Comer: Unity is achievable through love and humility
I was waiting in my car for my kids after school let out this week when I noticed an incoming call from a phone number I did not recognize.
I thought it might be a telemarketer, but I felt compelled to answer, so I did.
“Hello?” I skeptically asked.
“Who is this?” came the reply on the other end.
Instinctually, frustration set in. Why should I tell this unknown person my name?
“Who are you?” I curtly shot back.
The person on the other end then said their name and I recognized it. I had not talked to this person over the phone for several years and didn’t have their number saved. They had my number saved but not with my name. They were trying to reach the Standard-Examiner and my phone number was what was attached to that contact in their phone. Immediately after realizing who it was and why they would start the conversation by asking who I was, I felt ashamed because of how rudely I responded.
We chuckled at the circumstances, but I still felt the need to apologize profusely. Thankfully, this person didn’t seem to hold it against me.
Through this simple exchange, I realized an important lesson. It is easy to form an opinion despite not having the full picture of a situation, but our opinions can change once we receive more information. I formed an opinion, which was that this person calling me was a telemarketer, despite not having the full picture of the situation. Once I learned who the person was and the reason they asked who I was, my opinion completely changed. My spirit softened, to the point where I was apologizing to this person for how I reacted.
I considered this experience to be a miracle because it aligns with a couple of topics that I was planning on writing about this week: contention and unity.
Over and over, I find myself realizing just how impossible unity feels. People are always disagreeing about matters. But it’s not just that disagreements exist, but that such disagreements so often breed contempt. Even worse, that contempt is embraced, as if it’s some sort of moral virtue because obviously the person who thinks differently is morally incorrect. People say they don’t understand how someone could look at our world and come to different conclusions from them, but I get the feeling the people who say this have not tried very hard to understand. They’re too busy telling themselves that their mindset is correct and the opposite side must be destructive, if not completely evil, that they don’t put a lot of thought into seeing why those with opposing viewpoints feel why they do in the first place. I suppose there isn’t much reason to ponder why someone feels differently if one has already made the decision that their opinion is destructive or evil.
As a result, social media is inundated with people sharing messages that reinforce their perspective and world view. None of it is meant to start a conversation that could actually prove enlightening and helpful, but to show that their point of view is morally superior.
It’s pretty hard to have unity when the goal of so many is simply to tear down whoever believes differently or build oneself up as morally superior.
There’s an anecdote that Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shared once during general conference that really resonated with me, and occasionally, it will come rushing back into my mind. This week included one of those moments.
The remarks came at the April 2018 general conference of the church. After welcoming Gerrit W. Gong and Ulisses Soares to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, filling the vacancies as a result of the passings of Elder Robert D. Hales and Nelson’s prophet predecessor Thomas S. Monson, Nelson said the following:
“When we convene as a Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, our meeting rooms become rooms of revelation. The (Holy) Spirit is palpably present. As we wrestle with complex matters, a thrilling process unfolds as each apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view. Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant. Our unity helps us to discern the Lord’s will for His church.
“In our meetings, the majority never rules! We listen prayerfully to one another and talk with each other until we are united. Then when we have reached complete accord, the unifying influence of the Holy Ghost is spine-tingling! We experience what the prophet Joseph Smith knew when he taught, ‘By union of feeling we obtain power with God.’ No member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve would ever leave decisions for the Lord’s church to his own best judgment!”
Nelson’s anecdote should serve as a lesson to all of us. Read again the words he chose to use. “Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant.”
Prior to listening to that talk, I had never given thought to the idea that the 15 members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles held different viewpoints on matters. What a tribute to the love they have for each other and the unity they all strive for, and are ultimately able to achieve, that I didn’t even consider that they might have different opinions.
Now consider the words at the end of the quoted material: “No member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve would ever leave decisions for the Lord’s church to his own best judgment!”
So, they initially may differ in their perspectives, but the love they feel for each other is constant, and they have the humility to recognize that their “own best judgment” may not be adequate. They have a desire to learn and understand. All of that ultimately helps them become unified.
Nelson addressed this matter in a different way during general conference last month. He said:
“Differences of opinion are part of life. I work every day with dedicated servants of the Lord who do not always see an issue the same way. They know I want to hear their ideas and honest feelings about everything we discuss — especially sensitive issues.
“My two noble counselors, President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring, are exemplary in the way they express their feelings — especially when they may differ. They do so with pure love for each other. Neither suggests that he knows best and therefore must rigorously defend his position. Neither evidences the need to compete with the other. Because each is filled with charity, ‘the pure love of Christ,’ our deliberations can be guided by the Spirit of the Lord. How I love and honor these two great men!”
Again, note the words being used. They share their differing feelings “with pure love for each other.” Furthermore, “neither suggests that he knows best and therefore must rigorously defend his position.” They have love for each other, humility and a desire to learn and understand.
The feeling I get when I hear meetings and discussions taking place in this way is that the ultimate goal when faced with a decision is to get it right, with the knowledge going in that none of the apostles may have it completely right. What humility.
Humility was one of three principles Eyring mentioned as being needed to achieve unity during an October 2008 general conference talk titled “Our Hearts Knit as One.”
“Pride is the great enemy of unity,” Eyring said. “You have seen and felt its terrible effects. Just days ago I watched as two people — good people — began with a mild disagreement. It started as a discussion of what was true but became a contest about who was right. Voices became gradually louder. Faces became a little more flushed. Instead of talking about the issue, people began talking about themselves, giving evidence why their view, given their great ability and background, was more likely to be right.
“You would have felt alarm as I did. We have seen the life-destroying effects of such tragic conflict.”
Eyring went on to explain the need to be a peacemaker and how to do so.
“One way I have seen it done is to search for anything on which we agree.” Eyring said. “To be that peacemaker, you need to have the simple faith that as children of God, with all our differences, it is likely that in a strong position we take, there will be elements of truth. The great peacemaker, the restorer of unity, is the one who finds a way to help people see the truth they share. That truth they share is always greater and more important to them than their differences. You can help yourself and others to see that common ground if you ask for help from God and then act. He will answer your prayer to help restore peace, as He has mine.
“That same principle applies as we build unity with people who are from vastly different backgrounds. The children of God have more in common than they have differences. And even the differences can be seen as an opportunity. God will help us see a difference in someone else not as a source of irritation but as a contribution. The Lord can help you see and value what another person brings which you lack. More than once the Lord has helped me see His kindness in giving me association with someone whose difference from me was just the help I needed. That has been the Lord’s way of adding something I lacked to serve Him better.”
I imagine it’s wondered by many, “How can I love someone who is so different from me? How can I love someone who thinks and behaves completely different from me?” You will likely struggle to love someone if all you can see is the differences. But if you have the humility to accept that there are in fact a lot of things that you have in common, and the courage to search for those things, then you will begin to develop love for that person. One of the great messages of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we are all spirit children of the same Heavenly Father. No matter what we look like, where we come from, what our opinions are, we all came from the same Heavenly Father. We are all spirit brothers and sisters. If we all looked at each other as children of the same Heavenly Father first and as the most important identifier, I believe we would feel a lot differently about whatever our differences are. Though we would recognize they exist, we wouldn’t want them to lead to contempt or strife. Our knowledge of who we really were would engender love, and as our love for each other grew, we would attempt to learn from those who have different perspectives. We would realize we don’t have the market completely cornered on wisdom and that maybe the reason we have association with these people with different points of view is so we could learn something from them, something we lack which we need.
Striving for unity does not mean we have to agree with every single thing that someone else believes. It doesn’t mean that we can’t share our differing beliefs with others. But it does mean that we look for reasons not to be contentious. It means recognizing that just because someone may have a different opinion from us doesn’t mean they are an evil person. Would we want other people to think of us as evil just because we disagree with them?
Unity may seem impossible given our current climate, but I know that it doesn’t have to be. As with everything, it starts with desire. We must make the choice that we want to have better interactions with other people. We must make the choice that we want love of each other more than we want contention. We must have the humility to recognize that our opinions, as strongly as we may feel, may lack important wisdom and perspective, and that those we disagree with may be able to provide valuable contributions necessary for us to become better human beings, human beings more like Jesus Christ.
I hope, and I pray, that we can all make those extremely important choices.
Contact Ryan Comer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @rbcomer8388 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/