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A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to grow some vegetables. Before I could plant anything, I needed a suitable space for a garden. So I spent a Saturday afternoon clearing a small area of our property. Because we live on a rural piece of land that is overrun by weeds, this was a rather demanding task, but I felt very pleased with the results of my hard work. On this newly cleared piece of earth I carefully planted a variety of seeds and looked forward with eager anticipation to enjoying the fruits of my labors.
It did not take long for weeds to start invading my garden. In the beginning, I diligently watched so I could remove weeds as soon as they made an appearance. But it was not always easy to distinguish between growing weeds and growing vegetable plants, and soon I became lazy in my efforts. Before I knew it, my garden was overtaken by weeds. These plants competed for the water and nutrients in the soil, grew more rapidly, and blocked the sunlight from my vegetable plants. Rather than working harder to combat the weeds, I felt burdened by the task and I gave up my efforts. None of the seeds I had planted survived. Instead of enjoying fresh, nourishing vegetables from my garden, I was left with an overgrown, tangled patch of weeds.
I can relate my experience of feeling overwhelmed by weeds infesting my garden to how I often feel overwhelmed by information. I want to be knowledgeable and informed about what is happening in the world around me, but how do I know which information is good, and which information is dangerous and toxic? In a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and so many voices that are vying for our attention, often with very different claims about what is true, how can we know which voices to listen to?
Just as we need to work diligently to keep weeds out of a garden, we need to put diligent effort and energy into weeding through information to find truth about spiritual and temporal matters. The principle of “search, ponder, and pray” is not only necessary to receive a testimony of spiritual truth, but also has secular application and can help us navigate our way through the barrage of information that inundates us at every turn. We can search through a wide variety of reputable news sources and be aware of any biases or political agendas. We can do the work to fact-check. We can use the logic and reason that God has blessed us with, while remembering that information can be presented in a way that is twisted, out of context, misleading, or outright false. And we can pray for the gift of discernment and seek the voice of the Spirit.
In my efforts to discern which voices I should listen to and trust, I have been reminded that the scriptures teach us that one way we can discern good from evil is by examining fruit. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit… Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:16-17, 20).
By examining the fruit, we can discern whether the tree is good or evil. This can be applied to all aspects of our life, including our media consumption, what information we give our attention to, and what voices we trust.
When we are presented with information, we can consider the fruit by asking ourselves: What is the purpose of this information? What is it trying to persuade me to do or think? Does it provoke fear? Does it stir up anger? Does it seek for solutions, or cause division and discord? Does it inspire me to act in a positive and constructive way? Is it subtly sowing seeds of hate or distrust of others? Does it promote “us vs. them” thinking?
The two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that loving our neighbor does not mean that we only love those who believe like us, think like us, look like us, or live like us. The parable of the Good Samaritan clearly demonstrates that loving our neighbor means especially loving those who are different from us and who might even be considered our enemy.
Keeping this in mind, I recognize that any messages that promote distrust, suspicion, fear, or hate of any group of people – whether it be people of a certain religion, nationality, race, political party, or any other population of God’s children – is not good fruit. Thus, I can discern that any source of such a message is not good and is not of God.
Anger, confusion, division, and fear are all examples of bad fruit. The Book of Mormon is full of examples of the disastrous consequences of being stirred up to anger and fiercely divided along tribal lines. When Jesus Christ ministered to the people of Nephi, he taught them that “the devil… is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:29). The scriptures also teach us that fear is not of God, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
What is good fruit? The apostle Paul taught that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). If I want to know what good fruit looks like, that list provides an excellent starting place. I can also remember the two great commandments and ask myself: Does this information fill me with more love for God and more love for others?
God has given us what we need to navigate our way through the noise and confusion of the world around us. By considering the fruit, we can discern between good and evil. With some effort on our part, we can recognize the toxic weeds that will choke out that which is good, and refuse to give them room to grow in the gardens of our minds and hearts.