I remember as a child a now funny event when my father chastised me for raising my voice to my brother. Frustrated after several attempts to convince me to use an “inside voice,” my father raised his to yell, “Why can’t you learn to QUIET DOWN?!”
As a father now myself, I have caught myself in my own hypocrisy of words compared to actions. I have felt embarrassed as I’ve realized that the words I have used to teach a concept have been negated by the way in which I say them. Perhaps you too have felt to gently rebuke yourself for letting the message of your example outshine the precepts of what you would have taught. Perhaps that was, in part, the motivation behind Alma, who repented of his own desire for an undeniable power to convince. He said in the 29th chapter of the book that bears his name:
1 O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.
3 But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
The reality is, moral agency cannot be denied others, even if it is to fulfill an otherwise righteous desire of one who would proclaim nothing but truth and goodness. Alma, desiring to teach good precepts, sought to do so in a way that would rob the unrighteous of their agency. In essence, he wanted to be able to shout down their voices of disbelief!
Who Among Us Has Not Felt Like Alma?
I have felt like Alma on occasion. As an increasingly critical world speaks disrespectfully of things I hold sacred, and as popular public figures mock what I hold precious, I have felt a desire to silence critics and amplify friends. This has been especially true as the political world has turned its eye more closely to the Church because one of our own has submitted his name for the highest office in the land. People from both sides of the political spectrum in the US have taken opportunity to both ridicule and belittle truths that I feel to defend.
It is a tempting world, especially online! Under the guise of anonymity, it would be easy to go onto the web and there dole out verbal retribution to those who fail to meet my standards of fairness. It is indeed tempting to borrow from my critic’s vernacular and style, and make a mockery of their mocking, to revile their reviling, and to belittle their belittling comments. As they wonder at the magic of my underwear, or the miracle of a Moroni in latter-days, it would seem I could gain some satisfaction from borrowing the sharp barbed quivers of rapid retorts to simultaneously cut their critical comments to the core while I turn the tides on their disrespect and strip them down to the exposed and naked flesh that is the humility of godly sorrow.
If Alma lived today, perhaps his versus would have been written thusly:
Oh, that I were an online censor, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might blog with cutting power of a comic, with a reputation that could not be ignored, and thereby correct every misstatement made by journalists and commentators.
Yea, I would declare to every critic, as with a voice of thunder, that they should stop criticizing and mocking the Church, that they should join with us in faith, that there might be no more dissentions on the internet!
But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
The Quiet but Effective Example
In contrast to the hypocrisy I am tempted to feed in my online interactions, I recall Randy Bowler, a business partner of my mission president, now Elder Mervin B. Arnold of the 70,coming to tour our mission in 1987. He had felt inspired to do so, without knowing that he would be called to replace departing President Arnold in just over a year.
As I picked up Brother Bowler from the airport, I argued with a porter who tried to earn a quick dollar from handling our baggage despite my direct instructions to leave our baggage alone. Ever pinching my pennies, I was covetous of the mission funds, and was arguing out of irritation that he had ignored me and that I was then obligated to pay a tip I had tried to avoid. Brother Bowler could have chastised my needless arguing with a sharp retort, but instead opted for a more pointed and lasting rebuke. He simply looked at me with some disappointment, and handed the man two dollars.
This contrast of behavior without any spoken words served to educate me much more than anything he could have possibly said. I was silenced and chastised, and yet not a single word was spoken. What he chose to ignore spoke volumes above anything he could have expressed, and while he probably has no idea the remarkable impression he left on me with that simple example, he nevertheless cut me to the core and made me at once love and respect him.
“Uncontested Slam Dunks”
We, too, often feel like we want to share the attention grabbing glory of those of sharp wit with biting retort, and forget that the greatest lessons taught often come less from what we say, than in how we say it! This is not to suggest that bad information needs to be allowed to germinate in the fair minds of those who otherwise are ignorant of the truth. In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, we need not allow “uncontested slam dunks” to go without answer. But the question is how should we answer?
Outside of Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, a predictable group of protestors gather each general conference with signs thatproclaim and pronounce messages critical of the Church. They often chant and shout out declarations of condemnation to those arriving to sit at the feet of the prophets, and to be taught from on high. Nearby, a small group of Temple Square missionaries stand in bright and cheery contrast, singing beautiful hymns of worship. The messages of their hymns proclaim the precious truths we love. They do not shout down those who shout, nor do they hold signs of condemnation of those who would condemn us. Rather, they let the cheery contrast of their demeanor and the beautiful messages of their hymns serve as chastisement of contrast, easily recognized by any who has ears to hear or eyes to see!
Last year, FAIRLDS.