become tantamount when one’s motives are strictly selfish.  Charity seeketh not her own (1 Cor 13:5) but ambition does.  Ambition and charity are both verbs yet one points a person inward and often fails them.  The other points a person upward and it never faileth (1 Cor 13:8).

When ambition ceases to be about our own work and glory but is replaced with an eye single to God’s glory we are endowed with greater power, honor or wealth than the world could ever provide.  Though flesh and Babylon disguise ambition as an investment, its dividends are temporary and shallow.  Charity, on the other hand, pays dividends for eternity.

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:45-46)

Respect: Ethical & Cultural

Respect is an ambiguous word.  The various ways people interpret, give and expect respect all contribute to an environment of harmony, chaos, and everything in between.  Understanding and properly applying the differences between ethical and cultural respect should help people achieve greater peace and harmony.

Ethical Respect—Ethics can be defined as a system of values which are deemed good and right by humankind.  Killing, stealing and lying to others are extreme examples of unethical disrespect.  Being kind, courteous and truthful to others are examples of ethical respect.  Almost all people rightfully believe in treating others ethically and in expecting such in return.

Cultural Respect—Culture affects everyone.  Every day people interact with others who are, to some degree, culturally different.  The qualities, traditions and manners which are valued by each person can clash though.

  • The sarcasm of an American can disturb and hurt someone who doesn’t understand their humor
  • A lady might be offended if her date doesn’t open her doors for her
  • An Asian could be bothered by someone who walks around in their home with their shoes on
  • A religious member might be offended by the casual dress worn by another at church
  • Certain four-letter words might offend someone who isn’t accustomed to that culture’s language

There are two points of view to analyze when dealing with each of these scenarios; first is the perspective of the offended; the second is the perspective of the offender.

The offended, in this context, is someone who feels they are being disrespected solely due to an infringement of their own cultural expectation.  This is cultural entitlement mentality.  Is it just for a person to expect people from different cultures to conform to their own cultural preferences?  No.  Are they right by thinking they are a victim of disrespect just because someone thinks, speaks or acts differently than they’d prefer on a cultural level?  No.

The offender, on the other hand, is the person that, either knowingly or through ignorance, has infringed on someone’s cultural expectation.  If someone knowingly and unregretfully infringes on someone’s cultural expectation they have great cause to repent.  It is each person’s duty to learn or be aware of other people’s cultural expectations and reasonably abide by them.  By thus applying the golden rule- offense is minimized and peace/harmony abound.  The saying, “Give 100%, expect 0% and you’ll never be disappointed” is a fair and applicable promise when it comes to how someone treats others culturally.

Introspectively, should cultural respect be given?  Yes, within reason.  But should it be expected from others?  No.  On the other hand should ethical respect be given?  Yes, always.  Should it be expected from others?  Also yes.

Ethical Respect Cultural Respect
Given? Yes *Yes
Expected? Yes No

*Cultural respect should be given within reason  (For example, you might not compromise on your dietary code just to please someone else)

All too often a person feels they are entitled to what they call respect but they confuse the cultural for the ethical.  Understanding the distinction between culture and ethics is crucial when determining how one gives and expects respect in a just and honest way.

Voting: For LDS Dummies- The People’s Standard vs. The Lord’s

Qualifiers vs. Disqualifiers—There are many reasons people attempt to qualify or disqualify a candidate.  Many of those reasons are irrelevant and sometimes harmful, especially when compared to the standard the Lord set (D&C 98:5-11).  Some people might believe a candidate is qualified for office based on their political party while others might disqualify a person based their inability to speak eloquently.  Below is a list of reasons people (left column) and the Lord (right column) qualify or disqualify candidates.  Obviously we want to move away from the ridiculous and irrelevant reasons people (dis)qualify candidates and adopt the Lord’s reasons.

1 Sam 16:7 D&C 98:10
…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.
Reasons People Qualify or Disqualify Candidates: Reasons The Lord Qualifies or Disqualifies Candidates:
Personality Good
Rhetoric Honest
Eloquence Wise
Party Affiliation (whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil)
Gender
Age
Religion
Race
Occupation
Promises
Popularity
Appearance
Tradition
Endorsements

Good—Often we’ll learn of a candidate who is polite, outgoing or fun and we automatically like their personality.  We should be careful not to confuse our impression for their personality with their character though.  A person can have a “nice” personality but not have good character.  A person’s character is who the person truly is.  Finding out a person’s character requires more than a passive awareness of their outward words and actions.  It requires attention and focus to their inner core values.  It requires righteous judgment and the gift of discernment to learn a person’s character. Upright character is a necessary attribute in candidates we elect.  A person’s personality is irrelevant.  Also, just because a person shares the same religion as you doesn’t automatically make them good.

“Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn.” (D&C 98:9)

Honest—Sometimes it’s not easy to tell when a candidate is being honest and a lot of times people will cast their support for someone in hopes that they stay true to what they’ve promised.  All too often, especially in politics, people are let down.  The difficult question is how to determine when a candidate is telling the truth.  First of all, when a candidate continually repeats the same campaign rhetoric (language used to please and persuade) but has a weak history of being loyal to those espoused principles, they probably aren’t being honest.  Most candidates will have a record—political or otherwise.  It is the people’s duty to learn that record when determining if a candidate is an honest one.  The more consistent a candidate’s record is the more honest they have been.  Beware!  When a candidate changes the tone of their message based on who the majority of their audience is, this is a sign of dishonesty.

Wise—How each individual determines how wise a candidate is will depend on that individual’s personal values.  Latter-Day-Saints believe that morality and truth are not relative but are sure and lasting based on eternal law.  As they choose secular representatives they should choose those who represent them based on their ability to judge what is right and act accordingly.

People should take into account the context of D&C 98:10 when determining whether the candidate in question is truly wise.  In D&C 98:5-8 the Lord reveals to Joseph Smith:

“And that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me. Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land; And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil. I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.”

A wise candidate is one who strictly adheres to the Constitution and supports principles of freedom.

Forsake Evil, Cleave Unto Good— When referring to the law of man the Lord said “whatsoever is more or less than this (the United States Constitution), cometh of evil”.  It’s clear that any deviation from the Constitution is against the Lord’s will.  When referring to whom we should seek for secular office the Lord stated, “whatsoever is less than these (a good, honest and wise representative) cometh of evil.”  It’s clear that seeking, advocating or voting for anyone who isn’t good, honest and wise is against the Lord’s will.  He calls both of these deviations evil after which he commands:

“And I give unto you a commandment, that ye shall forsake all evil and cleave unto all good, that ye shall live by every word which proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God.” (D&C 98:11)

“Lesser of Evils”—Despite the clear and direct counsel to only seek out good, honest and wise candidates for office most latter-day-saints continue to participate in the electing of blatantly bad candidates. Mostly out of an urge to beat the worst candidate your typical voter will only see two options as viable (D & R) and choose the lesser of their perceived evils.  Supporting evil is still evil.  Even when fear clouds our judgment and tempts us to think that “the greater evil has a good chance of winning” this still isn’t adequate justification to deviate from the Lord’s instructions.   Hyrum Smith agreed:

“We engage in the election the same as in any other principle; you are to vote for good men, and if you do not do this it is a sin; to vote for wicked men, it would be sin. Choose the good and refuse the evil. Men of false principles have preyed upon us like wolves upon helpless lambs.…. Let every man use his liberties according to the Constitution. Don’t fear man or devil; electioneer with all people, male and female, and exhort them to do the thing that is right. We want a President of the United States, not a party President, but a President of the whole people…and…. Have a President who will maintain every man in his rights .” –Hyrum Smith (1844, DHC-6:323)

Principle vs. Practical—All too often we allow what’s practical in our minds to supersede what is right.  We justify disobedience because we get short sighted and we convince ourselves that pragmatism is more expedient than righteousness.  We fall victims to the lie that if we don’t choose a major candidate than we are throwing our vote away.  We forget that our support for evil is perpetuating a system which will only continue to produce more evil as long as we feed it with such votes.  We seldom realize that every raindrop is responsible for the flood and that we must each individually take stand for what is right before we can collectively make a positive difference.

“We must be devoted to sound principles in word and deed: principle above party, principle above pocketbook, principle above popularity.” -Ezra Taft Benson (God, Family, Country)