So you want to be an improver?

Stephen MarshGeneral Authorities 40 Comments

There are two types of people who try to improve organizations from the outside of hierarchies.  Those who volunteer and those who are asked for their help. As to volunteers, if you think the pure mass of blog commenters is overwhelming (think how many people make a suggestion or have comments that are ignored on T&C or BCC), any large organization has such a crescendo of people with ideas that the flood of ideas tends to merge into a huge wall of static from the organization’s perspective.  Not to say that every outside voice is not heard.

Which is what this post is about.

If only one out of a hundred members makes one suggestion a year, with a million people in an organization that is ten thousand suggestions a year to filter through. But, if you have an insight so blinding, penetrating and superior, clear and commanding that it deserves consideration, how do you get an organization to recognize your transcendent virtue over those that are already inside the hierarchy?

That is the real question, isn’t it? The real answer is found by looking at what works and what doesn’t work. One voice in the static doesn’t work. Joining a choir of second rate professionals and forming your own chattering class does not work.  It happens all the time, mind you, but it doesn’t work.  So, what does?

  1. Work your way up the hierarchy by superior and diligent service. I’ve watched my wife do that to rise to statewide office (and to being invited to take statewide office) in professional and auxiliary organizations. Do that and you will have a voice in the organization and in ones that are close to it. The Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake gets listened to by the Catholic Archbishop when he calls because he has worked his way up the organization’s ladder.
  2. Work your way up a parallel group. Why do young men’s leaders listen to Boy Scouts? Why does a Cardinal get listened to by LDS General Authorities? Olympia Snow, a Republican, is being listened to by Democrats.
  3. Develop an area of recognized excellence and skill in an area that has some intersection. When the group needs help in that area, they are likely to listen to you.

Consider, (1), Thomas S. Monson worked his way up.  People listen to his input. The same is true of Boyd K. Packer. The LDS community listens to them because they have worked their way up.

Consider, (2), a number of successful LDS members have succeeded in related areas and are now listened to (e.g. FARMS/J. Welch). Kathy Pullins was successful as a member of the BYU law school faculty and was listened to and put in charge of the BYU Womens Conference.

Consider, (3), the BYU pysch department faculty members whose input was sought concerning a Brazilian trangendered member who was ordained as a result. Or Hugh Nibley and the Manti temple lectures.  More prosaically, Don Norton and editing.

What are the limits? If I’m an expert on children’s music that doesn’t mean I am likely to be asked about legal responses to Canadian tax issues. Rule One:  Stick within your area. Do not over reach. Don Norton, for example, never offered any input into what he edited or into anything else.

If I am a public critic, or a member of a chorus, I should not expect to be mistaken for a friend or seen as having a separate voice from the chorus. Rule Two: Be aware of culture rules. In LDS circles that means keep confidences, do not engage in public disagreements, do not claim authority where you do not have it.

If I am not somewhat holy, I should not expect those who are to fail to notice the lack. Rule Three: pay attention to and nourish your spiritual state, the same way you would shower regularly.

If I am ignorant of the context of an issue, I should expect to be seen as ignorant. Rule Four: whatever the issue, anyone who wishes input needs to be aware of organizational history, context and the structure of the discussion at multiple levels.

If I am not rendering service, I should expect to be seen as self serving. Rule Five: those with a history of sacrifice and service are seen as more likely to be seeking God’s will rather than their own. Everyone knows people with histories of selfless service. Everyone knows people who resemble egos with legs. Which voice are you going to respect and listen to more?

I really hesitated to share this post. Of course Christ gave a similar lecture when he told his disciples that the leaders should be the servants of all. As should each and every one of us.

Comments 40

  1. “I really hesitated to share this post”. I appreciated your post and I have felt similar, recently in our ward I have noticed that we really don’t socialise enough, I realised if there is a problem then why can’t I at least try and help.

    However I’m not sure President Benson would agree with your sentiments, with communist infiltrating the democrat’s; is this not a method to hide true feelings until you progress through the echelons of power and revel your true master plan.

    There must also be another way, single mothers who feel marginalized and left out or those who are not graced with the blessings of nepotism or (Believing Blood). Not everyone can progress through leadership because of personal factors, what is there for them how can they be improvers or should they just keep quiet. Samuel was forced to stand on the wall and cry repentance, the value of scriptural hindsight shows he was right but at the time he would not have been permitted to follow the rules you have set out due to his race.

  2. Post

    There is no reason why people should not ask for help. Many of the talks President Hinkley gave in the priesthood session were based on letters he received asking for help.

    On a local level, when we felt there was not enough socializing, we started inviting groups of 3-4 families over to our house for waffles. They make a nice, casual dinner (when we tried normal food, people would dress up and be stiff). We bought a bag of Krustez mix at SAMS, got a three pack of whipped cream there and that would be good for a lot of group dinners.

    I’m not saying hide your true feelings, like the communists did when infiltrating some religious groups.

    Samuel developed spiritual power and strength until called of God. Mother Theresa gave a great deal of service. I guess I should have written more about people who serve and the importance of service. In any community there are those who serve, and from service comes a great deal of strength.

    But, to answer your question directly:

    a) find ways to serve and help. That is being a child of Christ. An improver is one who wants to help by giving advice. Sometimes that is service, but often not (which is why it is hard to get listened to).

    b) ask for help when you need it, and phrase things in terms of help you need, especially if you can do that in the context of things you are doing about it (e.g. “Bishop, I’ve been feeling lonely. I’ve been inviting others in the Stake over for waffle dinners at my house once a month for about a year now, but that seems to be the only social activity that I have in the ward. Do you have any suggestions or know of anyone who is stepping in to help with ward activities?). The purpose of having a Church is to share one another’s burdens.

    c) improve your spirituality and your contact with God.

    Those are all things most people can do.

  3. I absolutely love the waffle idea; I’m from the UK so that would have a great novelty factor that would help get others involved, I also appreciate the point about being humble enough to ask for further help and support, I think the subtle distinction between sincerely asking for help to solve a problem and just pointing them out is really valuable.

  4. “Many of the talks President Hinkley gave in the priesthood session were based on letters he received asking for help.”

    Within the first few months of Monson taking office, he had a letter read in sacrament meeting telling people NOT to write to the general authorities. When an average citizen sends a letter to the white house, everyone knows that the president isn’t likely to ever see it. It would be a slap in the face, however, for the president to come out and tell people, “Don’t bother writing–I don’t care what you have to say.” That is effectively the attitude that we get from the leadership of the church.

  5. Bill – I’m sorry but I don’t understand your cynical view, could it not simply be Honesty, Stephen Marsh explained earlier that with so many letters it can just become white noise which is no help to anyone

  6. Bill, they’ve been sending letters out like that as long as I’ve been able to pay attention in Sacrament. I remember about forty or so years of them and I know they go back further. There are some people who feel anything, from when Seminary classes start to the length of the sleeves on the deacon’s shirts, is something that they need to take up with Salt Lake. There is a flood of such letters, and they are part of the white noise that drowns out everything else that I’m talking about.

    I’ve written letters that were immediately responded to. No one complained about my sending them. But, the “add chocolate to the word of wisdom” or “I keep telling the bishop that only whole wheat bread should be used for the sacrament and he ignores me” kind of letters are an unending flood.

    On the other hand, “This letter was handed out at Church as a first presidency statement, when I was in law school I was asked to forward anything like this I ran into” got an immediate visit by some of the brethren to talk to the local church leaders who were distributing it.

    Sorry that the difference doesn’t seem to make sense to you. The people I met, though it has been about twenty years since I’ve met anyone other than area authorities, cared very, very much. I can’t see the current leaders being any different.

  7. I would add category #4:

    4. Be born into or else marry into a family who already has connections in the organization where you wish to “rise to the top”.

    There are many examples. Until recently, we had a Clinton or a Bush in the White House for decades. We all know the Kennedy family. It works in business – contacts within a certain area get instant recognition. And it obviously works in the Church. Elder Ringwood is married to Elder Nelson’s daughter. President Monson’s daughter spoke in conference, and even mentioned the fact that she is his daughter.

    Now, this absolutely does NOT mean that these people are unqualified for these positions. My own theory is that there are MANY people in the Church who would serve equally as well in various leadership positions, and the thing that causes one person to be chosen over another (or get their input heard) is familial.

  8. Mike S., are you insinuating that the members from the Wasatch front AREN’T simply more righteous than everyone else in the world? What other explanation is there for 95% of all GAs of the church hailing from that region?

  9. Great post, Stephen!

    Seems to me, it depends on who were are trying to reach. If you are concerned about a particular area, strive to do your best in that area and set an example. If you think Home Teaching/visiting teaching is bad, be the best Home/Visiting teacher possible. it will get noticed. If you wish teaching in the ward would improve, be a well prepared teacher. You can always volunteer to be a substitute and if you do a great job at it, it will be noted. Don’t like the talks in Sacrament Meeting, give a great talk. the bishopric will accept a volunteer to speak since it is a difficult task to ak people to speak.

    To me, that is always the way to improve things. Sitting on the sidelines and complaining never was an effective strategy.

  10. Dylan (#8)

    At least one other explanation works for 95% (your number) of all GAs being from the Wasatch Front: the Church is too cheap to pay people to move to its headquarters.

  11. Mike S. I did a couple of posts on Nepotism in the Church and if you look at my Nepotism in the Church: 2009 Update. you’ll see that the rate of those calls has changed. There are many, many more non-GA relatives than GA relatives.

    CS Eric “At least one other explanation works for 95% (your number) of all GAs being from the Wasatch Front: the Church is too cheap to pay people to move to its headquarters.”

    I can see that for the General Board appointments, but GAs are moved all over the world to serve, so I doubt your assumption about being too cheap. They moved Elder Holland to Chile and Elder Oaks to the Philippines to clean things up.

  12. Nepotism or Believing Blood is clearly an issue, but it is not a problem as in principle they should be just as open to revelation as you or I.

    I believe many changes have come about by examples, trials in small pockets across the world and suggestions made by the grass roots of the church.

  13. Nice post Stephen.

    Jeff #9 – I totally agree regarding the hometeaching issue. I have heard many cynics call it “assigned friends” and etc. (I have probably been in that category myself). However, thinking of my favorite home teachers, some have always come at the end of the month, some are diligent, some are not consistent but still come, etc. etc. The characteristic they all shared was they tried hard to build the relationship, they tried to show that they cared, they brought the Spirit with them, and I knew they were MORE than willing to help me outside of the monthly appointment, if I needed. One HT invited us over for dinner probably 5-6 times over the course of 2 years, often in lieu of a home visit. People like that remind me to change my attitude whenever I start to feel like complaining about some program in the church, as I can almost always think of an example of someone who is engaged in the program and doing a marvelous job.

  14. Thomas S. Monson worked his way up. People listen to his input. The same is true of Boyd K. Packer. The LDS community listens to them because they have worked their way up.

    Eh, not really. Ideally, people are called by God, with the only qualification being that they are worthy (and male) which any man has an equal ability to meet. Thus, we shouldn’t see being called, even as a General Authority, as any indication of skill or talent or work. The least = the greatest in the kingdom of God, right? So Thomas S. Monson didn’t work his way up any more than the guy who hands out sacrament programs in my ward. They are asked to do something and they do it, and they are equal. What differentiates Thomas S. Monson from any other General Authority? He was called to be an apostle a long time ago, and he hasn’t died yet.

    Also, please note that if you are born a woman, there is no amount of work or worthiness that will ever get the LDS community to listen to you the way they listen to Pres. Monson and Elder Packer.

  15. Clay,

    “Also, please note that if you are born a woman, there is no amount of work or worthiness that will ever get the LDS community to listen to you the way they listen to Pres. Monson and Elder Packer.”

    Try telling that to Sister Beck after her “Mothers Who Know” talk.

  16. Kuri, 14

    “Shorter version: “A man cannot offer suggestions if he has not been trained for the hierarchy.”

    I love that! You know, the church is run very much like a corporation and that carries with it some of the positive and negative attributes of it. Mainly networking and personal relationships make a big difference in how callings can sometimes be addressed. Sometimes a little more inspiration could go a long way….

  17. Jeff #17, nice play. 😉

    Her talk was far-reaching and polarizing, but still not the same thing as an address from Monson or Packer.

  18. Jeff #17:

    Sister Beck is Telemann to Elder Packer’s Bach. Workmanlike and somewhat influential, but not quite in the big leagues.

  19. This post really resonates with me (and I don’t see why you would say you hesitated to post this.)

    That being said, I know that being an improver isn’t quite for me. At this point, I’m not trying to improve anyone but myself…but I recognize that if I were trying to improve something else, then I’d have to get credibility first…and point 5 (have a history of selfless service) seems to be one of the best ways to get that credibility.

    Rule 2 is why I don’t try to improve the church. I give great props for those who want the church to be more accessible for others in the future, and so they work with church culture — never dissenting publicly — so that they can gain the credibility and legitimacy to become more influential…but I do not feel cut out for that. In accordance to rule 3, I feel like I’m sloshing in sludge if I do not speak out…even though I know that being a mere dissident will not net the credibility to lead to changes. That is why I’d rather leave than stay in and try to improve the organization. Because I can change *myself* and where I am, but changing the larger organization is a trickier task.

  20. Andrew S,

    “Because I can change *myself* and where I am, but changing the larger organization is a trickier task.”

    Change itself is difficult no later what scale it is based on. Ask Obama about that. But, if we were all to change as individuals, for the better, I might add, the organization cannot help but benefit from that.

    From President Ezra Taft Benson.

    “Would not the progress of the Church increase dramatically today with an increasing number of those who are spiritually reborn? Can you imagine what would happen in our homes? Can you imagine what would happen with an increasing number of copies of the Book of Mormon in the hands of an increasing number of missionaries who know how to use it and who have been born of God? When this happens, we will get the bounteous harvest of souls that the Lord promised. It was the “born of God” Alma who as a missionary was so able to impart the word that many others were also born of God. (See Alma 36:23-26.)

    The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.” Page 79, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson

  21. #21, “Sister Beck is Telemann to Elder Packer’s Bach. Workmanlike and somewhat influential, but not quite in the big leagues.”

    Using your analogy, it is the piece of music that influences, not the composer. While the fact that a particularly popular composer wrote it might get attention, but it is the piece itself that stands the test. I like some Widor much better than some Bach. And I like Varese.

  22. “Using your analogy, it is the piece of music that influences, not the composer.”

    Which is why we shouldn’t think less of a person, even if we strongly disagree with something he said. Truth is truth and error is error, regardless of the identity of the person making a statement containing either.

  23. Thomas,

    “Which is why we shouldn’t think less of a person, even if we strongly disagree with something he said. Truth is truth and error is error, regardless of the identity of the person making a statement containing either.”

    We are in totally agreement

  24. Andrew Ainsworth – You explained my thoughts much clearer than I did;

    1. I think your identifying a different model, I think your identifying Revolutionist. whilst those with revolutionary mindsets would be willing to go outside set organisation to establish new ideas. the improver would purposely stay within the organisation to make the change to something they feel strongly about examples would be William Wilberforce, Mahatma Gandi, Nelson Mandela.

    3,4 I agree that many if not the majority will find the Improver’s road difficult if not impossible, some may fail to be recognised other my come up to strong opposition and never achieve there aims, John Brown who sought abolition through armed insurrection, he was later captured and hanged for treason. many others are simply not heard of in recorded history due to lack of influence. Abinadi shows that if we only influence one other person for good it might just be worth it. The improver’s route might not be the easiest but it is essential, the world might need revolutionist but without improver’s no one will stay within established organisations and we would have hundreds of fragmented political parties and very little unity.

    I think that makes sense ?

  25. Stephen,

    I appreciate this thoughtful post as this has been a topic on my mind since my post last week’s about Elder Hafen’s talk about being improvers versus optimists or pessimists. I must admit, though, that even as wisely observant as these “rules” are, I have a few questions/observations:

    1. Is it possible that following all of these rules may actually prevent someone from ever becoming an improver? It seems these rules are but half of the equation because an individual’s potential to be an improver is largely determined by the organization’s openness to change and new ideas as defined by its culture rules. If your organization’s culture measures loyalty and eligibility to serve almost exclusively in terms of dutiful, unquestioning compliance and conformity, then adhering to your Rule #2 (obey culture rules) may actually prevent you from raising the issues that you seek to improve.

    2. Although these rules seem to have been formulated based on your practical wisdom gained by observing who succeeds in rising to the top of organizations, I wonder: have the great improvers in world history achieved their improvements by conforming to these rules? Did Jesus seek to achieve improvement by climbing the ranks of the Pharisees? Did Abidadai seek to improve King Noah’s government by currying favor with him and his court? Did Martin Luther keep his mouth shut and work to climb his way into the Papacy? Did George Washington and the Founding Fathers work to climb their way into the House of Lords or House of Commons? None of these great improvers in world history achieved their improvements by obeying the rules of the organization they were seeking to improve. Why? Because some organizations’ rules don’t allow you to participate (e.g., George Washington who was ineligible to be elected to British Parliament) or prevent you from questioning your organization’s leader (Martin Luther and the Pope), or sometimes abiding by an organization’s rules would require you to become part of something you disagree with (Jesus, Abindadai). And in those cases, it appears the only real option for improvement is to break the rules and speak out about the organization (Abindadai) or speak out AND start your own organization (Jesus) or just leave the organization AND start your own organization (George Washington). In short, some organizations simply don’t allow themselves to be improved, so conformity with their culture rules could prevent you from ever actually becoming an improver within the organization.

    3. Might compliance with these suggested rules require one to incur an opportunity cost that is too much to expect any reasonable person to bear? I think you’d agree that complying with these rules requires someone to invest decades of his or her life conforming to a system that he or she may strongly disagree with, which is time that could have been well spent doing other things. An FLDS man (or fill in the blank with another church or religion) who begins to deeply question his church leaders might not be willing to jeopardize his family’s spiritual and physical well-being by remaining part of that community. Or, if ascending the ranks in an organization means spending a lifetime in administrative meetings, one might be more inclined to spend one’s life volunteering in homeless shelters, or homes for battered women and children, or teaching English as a Second Language, etc. So for all the would-be improvers out there: beware the opportunity cost that these suggested rules impose.

    4. Is it possible one could comply with all these rules and still never get an opportunity to be an improver? It seems complying with all these rules still might never get you an opportunity to be an improver if your organization favors pulling top leadership from a small pool that you weren’t born into, or if top leadership is reserved only for those of a particular gender, or if you live in a geographic location where your lifetime of dutiful service and compliance is unlikely to ever be noticed. So again, it seems the would-be improver’s actions are only half the equation. And again, it’s very possible that your organization’s rules, policies, or practices simply won’t ever give you the opportunity to be an improver even if you comply with all the suggested rules above.

    Overall, I’m not disagreeing in the slightest with your observations about the rules that tend to be followed by those who climb to the top of an organization, or a parallel organization, or who develop a narrow area of expertise and who might one day be called upon to provide suggestions. I’m simply observing that a would-be improver’s actions are only half of the equation, and that one’s ability to be an improver greatly depends on the organization’s willingness to be improved. Moreover, I’m simply trying to point out that the practical result of complying with your suggested rules may mean that, ultimately, very, very, very few would-be improvers will ever actually get an opportunity to be an improver because, depending on your organization’s culture rules, you may spend a lifetime complying with these rules may still never get you a shot at being an improver within your organization, or complying with your organization’s culture rules might actually prevent you from being an improver if you’re in an organization whose culture requires would-be improvers to remain silent. And ultimately, because complying with these suggested rules requires decades or an entire lifetime with no guarantee of ever being recognized and given an opportunity to be an improver, that opportunity cost for oneself and one’s family may be so unduly burdensome that it simply makes more sense to leave the organization and possibly even seek to start your own.

    As a result, it seems in some organizations it is truly easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to receive an opportunity to be an improver. So now I’m beginning to understand why the constant and din and chatter of the choruses that you mentioned exist in the first place. 🙂

  26. MrQ&A,

    Funny, I was having exactly the same thoughts at lunch, about being an Improver of an organization versus being a Dissenter (who just leaves) or a Revolutionary (who overthrows) or an Innovator (who starts his own organization).

    I guess if anything this discussion has helped me realize how Dissenters and Revolutionaries and Innovators are born. They are born when the organization they would like to improve either prohibits improvement or makes the process of becoming an improver within its ranks so burdensome, so tedious, so time-consuming, and so seemingly-futile that would-be improvers feel they have no option but to become Dissenters (who just leave), Revolutionaries (who overthrow), or Innovators (who create their own organization).

  27. I do wonder if we are on the crest of a new wave, in the October Ensign(Liahona) we are encouraged to get involved in Blogs & Forums. I wonder how this will affect some, I had no choice but to shake off many of my TBM tendencies, and realise that I have the possibility to be an Improver within the organisation.

  28. Andrew Ainsworth — you make some excellent points. The question is whether or not you decide the institution needs reformation, revolution or dissolution. Erasmus is a good example of a hero of reformation, Luther of revolution.

    God calls Jerimiahs (he wasn’t part of the “school of the prophets” or the institution) from time to time. If you have that level of spiritual force, which is within reach for most people should they seek to obtain it, then I think they can’t avoid being used by God.

    Given the last fifteen years of my life, I confess that I have fallen in focus and diligence. A better man would have been stronger from my experiences rather than merely more or less survived them. But I know what is possible and where it leads.

  29. Stephen – excellent post. I think you’ve encapsulated some great observations on organizational dynamics. Why would an organization with a loyal internal following want to make “improvements” based on outsider (or fringe) criticisms? Although, I do think all organizations have different constituents to consider that are not necessarily proportionally represented following these guidelines.
    – there’s undue weight given to “leader” input
    – because females are excluded from highest levels of leadership, there’s a blind spot in the input
    – there’s no real vehicle for input from potential recruits (e.g. what would make the church more attractive to potential converts)

    The downside to this is that it’s an organization that reinforces sameness and status quo, which is fine if growth is not an objective or if all converts need to fit a specific mold.

    I do agree with you that it’s improving and that I’m not keen on the so-called improvements most would like to promote. Keeping “improvements” to a minimum doubtless preserves the organization, but there do seem to be a few blind spots inherent in the LDS church as well. I can live with them because I don’t care much about the environment one way or another. I can deal with pretty much whatever. But that doesn’t make it ideal or perfect the way it is (not that you are saying that).

  30. As a result, it seems in some organizations it is truly easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to receive an opportunity to be an improver at least on a macro scale. On the micro scale, such as having waffle dinners for other members of the ward, helping the homeless or the distressed, caring for yourself and your family, you can be an improver.

    The fallen world is with us always (until it undergoes a change of state with the second coming at least), that we are not going to escape in this life. Our goal should be to realize that and do our best to improve the pathways to overcome the world and to turn to Christ. I’ve another post on that topic that I’ll probably get typed up in time for next week, it was already written last week.

  31. re 23:

    Jeff, the difference is that people have different concepts on what change constitutes “for the better.”

    In your quote from Elder Benson, I notice that he’s focused on a specific conclusion: that more people are spiritually reborn…and he reasons that all kinds of things would happen because of that.

    But I feel this is so rigid. What if some people’s best place to be isn’t to be spiritually reborn (in the LDS church, or as Christians, or theists)? So, then, wouldn’t the “conclusion” of their change differ?

    I’d rather have people become attuned with their true best interests…if that’s in the church, great. If not, great. Trying to fit incompatible values and beliefs is a tragedy.

    re 29 and 30:

    Andrew A:

    EXCELLENT COMMENTS. I would write more, but I’m still processing. Utterly stunned.

  32. Andrew S,

    “Jeff, the difference is that people have different concepts on what change constitutes “for the better.””

    Perhaps, but it is kind of a cop out to generalize that way. We have a pretty focused discussion on a particular area (the church) and ways that a person might improve it. While there may be a difference of opinion on various things, Most would share a common objective, which is to bring people to Christ and make them “better” people according to His specifications.

    “But I feel this is so rigid. What if some people’s best place to be isn’t to be spiritually reborn (in the LDS church, or as Christians, or theists)? So, then, wouldn’t the “conclusion” of their change differ?”

    For some, it just may not be. Interesting, if you look at most major religions, they might differ in many ways, but a common theme is to make people better human beings, which generally means living a set of guidelines, helping others and doing no harm. There are some exceptions to that, but those are the general ideas. Folks have to do what works best for them.

  33. Thanks for this post, Stephen.

    Fwiw, I have been able to effectuate a number of changes in my own sphere of influence largely because nobody sees me as a cynic or an enemy. I have absolutely NO interest in fighting with people (and will bow out often rather than continue a vitriolic discussion), and I try really hard to think of how I would react if someone else said to me what I say to others. I don’t succeed always, but I try hard – and I think most people know I am trying.

    I really do love people, even those with whom I disagree (with a few exceptions that prove the rule), so people at church tend to listen when I express a heterodox point of view – which I do quite regularly. Generally, it’s not felt to be heterodox, since it’s grounded in scripture – and since it’s said gently and quietly.

    Summary: What Stephen said. People will listen to you more often than not if they know you really do love them and simply refuse to turn disagreements into fights – and if you listen sincerely to them in return and are willing to alter your perspective, even if just a little.

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