The Human Relations Cure


So, what do you do when your adult step-son is a cad, demanding lots and acting rudely whenever he is around? He is quite willing to be vulgar and to mock the food I serve when there is a family gathering. He gets mad when his dad won’t give him unlimited cash handouts. What can we do about him?

The hoped-for answer was probably, “When someone behaves that badly, you don’t have to tolerate it. In fact, to tolerate it is to endorse it. Tell him to shape up or to stay away.”

Fortunately the woman who asked the question is a saint who loves true doctrine. So we dove into the gospel pool and paddled around looking for answers. The first answer we discovered was to make our best attempt at understanding.

“What was life like for him as a child?”

“He is the younger brother. He always had a difficult, demanding temperament.” “He saw his older brother as his father’s favorite. He tried to become his mother’s favorite. He was always demanding more and more, insisting that he got less than anyone else.”

“What is life like for him now?”

“He is mean to his wife—they have separated more than once, rude with his older brother—on those rare occasions when he sees him, manipulative and punishing with his father, and generally unhappy.”

We have already enough information to accuse—or to feel compassion. He sounds like a spoiled brat. But what is life like for him?

“It sounds as if life has always been hard for him. Maybe from birth he had a difficult temperament. Maybe he started life with a load of bricks on his back. It is impossible for us to truly understand any other person. Every single person starts life with a different temperament and different preferences, and has different experiences. We simply cannot understand fully what life is like for him. But we know that life has been hard for him from his first breath.”

“So are we merely to ignore his behavior? Or we to cede to his demands? Doesn’t he bear responsibility for his behavior? His birthday is coming up and I don’t even want to have him in our house. Are we to just be doormats?”

“In the course of life most of us progress through stages. When we are younger, we often are insecure and easily intimidated. We cave in to other’s demands and hate ourselves for doing it. As we mature we begin to stiffen our resolve. ‘I don’t intend to be treated that way.’ We often progress to the point where we stand up for ourselves. We protect ourselves.”

“I guess that is where we are now. We have had enough of the demanding, complaining, and punishing. We don’t intend to take any more. We are quite ready to level with him.”

“You could calmly and fairly tell him about his behavior and invite him to mature. What would his reaction be?”

“He would explode! He would take it as final evidence that we had turned against him. He would stomp out of the house and squeal up the road in his pickup truck and never darken our door again.”

“Satan knows that. He is the father of lies and contention, a dual and dubious distinction. He wants us to fill ourselves with righteous indignation in order to feed contention. But Elder Maxwell asks, ‘If selfish confrontation reigns supreme, from where will reconciliation come? How many poor in spirit can there be if inflamed egos constantly seek to enrich and to vindicate themselves at the expense of others?’” (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience, p. 59).

“Calm confrontation was about as far as we had hoped to get.”

“President Hunter elegantly observed that, ‘God’s chief way of acting is by persuasion and patience and longsuffering, not by coercion and stark confrontation. He acts by gentle solicitation and by sweet enticement. He always acts with unfailing respect for the freedom and independence that we possess’” (Howard W. Hunter, “The Golden Thread of Choice,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 18).

“Since that boy has agency, he may never change, even if we do our part.”

“Exactly! He may never change. Even if there is some hope that he will, it is good to frame changes in reasonable timetables. He may change but it may take a decade. Or two. Or three. Heavenly Father thinks in just such expansive time lines. He has His 100 year and 1,000 year and 10,000 year plan for each of us. He is not deterred from His resolve by slow progress.”

“So how do we approach the impossible stepson?”

“Calm confrontation seems very mature, but there is a surprise. There is a place beyond strength. I call it transcendence. The best example of transcendence is Jesus. He never reacted to protect Himself. He unfailingly acted to bless.”

“Didn’t He react to the Pharisees? Didn’t He react to the money changers?”

“It is my view that He never once reacted, He never once acted to defend or protect Himself. For example, when the lawyer came to Him (Luke 10:25–37) hoping to embarrass Him with a controversial question, Jesus responded to bless him. He was even gracious enough to invite the lawyer to use his expertise in the law: ‘What is written in the law? how readest thou?’ When that lawyer persisted in his malicious attempt to discredit the Master, Jesus responded with one of the great stories of all time, known today as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Can you imagine honoring lawyerly malice with sweet teaching?”

“So you believe that He always acts to bless us?”

“I cannot say it any better than Nephi who declared that ‘He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him’ (2 Nephi 26:24). I believe that from beginning to end there was one theme in His life: blessing.”

“Jesus sets a very high standard. I don’t think I can do as He did.”

“I agree wholeheartedly. I think it is impossible for you to do as He did. It is impossible for me. It is impossible for every mortal.”

“That’s encouraging.”

“Herein is the great secret. Great Goodness comes from One Place. We are not able to do the very things we are commanded to do—unless we are first filled, changed, renewed, and transformed by Him. That transformation is the truth behind such scriptural phrases as new heart, new countenance, mind of Christ, new creature in Christ, and mighty change. We simply cannot deal with the greatest challenges of life without being filled with Him.”

“So how do we get that?”

“Mormon’s counsel was to ‘pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure’ (Moroni 7:48). In my opinion, every time we feel charity, that flood of desire to bless, it is a miracle, it is a gift from heaven. There is no place to obtain it except from the Master of Goodness.”

“I don’t know if I can be patient enough to deal with that young man.”

“You can’t. This is beyond patience. This is transformation.”

“You still haven’t told me what to do.”

“Let’s see if we can translate the principle of charity into specific actions. First, pray with all the energy of heart to see him differently, to have the mind of Christ.”

“I can do that.”

“Second, when in a state of charity, draw on your knowledge of him and his preferences to set him up for success. ‘What kind of birthday celebration could we have that would make it most likely for us to have a good experience together?’ Because he has agency—and a lot of unhappiness—there may be no way to have a good experience anytime in the next decade. Yet your hope is to keep sending clear messages: ‘We care about you. We would like to be a loving part of your life.’”

“We can’t do that without some divine help.”

“Exactly! We simply cannot get beyond ugliness and counter-ugliness without divine help. You can prepare for any unpleasantness. You can imagine the unpleasant things that might happen and ask Father to prepare you to respond to them with gentleness and meekness.”

“So what do we do when he complains that our usual $50 birthday gift has not been adjusted for inflation?”

“You consider whether you feel that you would like to give more. If not, you are prepared to respond calmly but compassionately, ‘I’m sure you could use much more. We still feel good about $50.’”

She sighed. “This is pretty daunting.”

“Yes the great spiritual accomplishments fit in that category described by Jesus, ‘With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26). May the Lord bless you.”

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