Mother Eve was a wise woman in so many ways. She recognized that if she and Adam didn’t partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they could never have children and we wouldn’t exist. Thank you, Mother Eve for that. Mother Eve was also wise enough to choose from whom she would take influence. Her immediate response upon being approached by Satan was, “Who art thou?” She was essentially asking, “Why should I listen to you?” She wanted to determine his credibility.
There are a lot of people out there in the world telling us what to do. They tell us what to eat, what to wear, where to travel, how to get ahead at work, how to raise our kids, how to worship, how to love. If we are wise, we will make an effort to determine their credibility.
In today’s Internet world, vetting an influencer is practically non-existent. Anybody can start a blog, or a website, an Instagram account or a You-tube video and start dispensing advice. The criteria the public uses to determine the adviser’s credibility is highly suspect. Very often the advice of these “influencers” becomes popular because the influencer is funny, or clever, or sarcastic or brazen. They are certainly well-spoken and most likely good-looking. However, the fact that someone is funny or cute doesn’t make them an expert on parenting or weight loss or whatever other subject.
Before the advent of the internet, a series of “gatekeepers” vetted advice before it was dispensed to the public. The crazy, “out-there theories” would never even see the light of day because an editor or a producer would toss outrageous ideas in the cylindrical file. Today anybody can promulgate anything, and it has become the consumer’s responsibility to edit out the flotsam.
Believing Flattering Words
Sadly, consumers are not inclined to question someone’s credentials when they are hearing what they want to hear. That’s how Alma the younger won his audience before his repentance. He spoke flattering words. I imagine him saying, “You’re okay just the way you are.” “You don’t need to change.” “God loves you so he will save you no matter what you do.”
I recently read a book where, with tongue-in-cheek, the author accuses the mega-churches of “perfecting the art of ambiguity” to the point where if you attend “you don’t know if you are worshipping God or Satan.” I laughed to read this writer’s assessment. But I realized that preaching ambiguity may, indeed, be the only way to appeal to everybody.
Picky about Credentials
It seems that credentials suddenly begin to matter when people are being called to repentance. Alma had all kinds of followers when he was trying to destroy the church but once he repented and started to teach the truth, his credentials were questioned.
The people of Ammonihah, claimed he had no power over them because he had delivered the judgement set to Nephihah (Alma 8:12). They too asked, “who art thou?” “Suppose we shall believe the testimony of one man?” (Alma 9:2). It didn’t make a difference when another man, Amulek, testified to the words of Alma. They still wouldn’t listen because they weren’t hearing what they wanted to hear.
Credibility only seems to matter when we are being told what we don’t want to hear. The people became picky about credentials when Alma started to teach repentance. This also happened in the Land of Lehi-Nephi. Rather than listen to Abinadi, the wicked questioned his credentials. King Noah asked, “Who is Abinadi that I and my people should be judged of him? (Mosiah 11:27)
Because we don’t have the gatekeepers that used to exist before the internet, we have the responsibility to be our own editors and our own producers. We must go through the slush pile and discern who is credible and who we will follow. Although it is tempting to follow the flashy delivery that tells us what we want to hear, if we truly want to better ourselves, we will choose to follow those who tell us what we need to hear.
A few guidelines can help us be our own editors and our own producers and discern if those we follow are credible and trustworthy and will tell us what we need to hear.
- What is their experience? “This worked for me and so it will work for you,” is not the definition of experience. Because one woman lost weight drinking nothing but lemonade and honey does not mean the diet she invented will apply to everyone. Experience generally involves education and training and the consideration of multiple examples, not just one.
- Who can testify of them? As we have returned to our study of the New Testament this year, I have been impressed with the role of John the Baptist in Jesus’ ministry. John had a lot of credibility before Jesus came along. He was the son of a respected priest, Zacharias, and his birth was quite the miracle, as Elizabeth conceived in her old age. John was considered by the Jews to be the last and greatest of the prophets. To have John the Baptist testify that someone was coming whose “shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose,” reassured his followers that Jesus was definitely worth following.
- What is their motive?
Fame and fortune can derail the most sincere influencer. Someone who initially began dispensing advice in order to bless the lives of listeners may become enamored by their followers, and begin to tailor their advice so it is pleasing to hear. When advice becomes monetized in the form of sponsors, the influencer’s motives can become suspect. One thing that has convinced me of the truth of the Prophet Joseph’s message is the lack of personal gain. What is the influencer’s motive? What is their objective? How is this evident?
- Do they walk the walk?
My mother taught me that “Folks on a pedestal have to watch their step.” (Her advice backfired and made me want to fly under the radar for fear that I might misstep and lead someone astray.) While nobody is perfect, and even the most sincere influencer can make mistakes, their efforts to set a good example should be evident. A Facebook page with photos of them flaunting their disdain for the standards of the church should make one suspect hypocrisy.
- Double-check their work It’s risky to believe just one isolated source about any subject. That’s what’s so wonderful about modern day prophets. They testify to the words of one another. We are safer to believe the things we are hearing if more than one trusted source is teaching them.
Kudos to those influencers with sincere motives who truly want to bless mankind. Sifting out the charlatans will give us time in our day and space in our lives for those who are truly worth following.