Sunday, January 21, 2024

Stirred to Anger



Here in the United States we are entering an election year. I must confess that I face this election cycle with some trepidation. While I do have some concerns about the future of my country and its government, what worries me most is the propensity for political discourse to turn contentious and downright nasty. I worry our own anger sometimes clouds our judgement. And more troubling still, I worry that there are those who seek to take advantage of and even inflame our feelings of anger for their own benefit.

Alma chapter 48 of the Book of Mormon is chilling to me. At this time in the book there were two nations, the Nephites and Lamanites. The usurper Amalickiah ruled over the Lamanites and wanted to do battle with the Nephites. In the previous chapter, we read that the majority of the Lamanites didn't want to fight (see Alma 47:2). After seizing control of the their army however, Amalickiah appointed men "to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites" (Alma 48:1). What's chilling is that, in time, this tactic of stirring up the Lamanites to anger actually worked. Their hearts were hardened, their minds were blinded, and they submitted to being led to battle, thus kicking off a war that would last over fifteen years and cause the loss of many lives on both sides.

Even more troubling are the parallels one can see in our own day. There are many who use our own "towers" today to broadcast messages of anger and hatred across the airwaves, often with the purpose of inciting their listeners to believe, say, and do things that they otherwise wouldn't. I'm sure that many examples easily come to mind; any of us could easily think of "that politician," "that podcast," "that news network," or "that influencer" who is clearly just trying to make people mad. But I would encourage us all to think critically, to ask "Lord, is it I?" and to be on guard for examples in our own lives.

In Defense of Anger

I don't want to give the impression that anger is, in and of itself, a bad or evil emotion. None of our emotions are inherently good or bad. Rather, our emotions are signals that tell us how our mind is processing what we experience in the world. Anger, in particular, seems to be tasked with alerting us when something isn't right, and that aggressive action is needed to fix it. And certainly there are many things wrong with the world today that need to be fixed. If you find yourself feeling angry about acts of injustice, there's nothing wrong with you. It shows that you care and you want it to change!

There are those who point at the anger of another and use it as a point of criticism. They might say, "They're such an angry person!" as if to define the individual solely by the emotion. The anger itself is seen as a moral failing, thus giving license to ignore what the person has to say, or the issue that has gotten them so upset. On the other hand, there are others who view anger as a moral strength. "They're so passionate about this topic!" they might say, and as long as it's a topic they too see as important, they use this perceived strength to overlook inappropriate words and actions they may have said or done.

Again, it isn't the emotion that is good or bad; what matters are the decisions we make. And while anger is great at motivating us to take action, it isn't so great at helping us to determine what the best course of action is. Based on my own experience, it doesn't seem to matter whether I'm angry about something important or something inconsequential; decisions I've made in the heat of the moment have been rarely optimal, and often harmful.

When we feel angry about something, we shouldn't ignore that feeling. But neither should we allow our anger to dictate our actions. Perhaps the best decision we can make when angry is to allow ourselves time to process our feelings, and resolve to make a decision about what to do next after the intensity of those feelings have passed and we are able to think more clearly and rationally.


While there may not be anything inherently wrong with feeling angry, it is wrong to deliberately stir someone up to anger, or to do so through careless words or actions. While everyone will be accountable for their own decisions, we also have the responsibility to not make it more difficult for others to make those decisions. And as discussed, feeling angry makes it harder to make a rational decision.

This is not to say that we should shy away from telling unpleasant truths when appropriate, even when they might cause someone to feel angry. However, there are those who seek to profit from our anger, either by causing us to pay them more attention, or by putting us in a state where we can be more easily manipulated. Sometimes they do this by lying, other times by focusing on only part of the truth. Often they employ contempt, creating parodies of their enemies and opponents and sometimes entire groups of people by reducing them solely to those qualities their followers find most offensive.

In the political sphere, there is no party that is completely innocent of this tactic, and it is naive to assume that only one side does it, while everything the other side says is accurate. It is ubiquitous because it works. And because it is ubiquitous, we can't simply disengage from any party that is found guilty of it. To do so would be to let them have their way, and to allow those who give in to anger to make all the decisions, thus perpetuating the cycle. No political leader is perfect in this or any other regard. My purpose isn't to tell anyone who they should vote for, or even who they shouldn't vote for. My hope is that we will all strive to be mindful of those who attempt to manipulate our emotions. And I would suggest we be extra mindful when it comes from a source we are generally favorable towards.

When a politician, candidate, or news organization says something that makes us angry, we should acknowledge the feeling, and try to examine why it makes us feel that way. We should ask ourselves, is what they're saying totally accurate? Is it backed up by other credible and unbiased sources? Was any key information left out that might cause it to seem different? Does the speaker have anything to gain by making me feel angry? Could they have conveyed the same information in a way that would make it more likely for listeners to think about it clearly and rationally? And most importantly, what is the course of action that is most likely lead to a favorable outcome, and should I take some time to calm my emotions before deciding on such an action?

God has blessed us all with agency. He wants us to use our ability to think and reason to make decisions that will benefit us and His other children. But there are those who don't want us to think too hard and instead act impulsively. We can choose the former by being mindful of our emotions and those who try to manipulate them.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

True Witness


When we think of the commandment to not bear false witness, we often think of it as a commandment not to lie, and that is one valid application. However, we should do more than just avoid deliberately spreading false information; we should also strive to avoid unintentionally doing so as well.

When I was a kid, I remember watching Muppet Classic Theater, in which the Muppets performed several classic fairy tails. One of the stories they told was The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but with one key difference. In the original fairy tale, the shepherd boy is bored, so he pranks the townspeople multiple times by claiming he saw a wolf when there was none. In the Muppets version however, the shepherd (played by Gonzo) isn't deliberately dishonest. Instead, he just overreacts to tiny things and jumps to conclusions rather than getting all the facts straight, rushing to warn the townspeople about some impending disaster (including flood, earthquake, and plagues of insects) that then never materializes. In both the original and the Muppet version of the story, when the wolf eventually does show up, the shepherd runs to warn the town, but they don't trust him. But in Gonzo's case, his character flaw was not that of lying, but of not making sure what he was saying was true before telling it to others.

If we're not careful, we too can fall into the trap of unintentionally spreading false information. We naturally want to warn others when we suspect something might be wrong. But in the heat of the moment it's easy to forget that we don't always see things accurately. And while we might have good intentions, the consequences of being careless about the truth can be just as damaging as if we had intentionally lied. Spreading false information can damage reputations or or encourage harmful actions. And even if we happen to get it right, developing a habit of carelessness increases the chances of getting things wrong in the future.

Being careless about the truth could manifest in a number of ways:

  • Assuming that someone is guilty before learning all the facts,
  • Assuming that someone's actions are motivated by malicious intent,
  • Sharing a fact, quote, or statistic without checking its source,
  • Sharing a news story or article without verifying that it is accurate,
  • Sharing a news story or article without even reading it,
  • Presenting something as established fact when it is actually a matter of opinion or still being researched,
  • Implying another source is unreliable without providing a valid reason for skepticism,
  • Etc.

This is not to absolve others from their own responsibility to vet the accuracy of what they see, read, or hear. But we make that task easier by not inadvertently giving false information further paths to spread. We don't need to have absolute certainty before sharing something. And even the most careful individual will make mistakes. But by making a conscious effort to spread truth and not error, our ability to discern what is truth will grow stronger with time.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Feed My Sheep


After His glorious Resurrection and before ascending again into Heaven, Jesus met with his apostles and commissioned them to take His gospel to the world. In St John 21:15-17 we read that he told Peter, "Feed my lambs," and "Feed my sheep".

We too have been called to feed the Lord's sheep in our day (see for example D&C 50:13-14). To effectively do so ourselves, it is instructive to consider how a shepherd would feed his own sheep. Does he give every sheep exactly the same food? Does he feed them all in exactly the same way? If there is a lamb that is reluctant to eat, does he mock or belittle them? Does he perhaps try to force the food down their throats, or just abandon them to fend for themselves?

I think it's clear that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, would not only be supremely patient with each and every lamb, but would also know exactly what each one needs and feed each one in whatever way would be most beneficial for them. Likewise, each one of us requires spiritual nourishment at the time and in the manner that will be of most benefit to us. That means progressing a little at a time, "milk before meat" (1 Corinthians 3:2), or "line upon line" (Isaiah 28:10, 2 Nephi 28:30).

Some lambs need to be bottle fed, and aren't yet able to handle grain or grass. Likewise, those who are new to the Gospel, including children and recent converts, might rely heavily on parents and teachers to learn and grow their understanding.

As the sheep mature, they are led to safe pastures where they can graze for themselves, though their diet may occasionally be supplemented by hay, oats, and other foods for added nutrition. So can we, after they have developed their own testimonies of the Gospel, provide environments where we, along with fellow followers of Christ, can continue to learn for ourselves on a daily basis, while still receiving specialized instruction from time to time.

Finally, some sheep may not always eat when they are expected to. A caring shepherd will learn the difference between a sheep that is sick and in need of special treatment, and one who simply needs a little more time to feel hungry enough to start grazing. If there is someone in our lives who seems reluctant to receive the spiritual nourishment of the Gospel, we can  still provide them with a spiritually safe and judgement-free environment, ample opportunities to participate in and learn the gospel, and reassurance that they are loved no matter what.

The principles of the Gospel are the same for all of God's sheep. But we all benefit from personalized, one-on-one care and instruction.