Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Setting Is as Important as the Words We Say: Two Specific Examples

I can say lots of things without negative effect that others couldn't say, largely because I have learned over nearly forty years how to do so in a way that is absolutely non-threatening - and because I respect deeply the limits of setting.

For example, if I was to address the quote in the Doctrine and Covenants about Joseph Smith being second to Jesus in terms of impact on humanity, I could say that I love Joseph and understand such a statement in a eulogy by a grieving friend (and in the context of restoring sealing ordinances for the dead), but I also could add that I look at Abraham, Moses, Paul, etc. as people who, thus far, have had a broader impact on the living than Joseph did. I also could say that I know how others can hear that quote and think we worship Joseph, so I personally don't use it outside of the internal discussions with other members when talking about the restoration of temple ordinances.

I've said that in church meetings, and people have understood and not objected - but it has been because they know me and aren't threatened by the way I say things. Again, I've spent decades refining how I talk about things, so I have an advantage that will come to many others only by "enduring to the end", if you will.

A personal example of the importance of setting: 

I was in a small group setting some time ago, including a local leader and a couple who had served in many local leadership callings in their lives - including multiple missionary experiences. Every person in that group was a fully active, dedicated, long-time, leadership-level, believing member of the LDS Church.

At one point, one of the women mentioned that she had a son who simply couldn't accept polygamy - and he also said, "Mom, Brigham Young was a racist!" She mentioned that she has never struggled with polygamy and made a joke about it that I can't remember accurately. However, she said she had never been able to understand or accept the Priesthood Ban and was overjoyed when it was lifted. The local leader said, "Your son isn't the first person to struggle with polygamy. I know I could never live it." I told her, "Brigham Young was racist, but that doesn't mean automatically that he wasn't a prophet. All of the prophets who have lived have believed, taught or done something we don't accept."

The conversation continued normally after that, and it didn't come up again in any conversation I had with any of them afterward. I certainly wouldn't have said what I did in a lot of different settings, and neither would the others who commented, even though there was nothing wrong with anything that was said in that conversation.

The setting was just as important (and, really, even more important) than the words themselves.

1 comment:

Firebyrd said...

I really admire people who have this ability. My grandfather certainly had it. He was so charismatic, he could come up to someone and tell them about how they knew they should be going to church and cleaning up their lives and they would not only not be offended, they'd do it. He reactivated and converted a number of people in the last years of his life at the care center he lived at. Maybe there was some humoring of the old, blind, and nearly deaf guy, but the fact that people turned to the Church from his efforts makes me think it wasn't that.

Alas, while I certainly do better in person than I do online, I inadvertently offend people with innocuous statements on a regular basis, let alone with more sensitive things.