Saturday, February 28, 2009

How Should We Commune with God?

This has been a fascinating month for me, as I've never thought so much (or had so much input from others) about prayer - and especially about how I've always approached prayer. It's been wonderful to read everyone's input - and I am sincere when I say I deeply appreciate what has been shared. As a result of this month's focus, the following has become even more clear to me:

1) HOW we pray is as much a cultural artifice as anything. In response to a comment on a group blog, I did a little searching through our scriptures. I thought I should share the results of that research here:

"I find it fascinating that the word “vocally” is found in our entire canon only 5 times - all in the D&C. The actual command is to pray “vocally and in secret” and “vocally and in thy heart” and “vocally and in thy heart, in public and in private”. Every single case appears to be specifying at least the possibility that the command is to pray vocally when praying publicly (for or representing a group) and not necessarily vocally in private (”in thy heart”). The most interesting aspect is that in all five passages there is a clear distinction drawn between praying vocally and praying “in thy heart”.

The canon uses the phrase “aloud” 24 times, with 19 of those being in the Bible. Only one of those verses (Psalms 55:17) deals with prayer, and it says “will I pray, and cry aloud” - apparently distinguishing the two from each other.

[An additional search since then shows that the term "bow down" is used 38 times in our canon, and every instance talks of prayer, worship or respect. If there is any form of prayer that would be normative based on our scriptures, it would be "bowing down"- which implies a form of prostration beyond merely kneeling.]

“Kneel” (or “kneeling”) is found in our canon only 7 times - and each time that kneeling is part of a communal activity, not a personal, private prayer.

Understand, I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t kneel for formal, personal prayers. I’m just saying that perhaps it is more of a cultural expression of humility than an eternal law. Perhaps if the heart is right, exactly how the body is positioned is less relevant than we tend to assume. I still kneel whenever I pray “formally”, but it can be taken to an extreme - for example, by believing that a bed bound person or someone without legs or someone in a wheelchair somehow can’t have the same experience as someone who can kneel. Also, it could be argued that if kneeling shows humility, then it is even better to prostrate one’s self fully on the ground - since that position is even more humble than kneeling.

The take away from all of this for me is that, while I still like kneeling, and while I certainly AM NOT advocating not kneeling for those in our culture who can do so, I’m even more open to the idea that others can pray without kneeling and have every bit as strong an experience as someone else can on their knees."

2) Ironically, despite this research and discovery, I am more committed right now to pray formally at least more regularly - when there is something unique and specific I need to address. I see prayer now much more like I see church attendance - in that I recognize with church meetings that there is a proper time for "special" attire and a proper time for "casual" attire. I am willing to sacrifice my own perspective and wear more formal attire for many meetings where I personally believe more casual attire would be fine, but there are cases where "formal attire" is important - like Sacrament Meeting and the temple, for example.

Likewise, I have reached peace with the idea that, while my own personal prayers generally can be "relaxed" and non-verbalized, there are instances where a "formal petition" is more appropriate - and those times are more often than I previously have admitted.

3) I simply can't judge anyone else for how they pray. All of us are unique and different; all of us view formality a bit differently. I need to find what works for me as I commune with God, and I need to be gracious in how I allow others to find what works for them.

There really isn't anything new in the post, but I wanted to take the opportunity again to thank everyone who commented on these posts this month - and on the post on Mormon Matters. I truly have gained new insight this month, and I truly appreciate it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Deeper Look at True Repentence

As a society in general, repentance often is assumed on profession of a desire to change, rather than an actual demonstration of change, but that is a terrible standard. Any seasoned liar can cry on command and be convincing; any good con man can explain his actions just as convincingly. Some things are serious enough that we have to take them seriously, no matter how we feel about the person in every other aspect of his life. Sometimes, skepticism has to be the foundation, even though that goes against the ideal for which we strive in all other areas of our lives.

Also, some things are serious enough that repentance needs to include an acceptance of a complete prohibition on the situations that caused the sin in the first place. Those who have abused children should be excluded from any situation where they are alone with children. Period. Professed (or even genuine) repentance notwithstanding. To the end of their mortal lives. No possibility of parole. Period. We can believe their assertions of a changed heart, but we need not create situations where what they did can happen again. Someone who truly has repented sincerely and completely, and who is truly humble, will understand that societal need for certainty and gladly acquiesce. In fact, that is one of the truest fruits of repentance, imo - the humility to change “normal activity” to submit to the best interests of society. If someone fights such a restriction, arguing against it in any way, even by claiming full repentance, I believe we must retain a degree of skepticism and be even more diligent in our duty to protect the innocent.

Some things are serious enough that they need to be categorized outside the norm and treated differently. Jesus himself categorized the abuse of children as so heinous that painful death is better than what will happen to the abusers. That came from the one who said, "Neither do I condemn thee" to a woman caught violating one of the most serious commandments of the time. If he was willing to avoid condemning the adulteress but spoke so severely about child abuse, I think it requires a different approach than other issues.

"Forgiveness" is one thing; ignorance and acceptance of ongoing temptation is quite another; giving the impression of more concern for the perpetrator than the victim(s) is still another. Some things simply are so horrific that they deserve a life sentence, repentance notwithstanding - and anyone who truly is repentant will understand and accept that need. Again, if they fight that restriction, they aren't sufficiently humble to recognize the need for it - which means their heart really hasn't been changed fully - which means there still exists at least a sliver of possibility that it will happen again, given extreme pressures and the perfect storm.

Think of an alcoholic or a drug addict. It is a central, fundamental tenet of rehabilitation that such a person must accept the need for eternal diligence - abstaining from any situation where alcohol or drugs are flowing freely, particularly where there is no support structure to help avoid temptation. That is the manifestation of real repentance - the willingness to do absolutely anything in one's power to avoid any situation where past mistakes are a legitimate possibility. If a drunk or drug addict won't commit to avoiding bars and crack houses, why must we accept their promise that they are the exception - that there simply is no way they will succumb even if they go dancing with the devil?

Again, someone who has repented fully will understand that; someone who has not, will not.

I could pray and ask God this question: "Should I call this man who has sexually abused his daughters to be the Primary Teacher in his daughter's class?" If I did, I would expect one of two answers: 1) total silence for asking such a stupid question; or 2) a solid, spiritual slap upside my head for asking such a stupid question.

Finally, we conflate forgiveness with love WAY too much. They are NOT the same thing, and misunderstanding forgiveness plays a HUGE part of the problem in this type of discussion. Suffice it to say that, unless an abuser has abused me, my wife, my children or someone close to me, forgiveness is not my right. It is left to those whom he has harmed in a real way. "Easy forgiveness" does not help the abuser - and it can be devastating to the victim and those close to the victim, who of necessity will struggle greatly to be able to do what appears to be so easy for us. "Easy forgiveness" of this sort is a result of ignorance and misunderstanding, and it needs to be rooted out of our lives in every iteration. Pure forgiveness is wonderful; easy and indiscriminate forgiveness is abominable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Diabetes and the The Word of Wisdom: Not What You Think

My second son has Type 1 diabetes. If someone does not have diabetes, why would we insist that they live in compliance with the "standards" that are such a vital part of my son's life? To ask everyone else to refrain from sugar simply because he has to be careful of his glucose intake would be ludicrous. Likewise, if others have not understood the Word of Wisdom and have not entered into a covenant to apply it in their own lives . . .

Part of my son's growth is learning how to watch out for and protect himself through living his own particular and unique ("peculiar") standards, while allowing others to live their lives according to the dictates of their own consciences.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Recommendation: Regular Laughter Inducer

I highly recommend the following blog for anyone who wants to laugh every day:

Overheard in the Ward

Monday, February 23, 2009

Individual Beliefs vs. Communal Standards

I was raised in rural farm country. Words that are highly offensive to some people no matter the context or usage are words I grew up hearing all the time. (It took my father years to call it “manure” - and it caused my mother great embarrassment and consternation until he did. It wasn’t conscious; it simply was habitual.) My parents also taught me that I should think about what I wanted to say and use whatever words best fit the meaning I wanted to convey - that it is perfectly appropriate to use what others consider to be “swear words” if they aren’t used as expletives, but rather in their proper context and dictionary meaning.

Due to my upbringing, I have no problem whatsoever using words in context that others find offensive just because of the way that society has turned them into prohibited words - especially since our modern concept of "swear words" and "curse words" is not scripturally based. When I am with others who feel the same way, I fall back on that upbringing; when I am in Church or any other situation where I am associating with people whose sensibilities are different than mine, I try to understand and respect that difference and subvert my natural speech to the level of least offense. If the topic comes up and someone is interested in why I am so comfortable saying words they wouldn’t dream of using, I try to explain my perspective. If they don’t express interest or can’t accept it, I back off and acquiesce to the communal language standard. It’s a simple matter of courtesy.

Thus far in my life, I have found relatively few practical issues where I truly have had to dig in my heels, raise my fists and aggressively fight to reject such communal standards. If I have to abase myself slightly in order to maintain peace and understanding and unity, so be it. I believe this basic outlook touches MUCH more than language, and I believe it is fundamental to true unity.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A New Insight into My Struggle with Formal Prayers

Last Saturday, I wrote about My Struggle with Formal Prayers. I have been thinking about that topic ever since, and I have come to another realization as to why kneeling and vocalizing an individual, personal prayer is so hard for me.

First, some of the paradox behind the struggle:

I have no inhibitions whatsoever with public speaking or one-on-one conversation. I have performed in public since the days of my earliest memories. I sang a public solo for the first time when I was six years old (I think; it might have been eight, but I believe it was pre-baptism.) - "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission" in Sacrament Meeting for a cousin's missionary farewell. I gave my first public speech in First Grade, when I received an award for reading a ridiculous number of books during a contest. I sang in solo competitions and vocal groups from 4th - 12th Grade; I've played piano solos and accompanied others hundreds of times; I played the saxophone for eight years in school; I was the Drum Major of our High School Marching Band. I was a school teacher. More recently, I've been in Sales and Marketing for nearly twelve years. I don't remember EVER being nervous or shy about speaking or performing in front of people. A shrinking violet I am not.

I also am not shy about expressing my thoughts and feelings - as anyone who knows me in the Bloggernacle can attest. When it comes to group participation, I am more likely to be highly visible and audible than quiet and invisible. Communication skills and inclination are not a problem for me.

As I considered all of that this week, I was left to ask:

Why then do I struggle so much with formal prayer? Other than what I articulated last Saturday (the fact that I really do carry a constant prayer in my mind and heart), is there some other personal characteristic that "gets in the way" of kneeling and vocalizing prayer?

It hit me just a couple of days ago that I simply am not a very "formal" person. I am totally comfortable interacting in formal situations, but, for me, doing so is an artificial way to concede to the need to "play the formal game". In a past job, I walked the corridors of the Ohio Statehouse and talked about million dollar funding projects with executive directors of major philanthropies, but my actions in those discussions were "artificially" formal for me. I would have been much more "at home" and "natural" in jeans and a t-shirt, sitting outside on the grass and just having a heart-to-heart chat. I've conducted formal interviews for years, but I'd rather sit and rap with someone than grill them in a formal manner.

Also, I am a natural tease, and I tend to take lots of things less seriously than many others. For example, I'm not sure the member of the Stake Presidency who heard my talk on charity last Sunday expected the quote from "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" ("Be excellent to each other." - at least I didn't include what followed: "Party on, dudes!") or the description of listening to someone learn to play the bagpipes as similar to hearing someone kill a cat - in context of being charitable as people learn to play their souls (although I did mention in the talk that I probably shouldn't say "kill a cat" in Sacrament Meeting). I'm a country boy at heart, and the sociality that exists in a small town tends to be a bit less formal than at a country club or in a middle-upper class suburb.

I've known all of that about myself for a long time, but it never really registered in the context of formal prayer. Simply opening up my mind and heart and talking with God works for me. I've had some incredible spiritual experiences in my life, but I'm having a hard time thinking of one that occurred during a formal, vocal, personal prayer. (Priesthood blessings are a different story, but I'm distinguishing them as "ritual prayer" from "personal prayer".)

What struck me is that the most powerful experiences I have had in my life that are associated with prayer have come when I was being most "true" to myself - when I wasn't engaged in an activity that was "foreign" or "unnatural" to me, but rather when I was doing what I do best. Those experiences all have come either when I simply was chatting with God (talking with him informally in my head and/or heart) or when I was involved in a ritual of some kind - like a Priesthood blessing or an ordinance.

This insight has been a revelation to me, and I am contemplating the implications. At the very least, it has reinforced the need to be careful of requiring all God's children to speak with him in the exact same way - of over-simplifying and communalizing something that might be better left complex and personal. Sometimes, unity of purpose and result might be better than total unity of form and function. At the very least, it's given me more to ponder - and it's strengthened my gratitude for the inspiration that led to my New Year's Resolution for this month.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What Can This Teach Me?

I always try first to read and listen to everything with one question in mind:


"What can this teach me personally - that I can liken unto myself?" (or, worded differently, "What hits me as I read / listen - what jumps out at me?") Once I have focused on what I can learn personally, I then go back and try to understand what was being said overall - by focusing on very careful parsing of the words. I would rather understand only some of it than misunderstand even some of it. That's true of religious texts, non-religious texts and blog discussions.


Only after that process do I go back and try to see if I disagree with anything in it. (and that applies to how I listened to Christian talk radio as I drove the hills of rural SE Ohio, WV and PA, as well) I believe almost everyone has something they can teach us, as long as we are willing to look for it in what they say and write.


In "On Reading the General Authorities", the author, David Knowlton, said:


"Unlike other texts, I was raised to approach the Brethren’s writings with an attitude of prayer, such that through them I could feel the Spirit’s whisperings. It seems to me that idea/act is an important beginning for comprehending an approach to reading."


That sums up my attitude quite well: "Help me learn what I need to learn from this, before I try to understand it fully or look for points of disagreement."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Losing as Part of the Atonement

We live in a society that has a problem with winning - simply because it requires losing, as well. What they fail to realize is that it is just as important to learn to lose graciously (to accept defeat with grace even after your best effort and endure to the end as you strive to improve) - as it is to learn to win graciously (to accept victory with grace and humility even if your victory is lop-sided and "worthy" of conceit).

There is a deep connection to how we view the Atonement in there, but most people never consider that aspect of the need for “opposition in all things”.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Monday, February 16, 2009

Inspiration vs. Imposition: Inclusion vs. Exclusion

Elder Faust once told leaders not to let the handbook and general guidelines keep them from receiving the inspiration to which they are entitled and which they need. We need to be able to recognize exceptional circumstances and act properly therein, since those exceptions are meant to include good people who otherwise might be excluded.

However, I also think that imposing a general standard or practice not required by the handbook and general guidelines (like requiring every single young man to have a missionary haircut in order to be ordained a Priest or pass the sacrament) is not seeking inspiration outside of the handbook for unique cases. It is a systematic and practical change to the handbook - and I discourage that without exception, since doing so automatically excludes good people who otherwise might be included.

That's a major difference, and I believe recognizing that difference is an important part of charity.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Struggle with Formal Prayers

One of the reasons I scheduled "refocus on prayer and fasting" for this November, after this month's focus on prayer is that I always have struggled to pray formally and daily on a personal level. For as long as I can remember, I have had a hard time kneeling alone and praying verbally. For most of my life I didn't understand why, and, although I tried to recommit numerous times, I never could "conquer" that particular habit. My struggle continued through various church callings, including stints in a Stake Mission Presidency, as a Ward Mission Leader, in a Bishopric and to this day as a High Councilor. I still have a hard time, but now, at least, I understand why.

I have struggled with "formal prayer" all my life, largely because I have not struggled with "informal prayer" at any point in my life. All my life, I have prayed regularly; it simply has not been on my knees and vocally, on a set schedule. I naturally commune with God; I just do it silently, in my own head. I understand the following passage from Amulek in Alma 34:18-27, since it resonates with my own experience:

18 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
19 Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
21 Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
22 Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
23 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

I truly do naturally have a prayer in my heart always, and I truly do pray by actually forming words in my mind often throughout each day. I struggle, however, to vocalize those prayers and to offer them in a formal manner. I have reached a degree of peace with that conflict, since I believe it is more important THAT I pray than HOW I pray, but I still am not comfortable completely with my inability to remember and schedule formal prayers. I see it as a weakness that I still have to overcome, even as I see my tendency to pray "continually" as a great strength.

Last year, as I was contemplating this irony, it struck me that it has been easy to excuse my difficulty with formal prayer by thinking what I do (pray continually) is obeying a higher law - that if I have to choose one or the other, it is better to pray as I do than as I don't. I actually believe that, but I have come to realize that I still don't pray "completely, wholly and in a fully developed manner". In other words, I don't pray perfectly yet. That is the goal for which I am striving this month - not necessarily to pray perfectly by the end of the month, but rather to be able to learn to pray more completely by finally praying more consistently in a formal manner - hopefully once each day, but at the very least in a manner than can be considered "regularly".

I have no driving desire right now to do more than that, and, honestly, I'm not sure I ever will - since I truly am satisfied overall with the way and regularity with which I pray. All I know is that I need to learn to pray formally (and, perhaps, vocally) more easily than I currently do.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Truth Ever-Changing

I define “inspiration” as a deeper insight gained through the working of the Spirit than that which one was able to comprehend previously - or is able to comprehend on her own. A classic definition: “a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul”

Neither of these definitions addresses truth or error in any way. If an ancient prophet came to a greater understanding than an earlier prophet, but the “new” understanding still was not the full truth, then such an insight would fit both definitions of “inspiration” - even though, from an absolute truth standard, the new understanding still could be seen as “error”.

Frankly, I don’t think we understand very many, if any, things fully (as God understands them); therefore, we believe things to be “true” (as true as we possibly can conceive), but we also believe that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Some of those revelations probably will change how we see things now, but I still believe our current understanding of them is inspired - and even "true" for us, in most cases.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Finding Personal Answers vs. Memorizing Canned Responses

My experience has taught me that any differences in issues that face different generations only become divisive issues among the generations when the older generation stereotypes the younger generation and/or refuses to see the issues of the younger generation as legitimate - and, in practical terms, exactly like those they faced as youth and young adults (just as real and difficult and emotional). (e.g., when they say, “There’s no good music nowadays,” instead of listening to their children and accepting that their children's music is just as good as what they liked in their youth.)

With that as the foundation, I believe that each and every one of us faces the exact same challenge with regard to spiritual progression - building and maintaining our understanding and testimony of the Restoration and the foundation concepts of the Gospel in the face of opposition from “the world”. If apologetics helps people (youth or adults) understand those foundation concepts and provides them with resources and tools and a sounding board and assurance and the ability to say “I don’t know yet; I will find out” and a broader vision to realize that very intelligent people have addressed their issues without losing faith (in short, if it provides a framework within which the rising generation can find and craft their own answers) - then it works; if not (if it merely gives them some canned responses to parrot back when confronted with certain topics), then I believe it fails - since there always will be more topics than possibly can be included in a repertoire of canned responses.

In other words, if one generation simply says, "Here are the answers that worked for us (me); memorize them," the new generation will end up lost when they are faced with really understanding issues for themselves - even if the questions essentially are the same as the previous generation faced. In dealing with issues current to their own time, the new generation will fail miserably. Their issues are every bit as valid as their parents' issues, and they need to be able to find their own answers - just as they need to find their own music, artistic tastes, relationships and overall lives.

We need to help them learn to remember, read, ponder and pray - not simply memorize.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Resolved to Pray: KISS

My resolution for this month is taken from Matthew 6:5-13, where Jesus teaches how to pray. I will take a look at the Lord's Prayer later this month, but I want to start with a focus on verses 5-8. Those verses say:

5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

There are two main concepts in these verses:

1) That prayer should be private;

2) That prayer should be focused.

The first concept is nearly identical to the counsel given regarding the giving of alms in the preceding verses - and I wrote about that aspect of private giving last month. ("Do Not Your Alms Before Men") Therefore, I will not repeat regarding prayer what I have written already regarding alms. Rather, I want to focus on the second concept, since I previously have not stopped and analyzed "vain repetitions" quite like I did in preparing to write this post.

Throughout our entire canon, the phrase "vain repetitions" is found only twice - in the Sermon on the Mount in the verses quotes above and in the repeat of the Sermon on the Mount given to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. That is fascinating in and of itself, since there is NO other scriptural commentary on the concept.

I have heard many explanations in my life about the phrase, "vain repetitions". I have heard it dissected in numerous ways, but I haven't taken a step back and analyzed it SOLELY based on what the actual words in these verses say - parsing those words and only those words. The result of doing so for this post surprised me, and I hope it helps those who read this. With that in mind, the exact words immediately following the admonition to "use not vain repetitions" are:

for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Those words are followed by the following explanation as to why "much speaking" is not required:

Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

That is fascinating, and it recasts "vain repetitions" for me in an empowering and simplifying way. In fact, what I want to express most clearly here is that I believe I have over-analyzed and over-complicated this concept all my life.

The central concept in this passage is simple and straightforward, and I am going to re-order the words in order to make my point. For myself, the counsel became:

Heavenly Father knows what you need, so don't bother saying long, complicated, fancy or showy prayers. Don't speak much. Focus on what you really want to say, then say it.

The underlying message of the "keep it secret" request is that prayer is NOT for others; it's for you and God - and only for you and God. (There can be a collective "you" when praying as a representative of a group, but the concept is identical.) If it's not for others, prayer should be natural and straightforward and no longer than necessary. There's no need to repeat anything; there's no need to complicate anything; there is need ONLY to communicate your needs to your Father.

He won't "hear" words said in order to please or impress others; He will "hear" words said directly and personally to Him. So, KISS - "Keep it simple, stupid". Know what you want to say before you start ("Study it out in your mind."), then simply say it. He knows what you need anyway, so use prayer as a way to figure it out for yourself - then share that with Him, concisely and precisely, sincerely and privately.

He will hear and answer that - with either silent acceptance or with active input. That is up to Him.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sharpness in a Global Community

“Reproving at times with sharpness” often is couched in terms of “preciseness” and “focus” rather than “blunt challenge” (much like operating with a sharp surgical instrument rather than a butter knife) - and it is followed immediately by “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”. That puts a very limited application to “sharpness” and says, in essence, that meekness and patience and long-suffering are to be the general rule.

Our doctrinal and historical traditions allow for sharpness and upbraiding, but they also restrict that type of language primarily to correction of the Spirit - immediately followed by an increase of love. If there is a generic form of Mormon communication that covers a call to repentance, I would submit it is communication that is focused strictly on the issue, prompted by the Holy Ghost (a stricter standard than even righteous indignation) and then immediately dropped in favor of a loving verbal embrace.

This is my take on communal calls to action in the Church. Since individual members are at different points in their awareness and activity and living in countries where the most important non-Gospel issues are so diverse, it is hard for church leaders to offer “sharp” (meaning focused and precise) calls to repentance to the membership in general outside of Gospel basics. I know even on the ward and stake level, that would be difficult to see happening - much less at the global level. About all they can do in areas that are not integral to their main mission is set a good example, teach correct principles and let the members govern themselves.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Not Everything is Manipulation

I see "manipulation" as when someone who is not convinced of something tries to convince someone else of it for some kind of gain (money, power, prestige, gratification, etc.) - or when someone lies or intentionally distorts in order to get someone to do something they would not do otherwise (which really is a different way to say the same thing). Manipulation is not about how someone else views the issue; it’s about my integrity or hypocrisy - about my motives.

I have been a teacher and am now in sales and marketing. I also have been at various levels of management for the past 20 years. In each of these positions, a central part of my job has been trying to convince people (students and co-workers) to do things they don’t necessarily feel driven to do - often to get them to change their behavior when they aren’t convinced that behavior is wrong. Of course, I try to convince them that what they are expected to do is better than what they have been doing, but sometimes I still must attempt to change their behavior even when they aren’t convinced yet. Sometimes, with some people, I actually compel that change with a threat of termination if they don’t accept the rules. That’s not always manipulation; often it’s simple leadership.

I also have been in a position where I was ordered to overlook records that were fabricated in an attempt to obtain a huge contract - and a different position where I was encouraged to use the classic bait-and-switch sales technique. (Sell one thing; provide another.) Those are prime examples of manipulation, since those who ordered the actions knew they were lying and/or distorting to get gain. (Fwiw, I refused in both instances.)

If I firmly believe something, and if I use no conscious deceit in trying to convince others, I am not manipulating them no matter what their views are. Therefore, I am free to use whatever language I feel would produce the outcome I desire. Personally, I prefer to be inspired to act rather than guilted to act, but if others respond to guilt then “guilting them” is fine. Our scriptures say that self-motivation produced by love is the highest prompt of action, but they also are clear that externally induced motivation (from fear or guilt) is acceptable, if necessary.

As with any group, Mormons are individuals and will respond to whatever motivates them personally. I hope most of us respond better to inspiration and love than to fear and guilt (correct principles with self-governance), but “effective” messaging would include all four.