October 25, 2007

Giving and Receiving Criticism

Heber C. Kimball October 6, 1855 Following President Young's rather stern remarks, Heber C. Kimball stood and complimented the president's bluntness. Brigham had called the saints to repent of covetousness, and Heber was glad to see the president speaking of specific things of which the saints needed to repent; he hoped people wouldn't be offended at Brigham calling for repentance. Perhaps apologetically, he said:

I am thankful that the time has come when brother Brigham is disposed to lift the veil and expose the iniquities of men, if they are not willing to expose them themselves. I know they were exposed in the days of Joseph, and brother Brigham, myself, and many others were with him and stood by him to the day of his death, and do still.
Heber knew the value of being "called on the carpet," so to speak; but it can be hard to take counsel regarding our mistakes, because "the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center (1 Nephi 16:2). Our pride can lead us to take offense if a leader calls us to repentance. Rather than taking offense, Heber rejoiced:
...if I am concealing wickedness or iniquity, I say, let it be exposed, that others by seeing it may repent and forsake their sins.
Heber's thick skin notwithstanding, we all may face a time when a leader, perhaps a bishop, teacher, or parent, "reproves," or corrects us. What we do with that criticism is important. Let's first take a look at the issue from the leader's point of view. In a letter to his son, Mormon described the difficulty he faced in trying to call his soldiers to repentance:
Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them.
When he softballed the issue, they ignored it; when he spoke boldly they became angry. I'm sure many parents can understand how Mormon felt if they've dealt with difficult children. The Nephites were full of hate and anger; they were hardened and the Spirit of the Lord had departed from their lives. What could Mormon do to overcome this problem? He continued in the letter:
And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God (Moroni 9:4,6).
His solution was simple; and heartrending: never give up. He chose to be neither overbearing or enabling; but to continue to love and serve his men. Perhaps they would never change; but his concern was with the first two commandments: loving God and loving his fellow men. God will not coerce, nor should we attempt to do so, else the Spirit will depart from us (see D&C 121:36-37). So much for the leaders, what about those being led?[1] In a sermon from February 1855, Heber had mentioned some strong rebukes the saints received, explaining it was easy to see who needed the rebukes by seeing the reactions of the rebuked:
I was thinking considerably upon what he said about the wickedness that is creeping into our midst, and of that wickedness being rebuked. I want my brethren and sisters to understand that only those who are guilty are rebuked. Our rebukes do not touch the innocent, nor affect them one hair's breadth. When you use the whip the lash will, perhaps, hit a person who sits in the outer edge of the congregation, and one in this, and another in that part of the room. It is intended for them, and not for those it does not hit. You will not hear any man or woman, enter a complaint, or find any fault with brother Brigham, or brother Heber, except that person who is hit. When you load your musket with buckshot, or coarse shot, and fire into a flock of ducks or geese, you never will see any flutter except the wounded. When you see a person flutter, you may know that is the character who is hit, and is the one who ought to be hit (Journal of Discourses 3:160).
Granted, some may become unsettled for reasons other than guilt, but generally the guilty will "flutter" when they are hit. How should we react to criticism, rebukes, and counsel? We should put ourselves in the sandals of the Nephites Mormon was calling to repentance. Our reaction to counsel can range from being angry, to missing the counsel entirely. The key for the Nephites was they had lost the Spirit; thus, they couldn't recognize counsel when it was soft and it angered them when it was hard. Perhaps a leader has censured us, and we feel the criticism is incorrect or unfounded. Perhaps we even feel the leader is being rude, or attempting to coerce. How should we react? In the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni wrote a rather scathing letter to the head of the government, a humble man named Pahoran. Moroni was out on the front lines being assailed by the Lamanites, barely hanging on, and needed reinforcements and supplies. He felt Pahoran had neglected the troops and was sitting comfortably back home in a state of "thoughtless stupor" while the military suffered (see Alma 60). His accusatory letter was answered by a level-headed Pahoran, who didn't take offense. Insurrection in the government had kept Pahoran busy; everyone was in straights, not just Moroni. Pahoran calmly explained the situation in his return letter, and addressed Moroni as his "beloved brother" (see Alma 61). Another example of one who received criticism was Joseph Smith. He heard a number of slanderous reports about his character, but didn't always immediately discount them. When he heard a criticism he said he would look deep inside himself and really evaluate if there was even a hint of truth to the criticism, and if there was, he would seek repentance. Receiving counsel-when it is too soft or too hard, or even just right- requires us to have the Spirit keep our hearts soft. Either way, we must be willing to listen to criticism to "check" us in our path of discipleship:
Brother Brigham is a servant to this people, and he serves you and waits upon you by night and by day, and his associates are willing to do whatever they are called upon. He is your servant, and I am your servant, but if you do not treat your servants well while in this time, I am afraid that when they come to what is called eternity, you will not have the privilege of troubling them much. Therefore, listen with hearing ears and understanding hearts; walk up like men to do what God requires at your hands, and be willing to come to the light that your sins may be revealed; and if your sins are revealed and you repent of them, there are men who can tell you what road to take and what atonement to make, that you may be set in the road which leads to life, and if you will not be corrected you will be damned as sure as the sun will again set.
The way we react to our leaders is an indication of our spiritual maturity, as Elder Ezra T. Benson had taught. By sustaining our leaders we don't agree to blindly follow them; nor do we have license to publicly point out their faults or clamor for change through improper channels:
Shall we not have confidence in God's Prophets, and in those whom He has placed to teach us? Those who are not satisfied with them are constantly grumbling and growling about their circumstances and the prosperity of the Church, but when we have the Holy Spirit, all is right, and we feel satisfied; the visions of the Almighty and of the heavens are before us night and day, and we have confidence in the holy Gospel, in the work of the Lord, in the Priesthood, and in those who hold that authority upon this earth. We are called upon to uphold, by our faith, works, and our prayers, those who are over us; we have raised our hands to sustain and uphold them, and will we turn round and find fault with that which we have sanctioned? Can you enjoy the Spirit of God if you do this? No. In order to enjoy that spirit you must reverence all the members of the Priesthood, no matter who may be in possession of it (Ezra T. Benson, Journal of Discourses 3:60-65).
Heber spoke only briefly (his sermon was only a few paragraphs long,) but he emphasized how much he had enjoyed the meeting:
I do not wish to detain the congregation long, still I do not think that those who have the spirit of a Saint are tired and wish the meeting to come to a close. Every word I have heard to-day is salvation and the very quintessence of righteousness, and I assure you that I have enjoyed myself more under what I have heard to-day, than I ever did in the best party that I ever attended. True, I have enjoyed myself extremely well when I have been with my brethren in the dance, but, gentlemen and ladies, what we have heard to-day is salvation and eternal lives to us, if we will listen to and obey it (Journal of Discourses 3:123).
Footnotes: [1] In another sermon emphasizing loyalty to leadership, Heber said:
I have traveled through most of the enlightened portions of the United States, and much in England, and I have generally found that those who are called the most enlightened are the most corrupt. Does the sad condition of the world hurt my feelings? Not particularly, for that is their own affair; but when the Saints transgress I feel sorrowful. When brother Brigham comes here, and chastises us through the spirit of revelation, or is moved upon to instruct the Saints to their profit, if any portion applies to me, I treasure it up, and humble myself before my God (Journal of Discourses 3:270).


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insight. It really helps me.

LifeOnaPlate said...

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