Divide and Conquer?

We humans tend to think in terms of two groups: us and them. The functional definition of “them” is anyone who does not agree with me on some key issue. We make Muslims into thems because they do not accept Christ. We make other Christians into thems because they do not accept the Restoration. We make other Latter-day Saints into thems when they disagree with us on key points of belief. We make family members into thems when they hurt our feelings. Then we exaggerate differences and vilify the different.

This cannot be according to God’s will. He says that “if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27).

Perhaps we should be better at finding common ground. Perhaps we could be more tuned to the things we have in common. With many Muslims we share a deep commitment to God. With most other Christians we share a
profound love of Christ. With all Latter-day Saints we share eternal covenants and fundamental truth. With family members we share a bond and covenant.

Are there ways we could be better at finding our common ground and appreciating our shared purpose? Would our worlds be better places as we did so? Is the willingness to see our shared purposes a part of our answer to the commandment to love as He loves? How can we be better at reaching toward unity?

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  • Reply Diana Gourley August 27, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Wally,

    You asked, “How can we be better at reaching toward unity?” I like what Robert L. Millet says in The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth:

    When there is no contention in an individual soul, there is less likely to be contention between souls. Men and women can then “look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21). Whereas the spirit of the world divides, the Spirit of God unites. Whereas the spirit of the world encourages divisive competition, the Spirit of God prompts us to look to the needs of others and to cooperate. In short, whereas the spirit of the world celebrates diversity as an end in itself, the Spirit of God calls us to unity in all our diversity.

    To me, the key in reaching toward unity is to be the best people we can be with the light and knowledge we have been given. I am reminded repeatedly that Christ is able to do His work in us and in them, whoever “they” may be. Basically, no one is exempt from His ever-reaching redemtive love. Salvation is an individual matter that will ultimately lead to unity; for one day, “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ.”

    As ever, thanks for the thoughts to ponder,


    • Reply admin August 30, 2008 at 9:41 am

      I love your observations, Diana. Unity in our diversity! I’m sure you have noticed that when we are full of Christ, we want to reach out in love to all people! Blessings to you.


  • Reply Kristen August 27, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    This may be a funny example, but as a mother of three daughters, I didn’t appreciate how difficult it might be for boys to ask girls out, or how awkward they sometimes feel around the opposite sex. Once someone told me to remember that “all boys have a mother who loves them” they became more real to me. I was able to guide my girls in their treatment of boys because now I realized that boys have feelings too!
    Terry Warner teaches this in “Bonds That Set Us Free”: we turn each other into villains if they ask something of us we don’t want to do or hurt us in some way. It means we’re innocent if others are monsters. Once we begin looking at each other as real people with real feelings, we are able to love them.
    When I look at another person who might be different than I am in some way (dress, behavior, habits, addictions, political party 🙂 …) I remind myself that this is a real person, a child of God – same as me – and there is something to love.

    • Reply admin August 30, 2008 at 9:40 am


      Your observation reminds me of Baumeister’s Myth of Pure Evil. We imagine those who are different from us to be worse than they are–monsters as you say. When we see our common brotherhood and sisterhood, we are ready to march toward Zion.


  • Reply Lynn August 27, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    My friend who runs the deli in my building is a devout Muslim. And she cooks up the best bacon I think I have ever eaten. I asked her once, when it was just the two of us, if it were beef bacon. She said “no”. And I said, “So you and I are the only ones who know the sacrifice you make every working day, because you love us.” And she smiled.

    She and her family put up a Christmas tree every year, because she understands that Christmas = love. She says, “We are sisters, you and I, born in two countries and brought together by God.”

    She is one of the most consistently loving human beings I am privileged to know.

    • Reply admin August 30, 2008 at 9:40 am

      Wow, Lynn! What a beautiful example of service and sacrifice. I wish you could share this with the world. Beautiful.


  • Reply Jim August 27, 2008 at 11:07 pm


    I’ve been thinking a lot recently about “Zion,” which can be defined as people of one heart and one mind, and I think this relates to this topic.

    One thing that I believe contributes to the us/them mentality you describe is the “actor-observer bias” that I believe you cover in your book: we tend to dismiss our own faults as being out of our control while holding others more accountable for the same or even lesser faults. In this sense, we tend to see everything from our limited perspective, and everyone else that sees differently is simply wrong. Therefore, we end up with an us/them mindset. In addition, I believe our pride becomes a factor in this. I’m sure there are other elements involved too, and I look forward to additional comments.

    I like Diana’s comment that the Spirit of God unites us. In this same vein, when we develop charity, I believe our genuine concern for others tears down walls that otherwise divide us. I see it as part of the conversion process and that we all go through.

    • Reply admin August 30, 2008 at 9:39 am

      I agree, Jim. I think the bias you described is one of the reasons that God instructs us to leave judgment and vengeance in His hands (Mormon 8:20). Only One who knows everything and loves perfectly can be trusted to assess another person’s character.


  • Reply Jim August 28, 2008 at 11:16 am

    A couple of additional thoughts on this topic….

    I am mainly concerned about unity within my family, and I believe that this unity is hampered by tendencies to argue, bicker, faultfind, complain, etc. These interactions divide, and we certainly make Satan’s job easy as long as we allow them to occur in our families. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of this is when these negative interactions become habitual and we begin to think that it is normal and we make no attempts to change. I think selfishness (pride) is the root of this behavior.

    The antidotes, I think, are fairly obvious but often require time. Nowadays we are often impatiently results-oriented and want quick fixes, but that usually is not how the Lord works in our lives. We grow “line upon line, precept upon precept,” but I think even this occurs mainly if our desire is to continue learning, growing, and improving. Of course at the same time, we have to be humble and submissive, to seek to know and do the Lord’s will, and to rely on His mercy and grace. I think there is an interesting balance between seeking or striving for these things on our own and allowing them to happen on the Lord’s timetable and with His help.

    • Reply admin September 3, 2008 at 2:49 pm

      Jim, you have said it beautifully. Thank you.


  • Reply Candleman August 28, 2008 at 11:55 am

    For the past four months I have been employed side by side with a Baptist Preacher. I admit I was a bit timid about accepting the position because of concern about our differences.

    Early on though, Jim and I agreed to focus our relationship on what we hold in common rather than our differences. I cannot express the love and friendship I feel for this great man. We have learned from one another, sustained one another, laughed and cried together and borne testimony to one another. We are each aware that there are things about which we disagree, but that in no way has hampered the respect and admiration we share. We each commonly discover common ground that surprises and delights us.

    I count this man as one of my very favorite people and a true and cherished friend. There is no need to dwell on things that would divide and alienate us.

    P.S. There is a sweet little movie out there on this very topic. It is called ARRANGED.

    • Reply admin September 3, 2008 at 2:49 pm

      Wow, Candleman! What a great example of building understanding! Thank you for sharing it.

      And we’ll check out the movie you recommended.


  • Reply Jenn August 29, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Dr. Wally,
    I feautured you on my blog today as someone that I admire and appreciate. Here’s the link http://www.whatIadmireaboutyou.blogspot.com

    • Reply admin September 3, 2008 at 2:48 pm

      Jenn, how kind of you! Thank you for enriching the world with your kindness and appreciation!


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