I grew up believing that it was impolite to discuss religion and politics, and if you wanted to be accepted socially, you better keep your mouth shut and your views to yourself. For a long time, I adhered to these social mores and was content to converse about trivia: the weather, the latest movies, and fashion.
Since listening to the counsel of the authorities in the Church it became apparent that it was cowardly of me to hide behind trivial topics. There is too much at stake in our society, in our world, for Latter-day Saints to sit back mutely with our lips buttoned. We must be willing to speak out about our beliefs.
It takes a ton of courage to share your views when you know many will not agree with your views. Those of us who dare speak up are often subject to name-calling and ridicule. Readers of this very column have told me to “lighten up lady” have called me an “old fuddy-duddy,” have accused me of robbing my children of their agency.
Most recently, those of us who dared voice our political views opened ourselves up to ridicule and criticism. The world will inevitably try to shame those who dare speak their mind. Yet, the Lord praises those who are able to “bear the shame of the world.” (Jacob 1:8)
More shameful than the “shame of the world” is the refusal to stand up for what is right. If we are truly grateful for the atonement of Jesus Christ, if we truly believe in the cause of the Christians, the least we can do is admit it. The shame Peter felt when he thrice denied that he knew the Savior was so overwhelming that he changed entirely. Never again in his lifetime would he be ashamed of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. He would spend the rest of his life enduring the shame of the world. He learned it doesn’t matter what man thinks of you. The only opinion that matters is God’s.
I like Isaiah’s comparison: “Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of man, who shall die…and forgettest the Lord thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth..” (2 Ne 8:12,13)
Why should we fear man? Why do man’s opinions of us matter at all? Man can’t save us. Man can’t forgive us. Man can’t exalt us. Man can’t purify us, cleanse us, or heal us. Mankind can ridicule us. But that ridicule is coming from a source that “shouldst die,” that will soon return to the dust of the earth. The cross we are willing to suffer when we bear the shame of the world belonged to the Savior of mankind, the creator of the earth! It’s hardly a choice.
As shameful as it is for us to hide our light under a bushel, to bury our heads in the sand (although ostriches don’t really do that…) it is no less shameful to be intolerant and rude to those who have beliefs that differ from our own.
My original intent– to write this column praising those who have the courage to stand up for what they believe and voice their views– expanded when I discovered there were individuals who were expressing their views in a dogmatic, demeaning, disrespectful manner.
Why does that happen? Why can’t we express our views regarding our heart-felt beliefs like religion and politics without being offensive? Why is it socially unacceptable to even bring up the subject in polite company?
Too often, when we express views that are of vital importance to us, we forget the most fundamental rule of human communication: “seek to understand before you seek to be understood.” The phrase I often use with my clients is, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
If we expect to be listened to, we must be willing to listen. Yelling louder, over one another’s voices is not communication. It is no way to get your point across. Neither party even hears the other party’s view. A lot of good it does to share our views if nobody even listens. It reminds me of the evangelists I see on the street corners on the way to a football game braying like donkeys into a microphone while people honk their horns all the way through the intersection.
One of the gravest dangers of voicing our views on-line is that people forget to be civil. It is easy to dash off an offensive email, blog post, or Facebook rant, without a good editor available to temper your temper. People say things on the internet they would never dare say face-to-face. Our humanity and our awareness of others’ humanity seem to dissipate the more distant the means of communication.
The night the results of the recent presidential election were announced I was in the Virgin Islands. (Yes, I did consider simply staying there!) I was traveling with my best friend, whose political views are diametrically opposed to my own. She refuses to talk politics with anybody because she feels so battered and bashed. Only because we have mutual respect for one another was she willing to open up to me about her views. I listened with rapt attention because I was truly curious; how could this woman, whom I have come to admire, justify beliefs that are so different from my own? I learned a lot. I learned that we see many things the same way. I also came to understand why we saw so many things differently.
I absolutely agree with Quentin L. Cook’s view, “Let me be clear that all voices need to be heard in the public square.” (Oct 2010 Conference). But I would hope that we would be respectful enough of one another’s voices that we won’t silence them through personal attacks, criticism, or even verbal abuse.
As shameful as it is to hide our light and refuse to stand up for what we believe, equally shameful is utter intolerance for beliefs that differ from our own. We must speak up for what we believe. But, let’s be respectful of others who do the same, because whatever your views, it takes a lot of courage to make them known.
JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of the book Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance, available at www.unsteadydating.com. Views expressed in the book have been subject to considerable criticism from the world.