The default setting for human minds is evaluation. We are constantly evaluating what people say and do.
A family member exclaims: “It’s a beautiful day!” and we immediately check the evidence to see if their exclamation is fully justified.
A spouse observes that the broccoli is overcooked, and we wag our internal heads, “You always like your vegetables raw!”
Sometimes we are wise enough to keep our critical thoughts to ourselves. Even so, there is a price to be paid for having a contrary mindset.
Imagine that, instead of keeping a prosecuting attorney on our mental staff, we hired a peacemaker—a person who cheerfully looked for areas of agreement. Would that change our internal dialogue and our relationships?
In a word, yes.
A family member exclaims: “It’s a beautiful day!” and we immediately do two things: 1. We look for evidence in support of that exclamation, and 2. we enter into the family member’s spirit of rejoicing: “It is glorious and beautiful.” Maybe for good measure, we add, “I’m glad I get to share it with you!”
My spouse observes that the broccoli is overcooked, and I do two things: 1. My mental staff records that my spouse prefers broccoli less cooked, and 2. I acknowledge her preference: “Yes! You like the healthy choice! It’s funny because I like my broccoli soft.” Maybe I add a relationship message: “I bet we can find a way to live together in spite of our different broccoli preferences!”
The scriptures are packed with Jesus doing just such things. When the adulterous woman was dragged to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees (John 8:1-11), they correctly observed that the law required that she be put to death. They were quite right.
Though they might be right, they weren’t good. They weren’t thinking redemptively, lovingly, and charitably.
Jesus set the perfect contrast to her accusers. He did not dishonor the law. But He invited the one who was perfect to start the stoning. The wonderful irony is that He was the only one in that crowd or any crowd who is perfect—and He had no interest is stoning that woman or any person. He wanted to save her. The scribes and Pharisees wanted to use the law to destroy her; Jesus wanted to use love, compassion, and His own sacrifice to save her.
His own sacrifice. Jesus does not just wish us well in our foolhardy journeys. No. He is willing to go to the garden and the cross to rescue us, to cover our sins, and win our hearts.
What are we willing to do for the people around us? Are we willing to adapt ourselves, surrender a few preferences, not demand that others agree with our perspectives? Will we surrender our need to be right to bless others?
To have strong relationships, it helps to be an agreeable person. “Don’t worry so much about being right,” seems to be Jesus message. “Focus more on being good, kind, loving, compassionate, understanding.”
But this is about more than agreeability. It is also about humility. It is about valuing someone else’s agenda as much as my own.
We all have abundant opportunities to show kindness. To put aside our own self-centeredness. To resist the knee-jerk reaction to judge other’s comments or desires as “wrong.” To surrender the impulse to criticize or argue. Instead, to listen with openness to better understand the perspectives of others. To respond with benevolent words. To offer the gift of kindness. (Try searching “act of kindness” on the web and you’ll be inspired.)
Sometimes the hardest places to show kindness are in our own families. We develop what John Gottman calls a “crabby habit of mind.” We get onto the habit of seeing faults, disagreements, and irritations. Our prosecuting attorneys take charge and our souls shrivel.
Jesus invites us toward the expansive and redemptive view. One of His prophets has expressed the challenge this way:
“We all have our weaknesses and failings. Sometimes the husband sees a failing in his wife, and he upbraids her with it. Sometimes the wife feels that her husband has not done just the right thing, and she upbraids him. What good does it do? Is not forgiveness better? Is not charity better? Is not love better? Isn’t it better not to speak of faults, not to magnify weaknesses by iterating and reiterating them? Isn’t that better? and will not the union that has been cemented between you and the birth of children and by the bond of the new and everlasting covenant, be more secure when you forget to mention weaknesses and faults one of another? Is it not better to drop them and say nothing about them—bury them and speak only of the good that you know and feel, one for another, and thus bury each other’s faults and not magnify them; isn’t that better?” (pp.180-81, 1998, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith. S.L.C.: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Elder Wirthlin made this counsel very practical:
When we are filled with kindness, we are not judgmental. The Savior taught, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” He also taught that “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?”
“If they are obnoxious?”
“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?”
The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.
It is so much better to be good than be right.
Invitation: Look for opportunities to agree with, support, and be kind to the people in your life, especially family members.
Recommendation: To read more of Gottman’s work, see The Relationship Cure. For an LDS perspective on marriage, read Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her skilled editing.