Finding Hope in a Divided World

It Starts with Human Nature

We all have a very human tendency to want to feel that we are right, that what we believe is true, that our perceptions are accurate. We gravitate towards those who share our view of the world and feel our perspective validated by them. Sometimes this goes to the extent of only surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us and excluding those who don’t. We live in a bubble.

Traditions of the Fathers

Often our belief systems, political positions and general view of the world are passed down to us through our parents and our education. Many people hold firm to such beliefs and positions. It becomes part of our identity – what and who we are as a group or a people. Such positions are self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating.

The biggest hope for that to change, is an opportunity to get outside one’s bubble or even take a step inside another bubble, to begin to see another perspective. Just a peek at an opposing view, and especially having one pushed upon you to educate you as to what is correct, usually has the opposite effect. We become defensive and hold more firmly to how we see things.

Judging Individuals

There is a real problem when such firmly held beliefs extend to judgments and feelings about an individual. People are complex. I believe we all have within ourselves a good core. We all started out as pure, innocent babies. We are all children of God. Yet, we also are all human. We all have faults, weaknesses and flaws. Not all choices we make are good. We all say and do stupid, insensitive, even cruel things with the potential to do others great harm, intentionally or not.

There is real danger in judging any person as inherently or completely bad. It can also be unwise to judge someone as totally good and incapable of doing wrong. Either way, everything is viewed through a narrow filter of our own bias, reinforcing a judgment we already made.

When we view an individual human being as purely good or bad, based on a preconceived belief – one that by nature we seek to reinforce and validate – we fail to see them as the complex human beings that they are. We fail to judge or treat them as we would want to be.

The Unjust Judgment of Evil

If our judgement of someone is bad – based on tradition and the beliefs of our group, or even what we think is our personal, objective assessment – we will naturally want to have that judgment validated. We will seek out messages that reinforce that belief. We pay attention to and enlarge on anything negative and ignore or dismiss anything good, forgetting that even bad people are capable of doing good. In fact, much of what we judge as bad in others, are actually good qualities taken to an extreme, or used in a way that we don’t agree with.

We judge the intent of someone we dislike to always be negative, forgetting that we don’t have the ability to read minds. Someone judged as evil cannot be capable of good, we think. If we open our minds to the thought that they could do good, then we might have to question our own judgment of them.

Being in a group that feels the same way about this person, negative messages are constantly reinforced. Even the slightest expression of doubt about something negative or consideration of something good is met with condemnation of us, so we shrink into silence. We see how the defense of this awful person by those OTHERS, has resulted in their vilification.

The Nonobjective Judgment of Good

If our judgment of someone is good – based on tradition and the beliefs of our group, or what we think is our personal, objective assessment – we will want to have that judgment validated. We will tend to give that person the benefit of the doubt when we hear anything negative. We dismiss or ignore negative things, thinking them uncharacteristic and therefore must not be true.

Such a person may do or say things very similar to someone we hate, yet are still judged as a good person. Their intent is always judged as good, even when they might act badly. We make excuses for them and deflect blame to others. We feel offense that they have been unfairly attacked when something negative is pointed out. We will defend them fervently, because we in effect are defending our perception of them and our sense of being right, as much or more than we are defending them personally.

Polarity Problems

Is there hope for a society which is polarized to such an extreme, with such certainty from both sides that they are right? If there truly is one right and one wrong position, then for one group to be right, the other must be totally wrong. Then it follows that one half of us are being deceived by and about the other. Which is really right? Who is being deceived? None of us want to believe that we have been sucked in, fooled or deceived.

But is it really an either/or? Is one position completely right and the other totally wrong? Or are we all being deceived? The better question would be to ask ourselves how we, in particular, are being deceived or mislead. But then, this requires the need to look at things with a more open mind, and to be open to the possibility that we may be wrong.

Perhaps the deception is in seeing only a selective part of the picture, and what is needed is an expanded vision? My fear is that too many of us are past the point of open minds. Crushing the opposition seems to be more the direction.

The Real Enemy

If we can stop looking at the world as US and THEM – with US being the good guys and THEM the bad guys – and see that we are all basically good guys with a common enemy seeking to destroy us all, there might be hope.

There is one who seeks to divide and destroy. That has been his aim from the beginning. He is cunning and devious and has had lots of practice. He fights not only openly against what is right, but he uses opposing ideas of right and wrong to turn us against each other. If he can convince us all that we are right and especially that the OTHERS are wrong and even evil, then he can just sit back and enjoy watching us destroy ourselves. I am sure that the devil is laughing much these days.

Change of Mind?

As I reflect back four years, I recall trying to prepare myself for what appeared to be dark days coming. At that point, I saw only two bad options, and no real good outcome. I do recall saying when I came home on election night and got a glance at the shocked faces on my TV screen, and then the numbers displayed: “Oh, so we are in for a different kind of nightmare.”

The interesting thing is that in spite of not necessarily seeing a good result, I did accept the result. And I think because of that acceptance, through the process of time and observation, my mind changed. I guess it was open a little crack. Without clinging to the belief that the outcome was wrong – kind of like the belief of a certain people in the Book of Mormon who felt that they had been wronged and the government had been stolen from them (see Alma 54:17) – I accepted it as what it was. I had enough faith in the system that we could survive for fours years. We as a country had survived much already and we had a system that hopefully would keep things in check.

That bit of an open mind allowed me to see the good that has happened. It did not change a certain personality, but I could see good fruits from a less than perfect individual’s efforts. Being freed from the need to maintain a negative judgment also opened my eyes to the unfair process of constant negative focus reinforcing the hatred. I saw a larger picture.

What is Ahead?

As I have found myself increasingly anxious about conditions in our world today, my tendency has been to try to persuade others to share my concerns, maybe with some faint hope that things might shift in the direction I see as best. After reflecting back to my resignation four years ago, I am starting to look at the future differently.

Though I would have liked to have changed the past four years, I survived it. WE have survived it. This may be just the beginning of many unpleasant things we will have to go through before the end. Our divisions may likely increase, maybe to the point of no return.

As I read the Book of Mormon, I see that things really deteriorated in just the few years before Christ came (see 3 Nephi 6-7). The government completely fell apart. Maybe our government will collapse? It was a good experiment in self-government, but successful self-government depends upon the goodness, honesty, and virtue of the citizens, and their unity around common principles. When the voice of the people chooses that which is wrong in the sight of God, we are in trouble (see Mosiah 29:27). “A house divided against itself cannot stand“, as Abraham Lincoln said. Maybe we will lose the freedoms we take for granted? We just might have to live under socialism or communism. Maybe we will have an outright civil war? Our divisions may weaken us to the point that we are easily invaded and conquered by another nation, as was the pattern in the Book of Mormon. Things could get really ugly.

Hope

So where is our hope? Where it always has been and always will be. Our hope is in Christ. He will return as prophesied and all of this ugliness will come to an end.

What will matter at that point? I hope I can get past the point of wanting to say “I told you so.” Being “right” will not really matter. It will only matter if our hearts are right. If we are prepared to be with Christ and live in a better world, not successfully or comfortably in this imperfect, and too often unjust and cruel world. Preparation for that will require becoming a better person. Will that be our focus going forward?

Who is Being Deceived?

I have found myself asking that question when observing the certainty with which people affirm what appear to be polar opposite views of a situation or event. In fact, we seem to be living in a parallel universe where half are seeing things one way and the other half seeing something totally different. Yet, both sides are certain that they are right. Which is reality? If one is viewing reality, then the other must be deceived into seeing something false as real. Or could we all possibly be deceived about some things? It is enough to make one feel crazy.

Gaslighting

I saw an anonymous piece about Gaslighting shared on Facebook. I was reluctant to share it, not wanting to start any contentious discussion about details in it. I will share the beginning and the end which present the phenomenon in general terms.

“The term [gaslighting] originates in the systematic psychological manipulation of a victim by her husband in Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 stage play Gas Light, and the film adaptations released in 1940 and 1944. In the story, the husband attempts to convince his wife and others that she is insane by manipulating small elements of their environment and insisting that she is mistaken, remembering things incorrectly, or delusional when she points out these changes. The play’s title alludes to how the abusive husband slowly dims the gas lights in their home, while pretending nothing has changed, in an effort to make his wife doubt her own perceptions. The wife repeatedly asks her husband to confirm her perceptions about the dimming lights, but in defiance of reality, he keeps insisting that the lights are the same and instead it is she who is going insane.”

Having spent a period of my life studying addiction and working with families experiencing it, this is very familiar. There is a common joke said among them which goes like this: “How can you tell if an alcoholic or addict is lying?” “You can see their lips move.” Yet, family members have a common tendency to repeatedly believe what their addicted family member tells them when it contradicts what they observe with their own senses. I understand the feeling of craziness and doubting one’s own perceptions. We want to believe and trust, so we even convince ourselves that we must be imagining things, or our perceptions are off. We feel we are going crazy. And in the process power shifts from us to the deceiver.

Gaslighting on a Societal Level

On a societal level we want to be able to trust organizations to give us accurate information about events in our world. In taking sides, we tend to trust only certain sources and see others as the source of misinformation and lies when they differ. Have we lost trust in our own perception and judgment? Do we need, as Bari Weiss pointed out, the “enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else” of the truth to interpret the world for us? Feeling secure in a bubble with your trusted sources, you can dismiss alternate views as obviously the wrong ones without even seriously considering them.

We also have the added influence of peer pressure. It is like we are living the old fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes. When everyone around us, especially those who are supposed to know, are raving, we want to go along. Speaking out about the reality that we see results in our being treated like the crazy ones, or worse vilified, censored or cancelled. It is easier, and safer, to not even think about it – just silently and without question accept the narrative, reflexively parroting approved sound bites. It seems better to believe than to feel crazy. And of course, that is the point.

Think For Yourself – Trust Your Gut

I learned from alcoholics that the best course is to look at behavior/actions/fruits rather than listen to flattering words. With much that has happened recently, I try to trust myself, my first gut reactions, and what I see. When some sensational bombshell is tweeted, I try to sit back for at least a few days to see what develops. Usually, with looking at a variety of sources, facts gradually come out that paint a more complex and sometimes a very different picture. Things are too often taken out of context and it takes some effort to listen to more and varied voices to understand the context. Like dealing realistically with addicts, this involves using one’s own senses, observations and perception, rather than just accepting what you are told as fact.

Too many things this year have left me feeling that something is not right. The picture being painted does not fit with the reality that I personally see and experience. Reactions seem extreme and out of proportion. Things presented as spontaneous feel rather orchestrated and unnatural. I ask myself questions. Does this make sense? How does this fit with what I already know about history, government, natural laws and human nature? Where is this coming from? Who wants me to believe this and why? Who stands to benefit from people believing this? What about the money? It is always good to follow the money. I come to a conclusion of what is true and real based on my own observations and reasoning, rather than simply what I am told.

I will conclude with the conclusion from this anonymous post:

“Gaslighting has become one of the most pervasive and destructive tactics in American politics. It is the exact opposite of what our political system was meant to be. It deals in lies and psychological coercion, and not the truth and intellectual discourse. If you ever ask yourself if you’re crazy, you are not. Crazy people aren’t sane enough to ask themselves if they’re crazy. So, trust yourself, believe what’s in your heart. Trust your eyes over what you are told. Never listen to the people who tell you that you are crazy, because you are not, you’re being gaslighted.

Maybe the crazy ones are the ones so readily believing the lies?

God Bless America!

God Bless America

God Bless America! Is a familiar refrain. How often have we heard these words at the conclusion of public addresses. Has it become so common that we pay no more mind than it being a signal that the speech has finally come to an end? How much thought do we give to those words and the meaning behind them?

Remember

God played an central part in the formation of this Country. Any serious study of the American Revolution will leave one baffled that a rag-tag army of farmers and merchants managed to defeat the greatest military power in the world. Was it chance or luck? Was it because of superior intellect and skills among the colonists? Or is it obvious, as it is to me, that “God shed His grace” on them? They sought and recognized the hand of God in the events of that day. How could flawed mortal men begin to form a more perfect union without the guidance of a perfect God?

Putting God First

How arrogant to think that all of our prosperity is due to our own superiority, and our protection because of our great strength. Today we have those eager to point out faults and failings of those in our past, as if they would have done everything right in their place. We even have those who set themselves up as their own god, preaching “my truth” over His truths, and condemning those who don’t agree with them.

Tolerance and acceptance are preached as supreme virtues. As important as love of neighbor is, we need to put the First Commandment first as was intended – “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). We need to put God before all of the causes about which we are passionate and which too often divide us.

“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land” (2 Nephi 1:20) is still in force. We need to return to acknowledging and then keeping God’s commandments above those woke social justice rules which have been replacing them. If we internalize and conform to God’s commandments, there is little need for silly social rules. If people are truly good and motivated by love of God, they will love others and treat them well.

The Ways of God

If one knows a little about God and how God works among men, then it is easy to see in hindsight the upward progression of those who turn to God for assistance. God tends to work incrementally with his children, giving them “line upon line” and “precept upon precept” according to what they can understand and deal with at the time.

. . . by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise . . .

Amla 37:6-7

It is not surprising then, that the Constitution of the United States did not solve every social problem. Steps were required before people were ready for the abolition of slavery, just as small steps had lead the colonists to be prepared to declare independence from Great Britain.

It is not so much that God does not want us to have all freedoms and blessings immediately, as it is that men and women must be prepared to appreciate and use those freedoms and gifts. He allows us to struggle to learn, grow, and work together, blessing our efforts along the way, until we can look back and see that small things have worked together to become something great. Progress is cumulative, building upon small efforts to do good with God’s help.

“Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great”

D & C 64:33

Patriotic Americans and great leaders have repeatedly pled “God Bless America”. It is a prayer that should be on all our lips for we need God’s blessings and grace now more than ever.

An Experiment in Democracy

I am very concerned about the future of our country, perhaps more so than some because I am aware of some parallels to past events in other civilizations and the outcome of those.

An Ancient Experiment in Democracy

There was at one time an ancient society which started an experiment in democracy – a rule of Judges chosen by a vote of the people. Within a few short years, there was a movement to return to a monarchy. One group wanted a King, or more particularly a man wanted to be King and had gained the support of others.

There had been Kings in their past, some good, and one in particular who was very bad. He ruled autocratically and tyrannically, glutted on the labors of his people with he and his favored few living riotously, while the masses suffered. Lessons from that experience had influenced one wise King to set up this system of Judges when his own sons refused to take the throne.

With this first attempt to re-establish a King, the matter was put to a vote of the people. The majority voted against having a King. Those who wanted a King, rather than accept this democratic resolution, made this man their King anyway, and the matter was finally resolved militarily through a civil war. Those who wanted a King were defeated, but enough of them remained, and they continued to cause difficulties by forming an alliance with their enemy. (Alma 1-3)

Later during a time of war with their great enemy, another movement of King-Men actually took over the seat of government, sending the Chief Judge into exile. This attempt to overthrow democracy was also put down militarily at great cost. (Alma 61-62)

But it was not these movements to install Kings that brought the eventual downfall of this democratic experiment, though that brought much blood-shed and suffering. The destruction began with secret conspiracies which eventually infiltrated the government. Chief Judges were murdered as others conspired to take power, and those in power became more corrupt.

“For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.”

Helaman 5:2

The situation with these corrupt leaders was described as:

“Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills”

Helaman 7:5

Eventually this government did fall apart.

The American Experiment

The American Revolution began as an attempt to become free from a monarchy and establish a government based on principles of liberty. I believe there was divine intervention in the ability of these early patriots to win their freedom from such a powerful empire. The process of forming a government was not easy. Even after a Constitution was written and approved and the government began to function, there were still problems. Some wanted our first President George Washington to serve for life, thus returning to kind of a monarchy.

It was not many years into this Republic that we were again at war with Great Britain, fighting again for our freedom. There were conspiracies and conflicts. Then less than a century after our founding, some states seceded from the Union and we had a horrible civil war.

Our Republic has survived for almost 250 years, much longer than this earlier government did. It is very disturbing however, to see history repeating itself. There were many opportunities for these people to turn things around. It always was centered on a return to God. When they focused on God and kept His commandments, they prospered and enjoyed peace. When they turned from God, they destroyed themselves. There are lessons here for us.

Has Patriotism Become Partisan?

Four years ago I joined a patriotic lineage society. One of the main purposes of this organization is to promote patriotism. We, as a group, are proud of our heritage: we descend from patriots who championed the cause of freedom and fought for our independence from Great Britian. We share a belief that their sacrifices and struggles not only broke bands of tyrany, but established a government designed to recognize, promote, and protect freedom and God-given human rights.

Those who have studied history and the lives of our founding fathers and other patriots, are well aware that they were imperfect human beings. The fact that they were able to accomplish what they did in spite of those faults and frailties makes the resulting Nation all the more remarkable.

A study of history also makes it apparent that there has been much discussion, dispute, and disagreement concerning the details of government. But differing perspectives, priorities and approaches did not alter the fact that all were Americans. Americans have stood united by principles, ideals and a common history. Together we have sung and felt “Proud to be an American.”

People from other countries have recognized that there is something exceptional about the United States of America. It has been a beacon of freedom to the world. Immigrants have flocked here seeking refuge, freedom, and economic opportunities lacking in their homelands. Other countries have modeled governments after ours, hoping for the kind of prosperity we have enjoyed.

Yet, today we have Americans who seem ashamed of our Country, reject our heroes, seek to destroy our history, and even dismantle the whole system. Affirming the greatness of our Nation somehow seems to place one on what others claim as the wrong side of a great divide. Has patriotism become partisan?

A Plea, and a Dilemma

Please show me that there are Americans of both political parties who love America, cherish our freedoms and are proud of our heritage. I want to believe that those who speak hatred for our country are a small, though loud, faction. How wonderful it would be to hear all Americans unite in proclaiming the affirmations William Tyler Page wrote in The American’s Creed:

I, therefore, believe it is my duty to my country to love it; to support its constitution; to objey its laws; to respect its flag; and defend it against all enemies.

The American’s Creed – William Tyler Page

My dilemma is that the patriotic society I belong to is also non-political and non-partisan. I don’t want to be left wondering how to promote patriotism and share my love of country without appearing partisan. For over one hundred years this has not been a problem, and never should be.

A More Perfect Union

The framers of the Constitution stated their intent to establish “a more perfect union.” I recently heard Stephen Fried, author of a wonderful biography of Benjamin Rush, say those words with the emphasis on “more.”

A truly perfect union could only be possible with perfect people. Unfortunately people are not perfect, and governments created by people are not perfect either, especially a union of states with conflicting, interests, lifestyles, and cultures. Striving for unattainable perfection, the founders realized all they could do was establish a union better than that which they had before.

Prior to this Constitution being written, the new “United States” were functioning under Articles of Confederation. Many had come to see the flaws and imperfections with that system. They had just revolted from a Monarchy and were painfully aware of the problems with that system of government. Having an opportunity to start fresh, they put much thought, discussion and effort into framing a government that would be as “perfect” as man could conceive and execute.

Unity Around Principles

Unity among diversity is possible not by somehow making all the same, or forcing conformity to a specific set of actions. It is only possible by unifying around commonly accepted principles, ideals, and values. There may still be much disagreement about the “how”, the specific practices and processes in working toward those ideals. But keeping those principles and values always in mind keeps unity forefront as a goal.

I think it is important to remember, and I think the framers of the constitution realized this, that it would be impossible to form a government anywhere near “perfect” without assistance from a perfect God. With that in mind, the principles upon which a government is founded should align with eternal, God-given principles to be as perfect as possible.

John Adams, in a letter to Benjamin Rush in 1805 stated:

“Is virtue the principle of our Government? Is honor? Or is ambition and avarice adulation, baseness, covetousness, the thirst of riches, indifference concerning the means of rising and enriching, the contempt of principle, the Spirit of party and of faction, the motive and the principle that governs? These are serious and dangerous questions; but serious men ought not to flinch from dangerous questions.”

Quoted in Rush: Revolution, Madness and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, by Stephen Fried

Remember

I hear the judgement of “divisive” being thrown out much these days and specifically after a reaffirmation of those principles under which our country was united. How is remembering the values and ideals held dear and fought for by our founders and defended by courageous people again and again divisive?

We have a shared history as Americans. Remembering that history should unite us. Sure, the remembering of history needs to include diverse voices, but that should add to history, making it more complete. Including many voices should expand understanding and unity. Attempts to erase history or rewrite it to please a few can never be unifying, for it seeks to discredit and forget too many others and their sacrifices for all.

Remembering our history and the sacrifices of previous generations should fill us with gratitude. People in other nations look to us and our government as an ideal. They see in our government a “more perfect union” than what exists in their countries. We as such blessed, favored and privileged citizens should be proud to be Americans.

The American Dream is reaching upward and forward, striving individually and collectively toward perfection. Of course we face problems, but the solutions should move us upward, not backward. Why would we want our union to be “less perfect” – to lessen it in any way through divisiveness?

We are all Americans! We should stand united behind our government, as imperfect as it still is, while striving to continue to perfect it. We should stand united by our shared history, for it is the legacy we have been given. We should stand united around the principles of freedom, equality, justice and humanity and respect the symbols which represent them. We should be united as Americans!

Thoughts on Freedom of Assembly

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Ammendment 1

Through experiences of the past months, I am seeing that there is something profoundly valuable about being able to assemble as a group of people with a common purpose. Though business can and has been conducted remotely, there are added benefits to gathering together–feelings of unity, bonds, and synergy, that are lacking in the virtual world.

I remember back some decades to my time as a social worker. I observed that dysfunctional, and especially abusive families, were often isolated. This is largely due to efforts by abusers to maintain power and control. There are the obvious dangers of a lack of a support system or the ability to seek help, but there is another less obvious danger–isolation.

Isolation deprives us of needed reality checks. It is the casual observations and exchanges with others that give us our sense of what is normal. They give us opportunities to question our perceptions when they are different from others. We see common feelings and ideas and relate to shared experiences. Without these outside interactions, abused spouses and children come to see their restricted, abusive world as normal. Fears of outside dangers become magnified when interpreted only through the abuser.

After months now of social isolation and the absence of many of our routine group activities, the few and rather small gatherings of late have given me an unexpected emotional boost, almost like a cold drink after a long hot day makes me realize how thirsty I was. It feels wonderful! It brings back a feeling of normal. I suddenly have again a chance to feel validation for my thoughts and feelings through hearing others share theirs, with emotion conveyed as it only can be in person. An emoji can never convey what a smile, slightly raised eyebrow, or the hint of a tear in an eye can.

Humans are social beings. We need to be with each other. This is how it is supposed to be. There is great wisdom in the Founders recognizing and protecting the inherent rights of citizens to assemble for various peaceful purposes. Probably the most important purpose being to gather for the free exercise of religion. My soul is starved for that interaction now.

Division and fears are magnified when we are kept apart. Through isolation, governments can too easily exercise excessive power and control and in the process deprive us of those experiences which reinforce our shared humanity and foster unity. I hope this is a lesson from this experience that we do not forget.

Overreaction of Outrage

We have all probably at some time pointed out to another person that they were overreacting to something. The reaction appears disproportionate to the precipitating act or event. You would think we would be able to recognize that when it happens, with others if not always with ourselves. However, overreaction has become so common and routine, that to many it seems more like an appropriate reaction, even presented as the socially acceptable reaction. Failing to panic or share outrage therefore reflects a flaw in the calm ones.

2016

I think it started four years ago. We had a national election. This has happened every four years for over two centuries. Each time there is a winner and a looser. Sometimes the outcome has been pretty one-sided, but for the most part, roughly half of the country’s population is not happy about the outcome of any election. There have been complaints and some whining, but people generally accepted the outcome and tried to make the best of it, knowing that in four years there would be an opportunity to make a change. This is the way of our system.

The reaction to the 2016 presidential election seemed to me not only pointless and unnecessary, but way out of proportion. It wasn’t just a moment of upset and it was much more extreme than previous sore losers. The media has continued and fueled the overreaction by focusing on and blowing every possible negative out of proportion. It has been one outrage after another, ad nauseam, for four years. I think this has conditioned us, so that many fail to see how inappropriate and unwarranted most of the outrage has been.

Looking back at those outrageous reactions and the incidents that spurred them, were those situations really that dire? Actually, each crisis blew up and then kind of disappeared from mind and view as the next incident fueled another outrage. Yet, the angst remained waiting, almost anticipating the next thing to unleash the outrage on.

Irrational and Unnatural

The overreaction to these events appears irrational if one looks objectively at facts and data, in the context of history and considers multiple perspectives. The outrage probably seems reasonable after listening only to selected facts and exaggerations as part of the awfullizing narrative. Since these reactions are so emotional, what I have come to notice is my own gut reactions, which are a sense of something not right, something unnatural, contrived, even orchestrated, rather than an authentic and proportional reaction.

COVID-19

Then amid these repeating overreactions came a real threat – a serious, potentially deadly new disease. Something real to react to. At first, it seemed crazy to me that the world was suddenly shutting down. Sure this was a bad disease, but historically there have been worse. I was reading at the time a biography of Benjamin Rush in which was recounted the 1793 yellow fever epidemic which killed 10 percent of Philadelphia’s population. Even the worst – and now recognized to be unrealistic – predictions avout this new virus weren’t near that kind of death toll.

I remembered H1N1 not too many years ago. Nothing shut down. Life was normal. I went to a funeral for a victim of that virus, stood in a line with hundreds of people right next to other who all shook hands and hugged the family members who had been with her through her illness. No masks, no gloves, no hand sanitizer, no panic.

This reaction to COVID-19 felt so out of proportion. Sure, it was wise to take precautions and prepare, but was it necessary for life to stop for so long? We are beginning to see that the negative effects of shutting down may be worse than the effects of the actual disease. Yet, reacting to those actions is deemed inappropriate.

Black Lives Matter

As if we have not had enough, or possibly because isolation, economic hardships and anxiety are making people crazy, we have another overreaction of outrage. No one is arguing that the precipitating event was not horrible. Outrage at such actions is appropriate, as with other horrible incidents that have happened. We have had vigils, memorials, and demonstrations and people have made their voices heard in peaceful ways. Action has been taken.

But this has turned into something else, something way out of proportion, something very destructive. It is going on and on and getting worse. Instead of all joining in common outrage about behavior unacceptable to everyone, it has turned us against each other. Why? There is something more here than normal outrage at a horrible incident. It does not feel right. It feels contrived, manipulated, orchestrated, like a real tragedy is being used for a larger agenda.

People will say there must be an extreme reaction to accomplish change. But what change is really needed? Are things worse than they were 20 years ago? Are they worse than they were 60 years ago–the 1960’s? Though racism does still exist, the proposed solutions/demands seem way out of proportion to the problem. This dos not warrant destruction of our whole system.

So, I go back to my gut feelings. Something is not right here in America. I don’t think it is what the outraged are attacking as the problem.

Their Souls are Precious

It was by chance – or maybe not – that I read again in the Book of Mormon this week the prayer of the Prophet Alma as he and others began a mission to the wicked Zoramites. The phrase that jumps out at me and has at times pricked my conscience, struck me as such an important reminder today –

“Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious”

(Alma 31:35)

Which Souls are Precious?

This wicked community turned out to be comprised of two groups. One was disadvantaged, marginalized, oppressed and excluded from full participation in society. Thinking of their situation does resonate with the concerns and objectives of #blacklivesmatter. Maybe #theirsoulsareprecious could be just as appropriate a reminder.

Yet, Alma’s prayer was not just for these poor, oppressed people. His prayer was for the whole community. It was also for the prideful, privileged who were persecuting the others. Their souls were also precious to their Father in Heaven. They were His children too.

I am aware of reactions toward #alllivesmatter and the feeling that it misses the point and trivializes the injustices of so many years. But can you say the souls of some who may not have been treated as precious, are indeed precious, without recognizing the preciousness of all souls?

Questions

Hasn’t the problem all along been the human tendency to put people into a category judged to be somehow worth less than others or inherently bad and then using that judgment as justification for depriving them of privileges or treating them badly? Is it really any different when that judgment is made based on the color or one’s skin or the uniform one wears? Or maybe even the color and words on a hat they wear?

Yes, some people do horrible things to other people and they do need to be held accountable for their behavior. Does this justify putting all who share some identifying characteristic with an offender, into a category judged as bad and therefore deserving of disrespect, contempt, attacks and mistreatment?

Does mistreating others make one’s soul less precious to their Father? I am sure such behavior offends and pains Him. Seeing all souls as precious and condemning unacceptable behavior are not mutually exclusive. Any good parent knows that the preciousness of the souls of their children is the very reason they must learn right from wrong, even at times through suffering hard consequences.

A Plea

Maybe, whenever we have feelings other than love toward a group or an individual human being, or a tendency to ignore or discount someone, we need to get on our knees and pray to the Father of us all, acknowledging to Him as Alma did, that “their souls are precious.” Pray for them, for their needs, but also pray for ourselves, that our hearts may be softened and that we may see others as He sees them – as the precious souls they are.

Governing Through Principles

“I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

Joseph Smith.

This statement was given by Joseph Smith as an answer to a question about how he governed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think it is very applicable to a secular “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I have reflected on this statement as I have become very concerned about what is happening in our country during this time of crisis.

Founding Principles

The principles which should guide all actions by our government are outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Correct principles also include principles such as those in the 10 Commandments. People should treat others with respect and kindness, as they would want to be treated. Life is sacred and should be protected. Self-direction and self-reliance are sound and valued principles.
At times of crisis like this we see situations where some needs become urgent and some principles take precedence over others. The challenge of meeting urgent needs while maintaining rights according to those principles is a role of government.

Principles in the constitution affirm individual rights of liberty, exhibited in the opportunity to travel, to engage in business, to participate in activities of our choice. The Bill of Rights specifically spell out rights to assemble and to practice religion. People need to be able to work and provide for themselves and their families. They have need of goods and services to preserve life. Generally, government should not interfere with these rights. This is a basic principle of the Constitution.

Yet, government has responsibility to keep its citizens safe, to provide defense against that which would cause harm and endanger life. There may be times when the suspension of individual rights may be necessary in order to protect us, but those situations should be very rare and action taken with great caution. The reason for caution is human nature and the tendency among those with power to exercise “unrighteous dominion.” When people in power seek more power, they put themselves and their wisdom above others and use power to order actions and suspend individual rights. If successful in a crisis, there is not much to stop this from occurring without a crisis, with orders being self-serving, rather than for public good.

Maintaining Balance Through Mutual Trust

Maintaining a balance between preserving inherent and constitutional rights and providing protection can be complicated. Mutual trust is vital, yet sadly lacking today.

Allowing citizens to “govern themselves” requires that government trusts them to do the right things. It includes an assumption that the majority of citizens are morally upright, good people, who want to do good. When good, intelligent people are given accurate and sound information they generally will make choices to benefit all, even when those choices might limit their own freedom to do what they want.

If government trusts their citizens, they need only provide clear, accurate information and make recommendations for action. Then citizens can freely, with their own agency intact, act to make things better or at least not worse.Sure, there will always be those who are not trustworthy, who will selfishly do stupid things that endanger others. They are the ones laws are written for anyway. But to impose orders and threaten penalties upon law abiding citizens shows a dangerous lack of trust.

Trust of the government by the people is also necessary. Governments are mandated to educate their citizens, and that education should include the teaching of correct principles–not only the principles underlying our government, but correct principles about science, history, and human nature.

Teach Correct Principles

Besides being well educated, citizens need to be well informed about current situations in order to be able to use their agency to make wise decisions. This is where a thorough and impartial media is critical. We should be able to trust the media to give us accurate and unbiased information. I see a lack of trust today in both directions.

Public education has been influenced by those who would promote certain agendas over teaching truth. Education about the history of this country is no longer a priority, so we are lacking in understanding about those founding principles and the sacrifices made by those in the past to secure the freedoms we enjoy. Moral education, which early in this country was a significant part of education, has been dismissed as unfairly promoting religion. The ability to regurgitate facts through tests is now preferred to teaching students how to think and reason. What we have now are many citizens blindly following the teachings and direction of whatever factions they trust and suspicious of all other sources.

Back to Trust

Which leads back to trust in the other direction. By creating an educational system which lacks moral training, we have citizens lacking in moral judgment, and a government which does not trust them to make wise choices in a crisis. Add to that people in government more concerned about power than the welfare of citizens issuing orders that restrict individual freedom, which increases distrust of government.

I hope we come out of this crisis with our freedom intact and a greater appreciation of that liberty.