Each of us is an uncomfortable jumble of good and evil. We have noble motives, try hard, and do many good things. But we also are often judgmental, selfish, peevish, and narrow-minded. Taken together, these two realities mean that we are messed-up; we are human.
On the noble side, we all have spirits that are the offspring of God. From those spirits flow noble intentions and profound graciousness. Our spirits—and God’s Spirit–quietly and consistently invite us toward nobility.
On the less noble side, we are all fallen. Remember how the Lord described to Adam the impact of the fall: “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in [a world of] sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.” (Moses 6:55, explanatory phrase added) Even from childhood, the world of sin poisons our souls.
Because of these contradictions, at various points in our lives, most of us will encounter people who view us in unflattering ways. We will be unfairly judged. Unjust comments will be made about us. Accusations will be leveled against us that seem unwarranted and unreasonable.
This human reality has persisted from Adam through Christ and to the present day. Even someone as perfect as Jesus was seen by some as a fake, a ne’er-do-well magician who led a band of robbers, and the son of a prostitute. Should we be surprised when we—withour abundance of failings—are seen in unflattering ways?
Of course when others look past our good intentions and level us with judgments, accusations,and gossip, it wounds us, particularly when we perceive those judgments to be unfair or untrue.What’s to be done?
When someone attacks us, the natural response is to counterattack. We protest their unfairness. We advance our rebuttal. Perhaps we itemize for them their own offences and character flaws. Possibly we complain to others about the failings of our accusers. We nurse our wounds and develop lasting grudges. This armed warfare cannot possibly lead to the outcome we want. This course invariably leads to division, animosity, hostility and all the outcomes that make Satan laugh with delight.
That is not God’s desire. This is not His solution. He would invite us to react differently.
We Can Appreciate the Perspective and Pain of our Detractors
Years ago, while serving as a bishop, I received a call from a General Authority. He told me that he had received a letter from a ward member who was angry with a man in a position of influence in our ward. The angry ward member accused the other member of a variety of misdeeds. The General Authority asked for my assessment. I felt that the accusations were unfounded. The General Authority sighed. I expected him to express anger at the accusing brother. I expected him to be irritated by the judging and accusation of which the accuser was guilty. He surprised me. He said of the accusing brother: “That man must be in a lot of pain.”
Wow. Even when dealing with a man who was a (at least in that situation) a troublemaker, that compassionate General Authority instinctively knew that there was pain behind the action. He felt compassion. He wanted to help a burdened brother heal.
That is exactly the focus of Jesus’ ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Luke 4:18).
Jesus invites us to be a part of His healing ministry. Rather than chafing and complaining when we are falsely (or rightly!) accused, we can appreciate the pain of the accuser.
Joseph Smith was an amazing peacemaker. Jesse Crosby related Joseph’s method of dealing with complaints brought against him:
When an enemy had told a scandalous story about him, which had often been done, before he rendered judgment he paused and let his mind run back to the time and place and setting of the story to see if he had not by some unguarded word or act laid the block on which the story was built. If he found that he had done so, he said that in his heart he then forgave his enemy, and felt thankful that he had received warning of a weakness that he had not known he possessed. (p. 144 in Andrus, H. L., & Andrus, H. M. (1985). They knew the prophet. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.)
Are we as humble as Joseph? Are we willing to be reflective? When charges are made against us, do we recognize with sorrow and humility our contribution to others’ pain? Are we willing to appreciate their story rather than defend our own?
This does not mean that we surrender our own perspective or honor theirs as the greater truth. It means rather that we get outside the reflexive human tendency to defend ourselves. We cultivate compassion for our detractors. We acknowledge that they do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When we don’t understand their reasons, we open a dialogue for understanding whether that dialogue be mental/spiritual or interpersonal. Our goal is to appreciate their reality.
We Can Hold Our Peace
The scriptures tell us of the Savior’s action when He was pushed to respond to false witness borne against Him. “But he held his peace, and answered nothing” (Mark 14:61).
The expression “hold your peace” traditionally meant to say nothing. But we can take additional meaning and example from this phrase.
In the face of betrayal, mocking and false accusations, the Savior did not react with anger and counterattack. He remained focused on His identity as His Father’s Son and His purpose in life (see Mark 14:62). He held His peace.
When someone unfairly judges us, we too, can hold our peace. We can remain focused on the type of disciple we want to be. We can be peacemakers.
A good friend told the following story.
I once worked for a manager who would verbally attack and berate me. He would yell at me about his frustrations in the way my responsibilities were being handled and discredit my performance. His accusations were usually based on faulty perceptions, but he refused to listen when I tried to correct those perceptions.
I started to think of him as my enemy and wondered if I could even continue in my job. I tried my best to avoid him. I complained about him to co-workers. I spent a great deal of time pondering bad feelings towards him.
After a few weeks of this, I decided that if I wanted to find a productive way of handling the situation, I needed to change my attitude towards him. I took the counsel offered in Matthew 5:44: “But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”.
I began to pray for my manager every day. I prayed that he might be blessed with peace in his life and that I might better appreciate and serve him. At first I said the words, but had great difficulty feeling the spirit of the words in my heart.
But as a few weeks went by, I began to change my heart.
I began to truly seek those blessings.
A feeling of peace started to descend upon me. My manager continued his rants, but I was able to remain calm. I listened to try to understand how I could better work with him. I thanked him for his input.
Eventually a morning came when my manager asked to speak with me. He asked if I was a Christian. I said I was. He told me he had sensed that and asked if he could talk further with me. He began sharing some trials he was experiencing. He told me he was in the midst of a divorce. His father had been diagnosed with a debilitating illness. And he had been told that due to his temper, his hopes for career progression had been destroyed. He was in pain and questioning the meaning of his life. He asked for my advice on how he could find the peace that he saw in me. We had a wonderful talk about the gospel and he began to read the scriptures.
We were able to construct a new, productive relationship. The verbal attacks stopped. I began to appreciate working with him. And a few months later when I was struggling with a significant decision I had to make, I turned to him for advice and he offered valuable counsel that guided me to make the right decision. When he retired, I said good-bye to a friend, not an enemy. He thanked me for helping him find the healing balm of the gospel.
My prayers had been answered. And I had learned a valuable lesson about how to remain peaceful in the face of hurtful accusations. I learned it is my heart, not the actions or comments of others, that determines if I find the path to peace.
All of us will at some time in our lives be unfairly judged and falsely accused. We can respond with hurt and anger. We can turn that anger against our accusers and become their accusers. Or we can accept the invitation to lay down our arms and bless those who despitefully use us.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf issued the timely challenge:
We must realize that all of God’s children wear the same jersey. Our team is the brotherhood of man. This mortal life is our playing field. Our goal is to learn to love God and to extend that same love toward our fellowman. We are here to live according to His law and establish the kingdom of God. We are here to build, uplift, treat fairly, and encourage all of Heavenly Father’s children. (“Pride and the Priesthood,” Ensign, November 2010, 56)
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her excellent contributions to this article.
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