In my friend McKay’s weekly column at MormonTimes, he tackled an issue that has long grated on me: Mormons and kindness.
Many outsiders, when they visit a predominately LDS community, are impressed with the nice people of the local community. People are typically smiling and well put together. There are pleases and thank yous. People seem very friendly and personable in their interactions, some only with people who they know as friends while others are even very sweet and good-natured toward complete strangers as well.
After some extended examination, though, you quickly find that many people in predominantly LDS communities make a very simple mistake: they mistake being sweet for being good.
Don’t get me wrong, kindness is certainly a Christian virtue that LDS people should work to espouse, but I’m talking about those who walk around with a very thin veneer of fake, feigned kindness that quickly breaks down when that person is put in any kind of uncomfortable, unfamiliar, precarious, or embarrassing situation. Just as McKay pointed out in his article, this seems to be most visible in the retail/service industries where the oft-needed patience and kindness often quickly gives way to ugliness, meanness, and harshness.
— And thus reveals the saccharine Mormon: sweet, but totally fake.
These might be the ones Christ was referring to in the parable of the sower; when the seed falls among stony ground and the seed takes shallow root but is quickly burned when the sun comes out. Their kindness thrives when life is good, when things are going well, and when they have friends and good times. But when the true test of their patience and kindness comes, how quickly does the harsh, judgmental side rear its ugly head?
Really — how deeply has one accepted the teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” when they can’t be patient waiting in a line at the DMV? How wholly has one decided to “turn the other cheek” when they take the first opportunity to spread gossip about someone they consider an enemy?
Christ as the Antidote
I’m not here to advocate more fake kindness as an antidote, though. I’m advocating a deeper level of goodness. I’m advocating development of the ability to see people as Christ saw them. That’s true charity: seeing people through Christ’s eyes.
Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s
differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.
Marvin J. Ashton, “The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992, 19. (emphasis added)
Seeing people through Christ’s eyes will keep you from freaking out at the bank teller about putting your ID in the envelope with your cash, will prevent you from gossiping and backbiting, and will even give you the right purpose to be nice to total strangers: not just for niceness’ sake, but as a reflection of His love.
I have known many people, women mostly, who aren’t very flashy or social. You won’t find them giggling in the hall with girlfriends, starting bunco clubs, or organizing massive, flashy one-time service events. They aren’t very loud and they don’t walk around with fake tans and fake smiles.
But they work — oh, do they work.
They are taking food to the needy, driving other people’s kids around, and preparing and providing for others in the shadows. They do thankless work day after day. They are johnny-on-the-spot with every need from their religious leaders. They are consistent, and their consistency is what makes them so impressive and phenomenal. I admire these men and women.
Good Isn’t Always Nice
Sometimes seeing people through Christ’s eyes, especially in a priesthood capacity, doesn’t always result in sweet, nice feelings. Sometimes being good isn’t always being kind. Brigham Young didn’t get the nickname “Lion of the Lord” for going around giving people warm fuzzies. When is more important to stand for right than to be sweet and nice? Can you always be good/right and still be kind as well? Are those who gloss over the truth in order to be nice really doing the world (or themselves) any kind of service, especially if they have a calling of stewardship over someone? (See Jacob 1:19 to understand why)
When there is a correction to be made, it is OK for it to be a little uncomfortable. You can’t make people feel good about sin or you become the direct accomplice of the scripture:
…when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition… behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; [and] the Spirit of the Lord is grieved…
I’m certainly no poster child of goodness, but I try to have integrity. I have a rule for life (and for this blog) that I try not to say anything about anyone that I wouldn’t say directly to their face. One of my problems, though, (as my wife points out) is that I don’t always have a problem with saying unkind things to people’s face when it’s the truth. Sometimes my loyalty to the truth trumps the need to show kindness and charity toward an individual.
I’m still working on figuring out the balance on that one.