An elderly man recently told me he has never seen a time like this in his lifetime. Social division and violence are on the rise. We can blame the breakdown of the family, the anonymity of social media that allows bullying, movies and television, changes in education, even the last days.
Whatever the cause, we are living with the result: Escalating hatred. Yet the Lord commanded us to have unity. “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine’ (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).” He gave similar counsel to His apostles at the Last Supper (John 17:20-21).
The Lord is training us for Heaven. We must learn peace. We know that He will never ask us to do something impossible. There has to be a way to overcome this trend and build harmony, not just at home but in the world. But how can we possibly do it?
Let’s look at a dozen actions we can actually take, that might bring a measure of unity to our homes and neighborhoods.
Find and focus on the good in others. We do not have to have everything in common to connect. Look at marriages! Accept that people have their agency to choose their own habits, faiths, philosophies, and politics . But no matter how divergent they may seem from you, you’ll always have more in common than your differences.
John Donne may have said that no man is an island, but there are lots of them in our neighborhoods! Too many people live out their lives in solitude, never actually meeting their neighbors. What a shame, and what a loss. Even if you’re shy, you can share something you baked, care for a pet while they’re away, or offer to help with yard work. Look around and see how many homes are near you. Do you know these people? Find a way to connect. Have a neighborhood potluck. Invite someone to come over for breakfast. When you need a car mechanic or a repairman, ask them who they’d recommend. If they have children, go to their kids’ ballgames or recitals. Don’t let your address book be filled only with people who look like you and think like you.
Eat together. One of the purposes of the strict Hebrew diet laws in the Old Testament was to keep them insular, away from those of other—or no—beliefs. When you break bread with someone, you form bonds of closeness. By never being able to eat with the gentiles, it ensured they would not intermarry or lose their faith. The lesson here is not to isolate ourselves today, but to know there is power in eating meals with others. So have a barbecue, meet for lunch, invite neighbors over for ice cream. Find a way to eat together. You’ll break down walls, learn and grow, and find lifelong friends.
Celebrate diversity. Just as in marriage when we celebrate the differences that enrich our union, we need to get out of our rut and try new foods, new cultural events, new hobbies. Invite those from other countries to share their holiday traditions. Shop at local businesses. Be known as someone everybody can count on, not as someone who closes the curtains and hides away. Getting to know those who are lonely can bless you both. By reaching out, you’ll become aware of opportunities to show Christ’s love—you’ll know of illnesses, surgeries, losses of jobs, and be able to rally others to help as well.
Resist criticizing. It’s human nature to glance at someone and make judgments. But try to catch yourself. In place of judgmental thinking, remind yourself that this is a child of God. See them through their Father in Heaven’s eyes and choose then and there to love them. You’ll be happier and you might even be more useful to the Lord as He may prompt you how to approach this person.
Mentor. We all have skills and talents. Share yours with young people, the elderly (computer help, please!), and anyone who might like to learn what you may consider common knowledge. Community centers and schools are great places to find mentoring, tutoring, and coaching opportunities. Encourage the teenagers who live in your area. Help them believe in themselves and show them how to network, how to gain life skills, how to like themselves enough that peer pressure loses its power.
Volunteer. Devote some time to help with a community art show, fundraiser, food bank, or women’s shelter. Be visible to those in your area. Attend a City Council or School Board meeting. Roll up your sleeves and help in times of disaster. Look at the justserve.org site and choose a cause that fits your time and family ages.
Be a peacemaker. If you see a quarrel brewing or sense tension between two people, be the one to jump in and prevent escalation. Help them to calm down, see both sides, maybe learn the value of compromise, and to find common ground. One of my kids once observed a political argument and brought great perspective by saying, “Come on. There probably won’t even be politics in the next life.” Or, at least, not politics as we know it today. Sometimes that broader view helps subdue an argument.
Listen. Sometimes we find ourselves part of the contention, growing angry and aggressive. Decide you will not raise your voice. Step away from the conflict for a few minutes until you calm down. Remember the scripture, “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 Nephi 11:28-29). Now, come back with a different attitude—one of seeking to understand the other person. “Help me understand” is a wonderful phrase that shows genuine interest and humility. It shows you’re working for a solution, not to prove others wrong.
Remember to connect with family. Get a family reunion on the calendar. Plan a yearly something that all the kids can count on—a giant water balloon fight, a talent night, a joke-telling contest, a cook-off, river rafting, a hike, a swim party. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just needs to underline how important you all are to one another.
Open up. Many of us try to conceal our problems and needs, which deprives others of a chance to serve and feel close to us. Too many have the image of perfection going, when being real and vulnerable would be a better way to build closeness. When was the last time you called someone and said, “I’m having a pity party. Can you pull me out of it with some good news?”
Show appreciation. This can be for a neighbor, a clerk in a store, or for your own immediate family members. Life is hectic and sometimes we forget to express just how much we appreciate what someone did for us. Take time to acknowledge those kindnesses.
Teach peace to your children. Example, of course, is the best teacher. But you can also ask your children if there is someone different at school, someone who might need compassion. Ask them how they settle disputes there. Are there cliques that exclude others? What can they do to bring peace and unity to their classroom?
Yes, we live in difficult times. But if we join together with common interests and common goals, we can literally change our communities. I like what philosopher Marshall McLuhan wrote: “There are no passengers on spaceship earth, we are all crew.” When we see ourselves and others this way, we root for everyone to succeed.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.