Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Power and Influence

A divine pattern for helping others change

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I suppose that almost everyone (especially parents) has at least a little something they would like to change in others.

I know I do.

It's challenging to come home from a mission, a time of accelerated spiritual growth, and then want desperately to share those blessings with others. The problem is, people can be easily offended ("Who does she think she is, telling me what to do?"). My husband used to counsel departing missionaries not to give unsolicited advice for three months. He told them to just love and serve their families for a while. Then the blessings of what they learned would flow naturally into their homes.

So how do we help others change?

Thanks to a great Sunday School teacher who knows how to foster active class discussion, I came away from Church a week or so ago with new answers to that question.

We studied D&C 121, the first part of a great and powerful letter penned by Joseph Smith while incarcerated in Liberty Jail. Joseph was given divine principles of human relations to guide him as he faced severe personal challenges. He desperately needed to know how to help others change, so God taught him. He was given this beautiful and simple list, sort of God's "how to" for influencing others (verses 41-42):

"Now power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by..."

  • persuasion

  • long-suffering

  • gentleness

  • meekness

  • love unfeigned

  • kindness

  • pure knowledge


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Compare this to the world's "how to" list (verse 37):

  • control

  • dominion

  • compulsion


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What a stark contrast!

Note the words "can" and "ought"

"Can" - it is the only way that really works. Sure, we can get others to do something through compulsion. I've seen that often. But does that truly change the person? I don't think so.

"Ought" - it is the right way, God's way. The purpose of this life is to learn to do things His way. That's how we will be prepared to meet Him.

I think it would be a great exercise to define each item in "God's list" and then try out His approach to changing others. Will it work? Of course. I saw it happen over and over again during my mission. The wonderful young elders thrive in an atmosphere of persuasion, love and kindness. And I most definitely saw the power and influence of pure knowledge. Here's a quote from Preach my Gospel that we often shared with the elders:

"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." President Boyd K Packer, PMG p 19

This is so true!

I constantly saw missionaries' and new members' lives change as they gained pure knowledge of the sweet saving doctrines of the Gospel. The desire to change came from within, through the spirit, motivated by a love for God and gratitude for His plan.

Here is another interesting exercise from D&C 121. My husband and I learned this while teaching the LDS Church's "Be a better parent" class many years ago.

Verse 43 gives God's pattern for correcting others:

"Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;"

This verse has sometimes been used to justify harsh punishment. But what does it really mean? Here are definitions that could be used for some of the words:

  • reproving = correcting

  • betimes = in a timely manner, quickly

  • sharpness = with clarity


Could this verse mean that we are to correct in a timely manner with clarity? I think so.

Here's one more thought on the how to influence others. Most of the items in God's list refer to attitude. We must be kind, patient and loving. I wonder if that means we should notice and mention the good things we see in those we want to change. In our parenting class we taught the importance of emphasizing the positive. Someone once recorded the comments mothers make to their children during a typical day at home. There were ten negative comments for every one positive. Think about it. We tend to be quiet and not 'rock the boat' when things are going good but we often rush to get involved when trouble arises. So kids frequently hear things like:

  • "stop hitting"

  • "your room's a mess"

  • "turn off the TV and get to work!"


I wonder what a study of conversations between husbands and wives would reveal???

This is a fun story we used to tell our parenting class. A woman attended a two-day parenting seminar and was taught about noticing the positive. She went home after the first day and decided to try it out on her husband, Herman. The next day in the seminar she stood up and excitedly told everyone, "Herman picked up his socks!" She went on to say that he always left his socks on the floor beside the bed. She hated the mess but could never get him to change. So that night she decided to notice the positive. She said, "Herman, you are a good man. You provide well for our family. You keep the yard nice. You take out the garbage every day. I just want you to know that I appreciate all you do for us." To her great surprise and delight, that night he picked up his socks!

Isn't that fun?

I am amazed at the beauty and simplicity of God's teachings. Thousands of books have been written on how to influence people. But all we really need is a few verses of revealed scripture.

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