Family and Friends,
¡Feliz Navidad! I had a wonderful Christmas here in Ecuador with my buddy Elder Magill and it was lovely to talk with my family through Skype. I have pictures and experiences to share with you all from what happened this week of Christmas but I will be sending those pictures and sharing those experiences next week because I feel strongly impressed that I need to share some thoughts, feelings, understandings, revelations, and conclusions that have been weighing on my mind for quite some time now. It is something that has truly changed my life and now that we will be starting a new year soon I want to share this with you all and invite you all to study it, ponder it, and apply it into your lives.
One of the greatest struggles and weaknesses of my life has been my inability to be a peacemaker. This is a great challenge for many of us but based on this past month I can testify that living as an active and skilled peacemaker truly is a happier, healthier, and more meaningful way to live as a child of God (Matthew5:10). And I am here to say and promise that no matter how difficult it may appear, avoiding contention and achieving lasting peace at all times truly is possible.
As with all sins and weaknesses, pride is at the root of contention. I’ve observed that pride shows its ugly face and destroys peace in three principal obstacles: getting angry, arguing, and getting offended. There is a solution to each one of these obstacles and I would like to analyze how to overcome anger, arguments, and offense to be a peacemaker. While teaching these principles I will use multiple sections from several excellent conference talks and I will also quote advice given to me by two very wise friends. These talks and these bits of advice have greatly impacted my life and I invite everyone to not just read the sections of the talks that I will share but to look them up, print them out, study them, and apply them. I also recommend getting to know these two wise friends of mine who have greatly blessed my life and are outstanding examples of being a disciple of Christ and a true peacemaker.
President Monson gives wonderful counsel on the first obstacle to peace, anger.
Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything…
Many years ago, a young couple called my office and asked if they could come in for counseling. They indicated they had suffered a tragedy in their lives and that their marriage was in serious jeopardy. An appointment was arranged.
The tension between this husband and wife was apparent as they entered my office. Their story unfolded slowly at first as the husband spoke haltingly and the wife cried quietly and participated very little in the conversation.
The young man had returned from serving a mission and was accepted to a prestigious university in the eastern part of the United States. It was there, in a university ward, that he had met his future wife. She was also a student at the university. After a year of dating, they journeyed to Utah and were married in the Salt Lake Temple, returning east shortly afterward to finish their schooling.
By the time they graduated and returned to their home state, they were expecting their first child and the husband had employment in his chosen field. The wife gave birth to a baby boy. Life was good.
When their son was about 18 months old, they decided to take a short vacation to visit family members who lived a few hundred miles away. This was at a time when car seats for children and seat belts for adults were scarcely heard of, let alone used. The three members of the family all rode in the front seat with the toddler in the middle. Sometime during the trip, the husband and wife had a disagreement. After all these years, I cannot recall what caused it. But I do remember that their argument escalated and became so heated that they were eventually yelling at one another. Understandably, this caused their young son to begin crying, which the husband said only added to his anger. Losing total control of his temper, he picked up a toy the child had dropped on the seat and flung it in the direction of his wife.
He missed hitting his wife. Instead, the toy struck their son, with the result that he was brain damaged and would be handicapped for the rest of his life.
This was one of the most tragic situations I had ever encountered. I counseled and encouraged them. We talked of commitment and responsibility, of acceptance and forgiveness. We spoke of the affection and respect which needed to return to their family. We read words of comfort from the scriptures. We prayed together. Though I have not heard from them since that day so long ago, they were smiling through their tears as they left my office. All these years I’ve hoped they made the decision to remain together, comforted and blessed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I think of them whenever I read the words: “Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything…
I ask, is it possible to feel the Spirit of our Heavenly Father when we are angry? I know of no instance where such would be the case.
From 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, we read:
“There shall be no disputations among you. …
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.“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)
To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible. (Thomas S. Monson, School thy Feelings oh My Brother, Oct. 2009)
Do we really understand what our Prophet is teaching us here? When we choose to become angry, get mad, be upset and bring in a spirit of contention we are choosing to invite the spirit of the devil and we lose right away the Spirit of God. Anytime that I have gotten angry or am in the presence of someone who gets angry I can feel right away (Bam!) the Holy Ghost leaves the room. He is sickened by anger. It hurts Him and He can’t stand to see us like that so He won’t come back to accompany us until we decide to control ourselves again.
It is important to destroy many of the myths and false ways of thinking that we sometimes have or share. Many of us (myself included just two months ago) think that it is okay to get angry sometimes and do something foolish or something hurtful and then calm ourselves down say sorry and make things right. But that is not true. It is a lie that the adversary uses to make many good people feel justified in getting angry from time to time. When we get angry we lose the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost is our best friend and guide and comforter. We should do everything in our power to never offend Him and lose His company. It is just as ¨okay¨ to get angry as it is to steal, have an impure thought, lie, or break the Word of Wisdom. All of these things cause us to lose the Spirit immediately, offend God, and are not okay. Perhaps getting angry can be considered something natural but as we know we are all here on earth to put off the natural man through the Holy Ghost (Mosiah 3:19). Thus choosing to become angry is counterproductive, wrong, and not acceptable.
President Monson continues.
My brethren, we are all susceptible to those feelings which, if left unchecked, can lead to anger. We experience displeasure or irritation or antagonism, and if we so choose, we lose our temper and become angry with others. Ironically, those others are often members of our own families—the people we really love the most…
May we make a conscious decision, each time such a decision must be made, to refrain from anger and to leave unsaid the harsh and hurtful things we may be tempted to say.
I love the words of the hymn written by Elder Charles W. Penrose, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve and in the First Presidency during the early years of the 20th century:
School thy feelings, O my brother (Thomas S. Monson, School thy Feelings, Oh My Brother, Oct. 2009)
Just two short years before this talk by President Monson, President Hinckley also gave a fabulous talk on how to avoid anger. Obviously it is an important issue for the Lord and we need to learn from His Prophets. President Hinckley teaches.
A proverb in the Old Testament states: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
It is when we become angry that we get into trouble. The road rage that affects our highways is a hateful expression of anger. I dare say that most of the inmates of our prisons are there because they did something when they were angry. In their wrath they swore, they lost control of themselves, and terrible things followed, even murder. There were moments of offense followed by years of regret…
Divorce too often is the bitter fruit of anger. A man and a woman fall in love, as they say; each is wonderful in the sight of the other; they feel romantic affection for no one else; they stretch their finances to buy a diamond ring; they marry. All is bliss—that is, for a season. Then little inconsequential activities lead to criticism. Little flaws are magnified into great torrents of faultfinding; they fall apart, they separate, and then with rancor and bitterness they divorce.
It is the cycle which is repeated again and again in thousands of cases. It is tragic, and, as I have said, it is in most cases the bitter fruit of anger.
I think of my own marriage. My eternal companion passed away three and a half years ago. But we lived together for 67 years. I have no recollection of ever having a quarrel with her. She traveled with me and spoke on every continent, pleading for the exercise of restraint, kindness, and love…
So many of us make a great fuss of matters of small consequence. We are so easily offended. Happy is the man who can brush aside the offending remarks of another and go on his way…
The story is told that reporters were interviewing a man on his birthday. He had reached an advanced age. They asked him how he had done it.
He replied, “When my wife and I were married we determined that if we ever got in a quarrel one of us would leave the house. I attribute my longevity to the fact that I have breathed good fresh air throughout my married life.”
Anger may be justified in some circumstances. The scriptures tell us that Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple, saying, “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13).
But even this was spoken more as a rebuke than as an outburst of uncontrolled anger. [It is okay to give strong and firm correction when needed but it must be in a controlled, orderly, and loving manner and done not with the purpose of making ourselves feel better or simply to burn off stress but with the motivation and intent of really helping that person because we love them and want them to improve. D&C 121:43-44]
Now, my dear brethren, in closing I plead with you to control your tempers, to put a smile upon your faces, which will erase anger; speak out with words of love and peace, appreciation, and respect. If you will do this, your lives will be without regret. Your marriages and family relationships will be preserved. You will be much happier. You will do greater good. You will feel a sense of peace that will be wonderful.
May the Lord bless you and inspire you to walk without anger, without bitterness of any kind, but to reach out to others with expressions of friendship, appreciation, and love. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Slow to Anger, Oct. 2007)
I join my voice with that of the Prophets in likewise inviting all of you my dear family and friends to please make the choice to never become angry, control yourself, and be a peacemaker. It isn’t easy but if the desire to do so is strong enough it truly is possible. From personal experience I testify that the power of the Atonement can help you overcome anger if you truly desire it and do your part.
The second obstacle to peace is to argue and cause contention. Elder Nelson gives a great description of contention as the canker of the soul.
As we dread any disease that undermines the health of the body, so should we deplore contention, which is a corroding canker of the spirit. I appreciate the counsel of Abraham Lincoln, who said:
“Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. … Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him.” (Letter to J. M. Cutts, 26 Oct. 1863, in comp. and arr. Ralph B. Winn, New York: New York Philosophical Library, 1959, p. 107.)…
My concern is that contention is becoming accepted as a way of life. From what we see and hear in the media, the classroom, and the workplace, all are now infected to some degree with contention. How easy it is, yet how wrong it is, to allow habits of contention to pervade matters of spiritual significance, because contention is forbidden by divine decree:
“The Lord God hath commanded that men should not murder; that they should not lie; that they should not steal; that they should not take the name of the Lord their God in vain; that they should not envy; that they should not have malice; that they should not contend one with another.” (2 Ne. 26:32.) (Russel M. Nelson, The Canker of Contention, May 1989)
Once again, a man that we sustain as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator teaches us very clearly and in a way that cannot be misunderstood that arguing and causing contention are not okay. There are many who will say (and I used to believe) that it is normal to argue and yell and get mad from time to time. That its just part of life and that if you don’t do it then your just shoving important issues under the rug and being false and fake. There are many who think that it is healthy and necessary to take it out of the rug and ¨work it out¨ fighting, arguing, and causing contention. They rationalize saying that’s just how marriage, companionships, life, and things are. But I am quite happy to report that this way of thinking, fortunately, is not true.
Life doesn’t have to be that way. I am not saying that we are never going to have a different opinion than other people, or have conflicting interests, or be in a disagreement. But I am saying that we can control ourselves, compromise, agree to disagree, and have the self-discipline and willpower and personal commitment to NEVER (yes I am saying never) raise our voice, get angry, argue, or cause contention. Two months ago I would’ve thought that was impossible and if you are reading this and think that I’m being idealistic and unrealistic frankly I don’t blame you. But you’ve gotta trust me here that IT IS POSSIBLE. Believe it! Know it! Open your heart to the idea and put it to the test. I bear strong and personal testimony through my own experience that you can do it. I used to be an expert in causing contention and arguing for the littlest of things in any situation but through study, fast, prayer, help from my companion and many others, a strong desire to change, and applying the power of the Atonement in my life I have gone over a month without having any contention or anger. And I am fully confident that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life and I promise you all that if you make the changes necessary you can achieve it too. I motivate you to do so and promise great blessings!! Look these talks up, read them, and live them!
It is my sincere hope and prayer that through this letter I can inspire many of my loved ones to action, to repentance, and to the changes necessary to be peacemakers. How truly blissful and heavenly the world would be if we could all do so. Elder Nelson continues with a masterful teaching of how to supplant contention.
To begin, show compassionate concern for others. Control the tongue, the pen, and the word processor. Whenever tempted to dispute, remember this proverb: “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.” (Prov. 11:12; see also Prov. 17:28.)
Bridle the passion to speak or write contentiously for personal gain or glory. The Apostle Paul thus counseled the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philip. 2:3.)
Such high mutual regard would then let us respectfully disagree without being disagreeable.
But the ultimate step lies beyond beginning control of expression. Personal peace is reached when one, in humble submissiveness, truly loves God. Heed carefully this scripture:
“There was no contention in the land, the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Ne. 1:15; see also 4 Ne. 1:2; italics added.)
Thus, love of God should be our aim. It is the first commandment—the foundation of faith. As we develop love of God and Christ, love of family and neighbor will naturally follow. Then will we eagerly emulate Jesus. He healed. He comforted. He taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9; see also 3 Ne. 12:9.)
Through love of God, the pain caused by the fiery canker of contention will be extinguished from the soul. This healing begins with a personal vow: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” (“Let There Be Peace on Earth,” Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, © Jan-Lee Music, Beverly Hills, Calif., 1972.) This commitment will then spread to family and friends and will bring peace to neighborhoods and nations.
Shun contention. Seek godliness. Be enlightened by eternal truth. Be like-minded with the Lord in love and united with Him in faith. Then shall “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philip. 4:7), be yours, to bless you and your posterity through generations yet to come. (Russel M. Nelson, The Canker of Contention, May 1989).
Simple but solid advice to complement the masterful counsel of Elder Nelson is found in these wise words from my loving Uncle Kimball Hansen;
Arguments and contention are sometimes caused by an “I’M RIGHT and YOU’RE WRONG” situation or attitude.
I love the following quote: “It is better to DO right, than to BE right”
This means that even if you know that you are RIGHT (or think you are right) regarding any topic of discussion, life issue, method, problem, suggestion, action, habit, teaching style, etc., you just LET IT GO.
The skill of crushing someone with the RIGHT answer might be useful as an Attorney…but it can make people dislike you when handling day-to-day situations and things that just don’t matter. WALK AWAY and avoid an argument rather than try to PROVE a point…and lose a friend, tick-off your companero, or your future wife.
DOING RIGHT sometimes requires you to back-off and let someone else make mistakes and/or be Wrong about something…when BEING RIGHT and proving a point might ruin a relationship or create contention. There is no joy in being able to say “I SURE SHOWED HIM”…when he now hates you.
The advice above mostly applies to non-critical day-to-day topics and situations. Just roll your eyes and walk away…and YOU WIN. Just mutter in mind as you walk away “WHAT-EVER !!” and you will feel better. As you develop this skill, you will get a thicker SKIN and little things won’t bug you as much.
Likewise the wise words from my awesome Uncle Matt Hawkins are of great value in avoiding and overcoming contention;
Christ knew all the answers and was perfect (He could have always been right) but he was the meekest of all and let people exercise their agency.
Pick your battles. There is a lot of stuff in life that is not worth the grief of always being right about. In your marriage and your career you are going to need to make lots of compromises. People don’t see things the same way. Many times there is not just one right way. Sometimes even your “better” way is really more about your need to win and control than getting to the right place. “I’m sorry, I don’t know, it’s my fault” should be very prevalent in our conversations.
These two bits of advice really hit home for me and greatly helped me change and have the proper perspective of things. I am quite confident that these bits of advice will help many of you as well.
President Eyring is a avid advocate of peace and unity in the church and in our homes. He wisely gives teaches the following principles to avoid contention and disunity.
A second principle to guide our progress to become one is to be humble. Pride is the great enemy of unity. You have seen and felt its terrible effects. Just days ago I watched as two people—good people—began with a mild disagreement. It started as a discussion of what was true but became a contest about who was right. Voices became gradually louder. Faces became a little more flushed. Instead of talking about the issue, people began talking about themselves, giving evidence why their view, given their great ability and background, was more likely to be right.
You would have felt alarm as I did. We have seen the life-destroying effects of such tragic conflict. You and I know people who left the fellowship of the Saints over injured pride.
Happily I am seeing more and more skillful peacemakers who calm troubled waters before harm is done. You could be one of those peacemakers, whether you are in the conflict or an observer.
One way I have seen it done is to search for anything on which we agree. To be that peacemaker, you need to have the simple faith that as children of God, with all our differences, it is likely that in a strong position we take, there will be elements of truth. The great peacemaker, the restorer of unity, is the one who finds a way to help people see the truth they share. That truth they share is always greater and more important to them than their differences. You can help yourself and others to see that common ground if you ask for help from God and then act. He will answer your prayer to help restore peace, as He has mine.
That same principle applies as we build unity with people who are from vastly different backgrounds. The children of God have more in common than they have differences. And even the differences can be seen as an opportunity. God will help us see a difference in someone else not as a source of irritation but as a contribution. The Lord can help you see and value what another person brings which you lack. More than once the Lord has helped me see His kindness in giving me association with someone whose difference from me was just the help I needed. That has been the Lord’s way of adding something I lacked to serve Him better.
That leads to another principle of unity. It is to speak well of each other. Think of the last time you were asked what you thought about how someone else was doing in your family or in the Church. It happened to me more than once in the past week. Now, there are times we must judge others. Sometimes we are required to pronounce such judgments. But more often we can make a choice. For instance, suppose someone asks you what you think of the new bishop.As we get better and better at forging unity, we will think of a scripture when we hear that question: “And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.”
Realizing that you see others in an imperfect light will make you likely to be a little more generous in what you say. In addition to that scripture, you might remember your mother saying—mine did—“If you can’t say anything good about a person, don’t say anything at all.”
That will help you look for what is best in the bishop’s performance and character. The Savior, as your loving judge, will surely do that as He judges your performance and mine. The scripture and what you heard from your mother may well lead you to describe what is best in the bishop’s performance and his good intent. I can promise you a feeling of peace and joy when you speak generously of others in the Light of Christ. You will feel, for instance, unity with that bishop and with the person who asked your opinion, not because the bishop is perfect or because the person asking you shares your generous evaluation. It will be because the Lord will let you feel His appreciation for choosing to step away from the possibility of sowing seeds of disunity. (Henry B. Eyring, Our Hearts Knit as One, Oct. 2008)
I absolutely love the part where he teaches that a skillful (maintaining the peace in a world full of prideful, impatient, and impulsive people truly requires great skill, ability, and wisdom but with an understanding of the doctrine and a desire to apply the doctrine it is very possible) peacemaker looks for anything on which they can agree on and sees difference as an opportunity or as a contribution. Instead of being frustrated that we aren’t the same, we can see be grateful that through our differences we can complement each other and help strengthen the weaknesses of one another. My companionship with Elder Magill truly is a great experience because in many ways we are different but rather than get frustrated with that we work well together and I can without a doubt say that we both have greatly changed and helped one another improve in our different areas of weaknesses and it truly is a great feeling. All of our relationships can and should be that way if we have the right attitude and perspective and meekness.
I recently found a fantastic talk by Elder Ashton and it is so perfect that I’m going to share nearly the entire talk. Please do not skim it over or get bored here. Stay focused! I promise it’s well worth it! It is highly interesting and spot on with how to overcome contention especially in the home.
A few months ago word reached some of our missionaries in a remote South Pacific island that I would soon be visiting there for two or three days. When I arrived, the missionaries were waiting anxiously to share with me some anti-Mormon literature that was being circulated in their area. They were disturbed by the accusations and were eager to plan retaliation.
The elders sat on the edge of their chairs as I read the slander and false declarations issued by a minister who apparently felt threatened by their presence and successes. As I read the pamphlet containing the malicious and ridiculous statements, I actually smiled, much to the surprise of my young associates. When I finished, they asked, “What do we do now? How can we best counteract such lies?”
I answered, “To the author of these words, we do nothing. We have no time for contention. We only have time to be about our Father’s business. Contend with no man. Conduct yourselves as gentlemen with calmness and conviction and I promise you success.”
Perhaps a formula for these missionaries and all of us to follow can be found in Helaman, chapter five, verse thirty, of the Book of Mormon. “And it came to pass when they heard this voice, and beheld that it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.” [Hel. 5:30] …
Contention builds walls and puts up barriers. Love opens doors. Ours is to be heard and teach. Ours is not only to avoid contention, but to see that such things are done away.
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.
“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 Ne. 11:29, 30.)
We need to be reminded that contention is a striving against one another, especially in controversy or argument. It is to struggle, fight, battle, quarrel, or dispute. Contention never was and never will be an ally of progress. Our loyalty will never be measured by our participation in controversy. Some misunderstand the realm, scope, and dangers of contention. Too many of us are inclined to declare, “Who, me? I am not contentious, and I’ll fight anyone who says I am.” There are still those among us who would rather lose a friend than an argument. How important it is to know how to disagree without being disagreeable. It behooves all of us to be in the position to involve ourselves in factual discussions and meaningful study, but never in bitter arguments and contention.
No home or heart exists that cannot be hurt through contention. It is sad when children are raised in a contentious home. It is just as sad when an organization has contention as one of the planks of its platform, declared or unannounced. Generally speaking, people who come from noncontentious households find themselves repulsed by those who would make it part of their daily diet.
The family as an institution today is beset on all sides. Conflicts within the family are critical and often damaging. Contention puts heavy strain on stability, strength, peace, and unity in the home. There is certainly not time for contention in building a strong family.
In place of arguments and friction between family members, ours is to build, listen, and reason together. I recall receiving a written question from a fifteen-year-old girl during a fireside discussion. She wrote, “Is there anything I can do to improve the feelings among members of my family? I am fifteen years old and hardly ever look forward to being home. Everyone just seems to be waiting for me to say the wrong thing so they can cut me down.”
Another young woman, age seventeen, was asked why she was living in a city with her sister away from their parents. She replied, “Because of the hassle back home. I have had all that I can stand.” She continued, “There is always fighting. I can never remember when it was different. Everyone in the house, especially my parents, takes delight in bad-mouthing each other.” A few family expressions which cause hurts and lead to contention are: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” “Why did you do that stupid thing?” “Your room is a mess.” “Why don’t you do as I tell you?”
Almost five centuries ago a creative genius named Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked in Italy. While we remember him most today for such paintings as the Mona Lisa, he was also a fascinating debater, a polished orator, and a storyteller of great imagination. One of his fables, simply titled “The Wolf,” I would like to share with you.
“Carefully, warily, the wolf came down out of the forest one night, attracted by the smell of a flock of sheep. With slow steps he drew near to the sheepfold, placing his feet with the utmost caution so as not to make the slightest sound which might disturb the sleeping dog.
“But one careless paw stepped on a board; the board creaked and woke the dog. The wolf had to run away, unfed and hungry. And so, because of one careless foot, the whole animal suffered.” (Adapted from Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, “Fantastic Tales,” Bestiary, no. 1225.)
There is an area, perhaps insignificant to some, that seems to me to be gnawing away at the spirituality of Latter-day Saints. The plights of these young ladies bring it to mind. Like the careless paw of the wolf, it is causing untold suffering and depriving many of spiritual growth and family oneness. I speak of arguing, careless words spoken in anger, disgust, and intolerance, often without thought. How sad it is when family members are driven from home by contentious tongues.
Stories often reiterate the hate and bitterness caused by contention among neighbors. Some families have been forced to move because of bitter controversy. Going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, swallowing one’s pride, and apologizing are often the only ways in which contention among neighbors can be erased.
From the Savior’s words we learn the source of contention, whether it be in the home, in the community, among the leaders, or in the classroom. “For verily, verily, I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Ne. 11:29.) This means that Satan has power over us only when we let him in. We have agency. We can choose our behavior. The Prophet Joseph Smith said on one occasion, “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181.)
When one considers the bad feeling and the unpleasantness caused by contention, it is well to ask, “Why do I participate?” If we are really honest with ourselves, our answers may be something like: “When I argue and am disagreeable, I do not have to change myself. It gives me a chance to get even.” “I am unhappy and I want others to be miserable too.” “I can feel self-righteous. In this way I get my ego built up.” “I don’t want others to forget how much I know!”
Whatever the real reason, it is important to recognize that we choose our behavior. At the root of this issue is the age-old problem of pride. “Only by pride cometh contention.” (Prov. 13:10.)
If Satan can succeed in creating in us habits of arguing, quarreling, and contention, it is easier then for him to bind us with the heavier sins which can destroy our eternal lives. A contentious spirit can affect almost any phase of our lives. An angry letter written in haste can haunt us—sometimes for years. A few ill-advised words spoken in hate can destroy a marriage or a personal friendship, or impede community progress.
As we take a stand against the evils of the day, such as abortion, homosexuality, immorality, alcohol, drugs, dishonesty, intolerance, etc., can we express our beliefs without clenching our fists, raising our voices, and promoting contention? Can we talk about the beneficial principles of the gospel such as the Word of Wisdom, keeping the Sabbath day holy, maintaining personal purity, and the other truths found in the scriptures without making our listeners defensive? This is not easy, but it can be done. Ours is, if you please, to plow our own furrow, plant our own seeds, tend our crops, and reap the harvest. This can best be accomplished not only by plowshares rather than by swords, but by appropriate commitment rather than contention.
Let me share with you some suggestions for alleviating contention:
There is no time for contention. We must have the will and discipline in our daily lives to fight contention. I promise the valiant God’s help in their efforts to conquer this horrendous foe. Let us “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another.” (D&C 136:23.) We only have time to be about our Father’s business. (Marvin J. Ashton, No Time for Contention, April 1978)
- Pray to have the love of God in your heart. Sometimes this is a struggle, but the Spirit of the Lord can soften hard feelings and mellow a callous spirit.
- Learn to control your tongue. There is an old maxim and an excellent one: “Think twice before you speak and three times before you act.”
- Don’t allow emotions to take over; rather, reason together.
- Refuse to get embroiled in the same old patterns of argument and confrontation.
- Practice speaking in a soft, calm voice. The peaceful life can best be attained not by those who speak with a voice of “great tumultuous noise” but by those who follow the Savior’s example and speak with “a still voice of perfect mildness.” (Hel. 5:30.)
The third key obstacle to peace is getting offended easily. Elder Bednar provides a masterful teaching on how to overcome offense. Please read and learn carefully.
When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.
In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation…
The Savior is the greatest example of how we should respond to potentially offensive events or situations.
“And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Nephi 19:9).
Through the strengthening power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you and I can be blessed to avoid and triumph over offense. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165)…
You and I cannot control the intentions or behavior of other people. However, we do determine how we will act. Please remember that you and I are agents endowed with moral agency, and we can choose not to be offended.
During a perilous period of war, an exchange of letters occurred between Moroni, the captain of the Nephite armies, and Pahoran, the chief judge and governor of the land. Moroni, whose army was suffering because of inadequate support from the government, wrote to Pahoran “by the way of condemnation” (Alma 60:2) and harshly accused him of thoughtlessness, slothfulness, and neglect. Pahoran might easily have resented Moroni and his message, but he chose not to take offense. Pahoran responded compassionately and described a rebellion against the government about which Moroni was not aware. And then he responded, “Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. … And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:2, 9).One of the greatest indicators of our own spiritual maturity is revealed in how we respond to the weaknesses, the inexperience, and the potentially offensive actions of others. A thing, an event, or an expression may be offensive, but you and I can choose not to be offended—and to say with Pahoran, “it mattereth not.” WOW! …
If a person says or does something that we consider offensive, our first obligation is to refuse to take offense and then communicate privately, honestly, and directly with that individual. Such an approach invites inspiration from the Holy Ghost and permits misperceptions to be clarified and true intent to be understood. (David A. Bednar, And Nothing Shall Offend Them, Oct. 2006)
Congratulations to all of you who really read this entire letter. I promise you that if you put into your daily lives these principles that you have read it will be very well worth the time spent reading it.
I wish to finish simply testifying of the truthfulness of every single one of these talks and pieces of advice from my Uncles. I have lived these principles and I know from experience that they are true and that they come from God. Live them and you will see. I love you all and spent all this time of preparation for weeks before preparing this taking out the best and most important parts of various talks and providing an analysis of them because I really love you guys and want what’s best for you. It is humble prayer and hope that this blesses your lives.
Happy New Year!