By Sherrae Phelps
Throughout the Book of Mormon, there are many confrontations between the differing traditions, beliefs, and perspective of the people. The battle of conflicting views of the traditions of the fathers is an ongoing theme. The Book of Mormon literally starts with this dilemma as Lehi is preaching among the people in Jerusalem. The people mocked him, get angry with him, and cast him out, and tried to kill him claiming that it is Lehi who is wrong. Even some of his sons view Lehi’s beliefs as “foolish imaginations of his heart.” They don’t agree with his beliefs and views.
We read accounts and stories of the Nephites approaching the Lamanites and Lamanites approaching the Nephites suggesting that the traditions of their fathers are wrong. Both groups are convinced that they see things accurately and that it is the other group that needs to adjust their beliefs.
But what if you were a Lamanite living in your Lamanite community and things are going along just fine. Have you ever considered what it would be like to have a Nephite show up suggesting that the traditions of your fathers aren’t accurate? And vice versa, what if you’re a Nephite and you have someone coming to you telling you that your beliefs and your traditions are wrong?
It can be very frustrating and uncomfortable to listen to someone suggest that your view might be off or distorted or that your view is wrong altogether. It is not easy to have your beliefs challenged, regardless if it’s your religious beliefs, political beliefs, or your beliefs of what happened within a certain situation.
Are the Lamanites the only ones that need to take the time to understand the Nephites version of the story of what happened in the wilderness?
Since the Nephites already know they’re right, do they need to even listen to the Lamanites? Do we only expect the Lamanites to consider that they might be wrong? Wouldn’t it also be valuable for the Nephites to sit and listen to the Lamanites explain how they felt that they were wronged in the wilderness?
At one time in my life, I asked a dear friend of mine who I had offended to share with me openly her view of the situation and what it is like, for her, to be friends with me. A few days later I received an email from her. I was very hesitant to open it up and read it because I was nervous about what she might say, and I was scared to see myself through her eyes.
I didn’t open her email for two days, and when I finally got the courage to read it, I was furious and shocked at her accusations of me. It took some time until I was able to read through it again with the ability to understand her position without getting defensive. It’s not very pleasant to look at your short-comings in the face, and furthermore, it’s even more difficult to become aware of how your actions have hurt someone. But when I was ready to understand what she was saying, it was able to see things more clearly. And the truth was, that there was some validity in her perspective, and there was some truth in my perspective as well.
In an interview with Brad Wilcox, I talked with him about how to make room for the differing beliefs of others. He explained, “A better way is to make sure we listen and try to understand others. That doesn’t mean we have to accept what’s being said. It simply means that we have to seek to understand FIRST. Then we have to present evidence so that the person can understand why we think differently. Even if he doesn’t accept our beliefs, he will at least understand why we believe that way.”
“Love, not ideology, brings you to a deeper understanding.” Explains Psychotherapist Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. “Are you willing to understand another view even if it pressures and challenges your view? It’s about really caring about the people around you and caring about their experience and grappling with their view that encourages growth and development in yourself, that’s what brings you to wisdom. Love makes you wiser when you allow other people’s views to shape you.”
During the interview with Brad Wilcox, he shared these two stories: “One bad example would be the kid on a playground, that I heard about, at Christmas time whose friend told him that there is no Santa Claus. And the kid punched his friend when he told him. I think of another negative experience in our own family when my young son came home and said, ‘Dad did you know the tallest building in the world is the Empire State Building?’ to which his brother responded by saying, ‘No it’s not, you’re so stupid. I can’t believe you said that because that’s not the tallest building.’ When my younger son was attacked like that, then he didn’t say, ‘Oh enlighten me older brother. Please tell me which is the tallest building.’ Instead, he got defensive, and he clung to his belief, whether it was right or wrong. He clung to it even tighter just like the kid on the playground who punched his friend when he said there is no Santa. We all do the same thing and cling to our beliefs at times when they attacked.
“When we attack someone’s belief or when someone attacks our belief, then the initial reaction is to get into an argument: ‘Is too! Is not! Yes, it is. No, it isn’t.’ And that doesn’t get us anywhere. What we’ve got to look at is evidence.
So I said to my son, ‘I’m so glad you’re interested in tall buildings. That is wonderful. And I think that for a long time the Empire State Building was the tallest building. But let’s look at the copyright date in the book that you that you got from the library. Let’s see when that was published. And then let’s just look on the Internet and see if there have been some buildings built after that date. That may give us more information.’ In that kind of setting, my younger son was willing to look at the evidence which allowed him to compose a new belief in his mind. And I think that that’s an important thing that we can do when trying to help others understand us.
“I think that Stephen Covey gave some wonderful advice when he said: ‘Seek first to understand and then be understood.’ It’s important that we listen to other people’s opinions and beliefs and not jump too quickly to the defense of our own.”
You don’t have to let go of your views to show respect to another’s views, and you don’t have to let go of your relationships to show respect to your views.
Read the interview with Brad Wilcox on Understanding Differing Beliefs