Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Lesson 21: “The Power of Kindness” (George Albert Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on November 11, 2012

I just watched a very nice Israeli documentary (though it might also be unkindly accused of being propaganda…) called Israel Inside. It’s by a (former?) positive psychologist at Harvard. Though, perhaps a better credential to cite is the fact that he’s been a guest on the Daily Show. In the documentary, the author talks about the Jewish idea of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), an idea that I think nicely ties in with the topic of this lesson.

As I see it, I think we, as Mormons, often get overzealous about promoting what we think is a true principle. This is perhaps particularly the case during an election season when many of us have been engaged as conscientious citizens civically engaged in promoting policies, candidates, and political agendas that we think will be most beneficial for society. In this sense, our concern for truth has been prioritized.

This concern for truth is an important part of our lives as disciples of Christ living in a democratic society. We have been admonished to be engaged in our communities and the political process. However, in these activities we can’t leave the work of kindness undone. And of the virtues touted in scripture, charity is repeatedly given a privileged place. Concern for truth, faith, righteousness/justice, is all nice and good, but it is all for naught if not suspended by love, charity and kindness.

But a valid concern, I think, about conflating love and approval, might be raised here. And I think this conflation is worth some reflection. The manual relates the following story:

Elder Matthew Cowley, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visited him in the hospital. “I walked up to his bedside,” he said, “and he reached out and took me by the hand, and gripping my hand firmly he said, ‘Young man, remember all the days of your life that you can find good in everyone if you will but look for it.’”

“Maybe there are sinners who mistook his love for respect. He didn’t respect the sinner, but he loved him. I am sure that love found response in the hearts and lives of those whom he loved.”

I think the word “respect” has a different meaning in the context of the story, which occurred several decades ago, than it does now. But the point of the story seems clear: to love someone does not mean we are affirming certain sins that the person might be engaged in. But this overlooking of sins for the sake of love is the very core of the Gospel message: God has shown his love to us, culminating in the atonal suffering of Jesus Christ, despite our sins. We are offered love before we repent, not after or only on condition that we repent—and the miracle is that this kind of love has a more potent motivational influence on us to repent than if we were only loved on the condition of repentance.

Again from the manual:

I feel sad sometimes when I hear the unkind things that are spoken, not only of people in our Church, but of people in the world. Unkind things are not usually said under the inspiration of the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is a spirit of kindness; it is a spirit of patience; it is a spirit of charity and love and forbearance and long suffering; and there are none of us who do not need all these virtues that are the result of the possession of the Spirit of our Heavenly Father.

I doubt it is pure coincidence that this lesson is scheduled (at least in our ward) the week after a rather bitterly fought election season. The temptation this past week to say, think, or agree to unkind expressions has probably been greater than usual for many of us. So, this is a particularly timely reminder to repent of our unkindness and recommit ourselves to being more kind.

I was particularly surprised at two things this past week. First, I read a criticism of Romney’s concession speech, saying Romney seemed to be insincere in his congratulations and self-serving in his expressions of gratitude. Second, I heard someone’s response to the First Presidency’s statement of congratulations and support for President Obama as really meaning that because Obama won we really need to prepare ourselves for disaster ahead (with reference to the fiscal cliff in particular). Although I see the point being made in both cases, I worry that we as a society have become more prone to first seeing the bad in those we are inclined to disagree with, rather than first seeing the good.

I will not take time to enumerate the many ways [Lucifer] employs but there is one way in which he operates, and has operated from the beginning of the world, and that is to tempt one individual to destroy the reputation of another by saying unkind things of them.

. . . As a people we are advised not to be critical, not to be unkind, not to speak harshly of those with whom we associate. We ought to be the greatest exemplars in all the world in that regard. Consider the criticism today. Pick up your newspapers and see the unkind things that are being said by individuals about others, and yet many times the individual who is criticizing has a beam in his own eye and does not see at all clearly, but he does think his brother has a mote in his eye.

Aren’t we rather prone to see the limitations and the weaknesses of our neighbors? Yet that is contrary to the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a class of people who find fault and criticize always in a destructive way. There is a difference in criticism. If we can criticize constructively under the influence of the Spirit of the Lord, we may change beneficially and properly some of the things that are being done. But if we have the spirit of fault finding, of pointing out the weaknesses and failings of others in a destructive manner, that never comes as a result of the companionship of the Spirit of our Heavenly Father and is always harmful.

To what class do we belong? The class of destructive criticizers or the class more concerned with constructing a better world and working for “change beneficially and properly”? Do we seek the influence of the Holy Ghost in all that we do, or are we driving “the spirit of fault finding, of pointing out the weaknesses and failings of others”? Who are the others that we are most prone to find fault with?

That we might repent of our unkindnesses and our unkind tendencies is my sincere hope and prayer. I hope we will be inspired by the supreme example of our Lord, and his many servants, and our exemplary prophets—inspired to repair the world by showing kindness to others, particularly those we are most tempted to be unkind to—especially at this season in which our U.S. communities are most in need of expressions of solidarity and kindness.

4 Responses to “RS/MP Lesson 21: “The Power of Kindness” (George Albert Smith Manual)”

  1. john willis said

    a good perspective on the lesson.

    We had the lesson last week in my ward.

    I brought up the story of how G.A. Smith traveled to Mexico in 1945 shortly after becoming president of the church and was able to being back into the church a group of several thousand saints, The Third convention, who had left the church because of their desire to have a native Mexican Mission president.

    I attended a conference on the 100th anniversery of the Exodus of the Mormon Colonies. They had a number of papers on the third convention and I was able to talk to some of the presenters.

    I was impressed that a key factor that brought most of the third convention back into the church was the kindness and trust G.A. Smith and the new mission president showed to the leaders of the third convention. They did not treat the third convention leaders as apostates who need to be disciplined and repent but brothers in the gospel who had gone astray and they wanted back in the church.

    The kindness that was part of G.A. Smith’s character and personality was evident in some of the stories in the lesson and how he handled the third convention.

  2. David said

    Thanks for your excellent perspective on this. I found it very uplifting.

  3. Judy said

    Yes, very thought-promoting. Extremely timely. Lots to ponder…Thank you!

  4. kirkcaudle said

    I really loved these notes Robert. The following two lines are spectacular, “of the virtues touted in scripture, charity is repeatedly given a privileged place. Concern for truth, faith, righteousness/justice, is all nice and good, but it is all for naught if not suspended by love, charity and kindness.” Well said! I often (wrongly) uphold truth and faith with my words and my actions more than I uphold charity.

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