Standing up for our beliefs doesn’t always make us the most popular people in the school/office/crowd. The mere fact that we admit we are Latter-day Saints may pre-dispose some to dislike us. As we become “everyday missionaries” and make others aware of our church membership, the chance of being disliked may increase. Our membership in the church automatically says something about our morals, our standards and our values. Our morals, standards and values are anything but popular in today’s world.
Those who have come to me for counseling frequently feel despair because, in standing up for their beliefs, they have sacrificed their popularity. With complete sincerity I ask, “What does it matter? You’re not running for office. The people who don’t like you are not in a position to hire you, promote you or fire you. The parties you don’t get invited to are parties you wouldn’t want to attend anyway. How are you worse off because people don’t like your beliefs, and as a consequence have decided they don’t like you?”
When criticized for being “narrow-minded” or “prudish” I have often taken comfort in the Savior’s words, “Blessed are ye when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil falsely against you for my name sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted the prophets which were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12)
Most of the time, it doesn’t do us a bit of harm if we are disliked. Although unfortunate occasions of prejudice may at times affect our livelihood (such as those who stood up for Proposition 8 in California and were let go from their places of employment) for the most part, being disliked simply means we get ignored. I can live with being ignored. Being ignored won’t make me lose a moment’s sleep–except for one thing–I want to share the gospel. It’s easy to keep to yourself, mind your own business, go on living your life and take no concern for what the neighbors think, unless the neighbors are the ones you want to know about the gospel.
When sharing the gospel it’s important to be likable. You can’t keep to yourself, minding your own business. You can’t be content being ignored. Missionaries who enjoy the greatest success are likable human beings. Members who successfully invite their friends to hear the gospel are likable human beings. So how do we become likable, if sharing our beliefs might possibly make us unlikable? How can we use Mormon words, and talk normally about our Sunday experience if revealing we are Latter-day Saints might engender prejudice?
The answer is: we must become likable first. Before we use Mormon words, or talk about teaching Gospel Doctrine on Sunday, we can make sure we are likable enough that our audience won’t automatically run away.
How to be Likable
Years ago Dale Carnegie revealed “six ways to make people like you,” in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of Carnegie’s fundamental ideas was “talk in terms of the other man’s interests.” As missionaries, and as member missionaries, we often fail to show interest in the person we are talking to. We are so eager to start a gospel discussion, or tell a story about our weekend, or reveal what we know about families or eternal life that we forget who we are talking to.
Unless we already have a relationship, unless an investigator is already our friend, and unless we already know something about them, we will not be very likable when we launch into a discussion based upon our own interests. We become likable when we are genuinely and sincerely interested in others.
One day I was scrapbooking and one of my sons came home for a visit. He expressed interest in what I was doing, and was intrigued enough that he sat down next to me, picked up a pair of scissors, and began cutting shapes with me. I was so touched by his interest in my interests that my affection for him grew even greater than before.
This son has a natural curiosity for life, and he seldom meets an individual that fails to fascinate him. If he meets someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, he wants them to explain how they work. He has learned to lay tile, install plumbing, plant a garden, kite surf, all by expressing interest in people he randomly meets. These people know he is interested in them, and when it comes time to discuss the gospel, they listen.
A natural interest in others might predispose certain individuals to be likable, and therefore, effective as missionaries. However, if taking interest in others doesn’t come naturally, it can certainly be learned.
Recently we invited missionaries into our home to teach long-time friends. The missionaries were so excited about this referral, and so excited to share what they knew that they talked non-stop for 45 minutes. At the end of the “discussion” one of our friends made a single comment, “Perhaps next time we can have a two-way discussion.”
People like to talk about themselves, and if we express sincere interest when they talk, they will like us. It won’t matter that we have conservative values, strong morals and high standards. They will like us despite our different beliefs, or perhaps they may even desire to know more about our beliefs. The old saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” is especially true for missionary work. Once people know that we truly care about them, that we view them as individuals, interesting individuals, worthwhile individuals, they may let us teach them what we know.
Recently I was on exchanges with the missionaries and a man answered a door with a bearded dragon sitting on his shoulder. I was so entranced by the large lizard I practically forgot why we were there. I began a conversation about reptiles and he invited us inside where we viewed the lizard’s habitat, saw photos of the lizard, and learned all about how to care for a bearded dragon. Eventually we remembered to invite the man to hear the discussions, and he agreed to let us come back and teach him.
We had stayed focused at the other homes we visited. We had shared a message right off the bat, and nobody invited us to come back and teach. Next time I think we’ll take a brief minute to ask about the gorgeous tile on the front porch, or the shiny car in the driveway, or the friendly dog that greets us.
Since we took the time to learn about them, perhaps they’ll take the time to learn about us.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Jacksonville, Florida and the author of Unsteady Dating. For more information click www.smithfamilytherapy.org