Not Speaking Ill of Others

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Randy Bott

It is difficult to believe that some missionaries are really missionaries. Their attitude needs a major overhaul, their manner of dress and conduct is not appropriate and their lack of focus on the work is apparent. The shock comes when you learn that some other missionaries are saying the same things about you!

The scriptures plainly teach that we see in others our own weaknesses. Paul taught in Romans 2:1: "Thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." Many people have the habit of judging others. It is easy to stand back and pass judgment on everyone and everything. Too often we use ourselves as the standard against which everything else is judged. If you view everyone who is different from you as strange, you will see that the entire world is strange because you are unique.

Unless you are assigned to work in an area where missionaries have never labored before, you are bound to hear stories about the missionaries who were there before. Be very careful not to fall into the gossip trap. Even if everything you are told is true, it doesn't do any good to spread gossip. You don't have to live very long before you discover that you can't please all the people all of the time. Someone will always see things differently than you do. Some will differ from you politically. Some will interpret scriptures differently than you do. Some will have different tastes in clothing and hairstyles. The list is endless.

Whenever you speak unkindly about other missionaries, you damage the very cause you were sent to promote. That does not mean you have to lie about missionaries who have acted inappropriately. You are not obligated to say anything at all. Consider asking the following questions before you pass on any information. First ask yourself, "Is it true?" If you don't know for sure that something is true, it would be better left unsaid. Secondhand information is often either distorted or completely wrong. Second, "Is it kind?" Certain information may be true, but the effects of passing it on could be devastating. For example, say that an elder has made a serious moral mistake and has to return home as part of the repentance process. You are transferred into the area. The mission president has shared just enough of the problem to keep you from making the same mistake. Someone asks you if you know what happened to the elder. In truth you know what happened. However, it is better to say nothing at all, both for his sake and for the sake of missionary work itself. Third, "Is it necessary?" Even if something is true and kind, it may not be necessary for you to pass it on. People spend too much time gossiping while the necessary work of the kingdom is put on the back burner. You and your companion are often in the best position to know what is going on in the lives of members and nonmembers alike. If you make the mistake of being the communication center for the ward, you will find that all your time is spent talking about other people. When the Lord commanded, "Say nothing but repentance unto this generation" (D&C 11:9), he sent an unmistakable message that our time should be focused entirely on Him and His gospel.

Another thing that helped me and my missionaries focus on things that are important is the saying "Small minds talk about people; average minds talk about things; great minds talk about ideas." What would happen if we refused to allow our minds to be either small or average but insisted on having great minds? Many great ideas, eternal principles, and soul- expanding concepts go unattended because we are too focused on gossip.

You may have come from a small farming community where every- body knew everything about everybody. You will find it difficult to break a lifelong habit. But it is possible, and the rewards are worth the effort. Catch yourself or have your companion call you up short if you start to talk about others. If you are serving in an area where gossip is prevalent, it is doubly difficult to break the cycle. Be open, honest, and frank about wanting to avoid the practice. In stating your desire to quit gossiping, don't label or belittle the local people. Ask for their assistance. By their helping you, they may come to realize that they too need to make some adjustments. Just one righteous man or woman can make a big difference.

The Book of Mormon tells the story of the powerful, transforming influence of one righteous man among people who had gone astray.

"Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; Yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness. But Melchizedek having exercised mightly faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy Order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father." (Alma 13:17-18)

With a little substitution, this scripture gives us a clear program for helping the local people perfect themselves. Substitute your name for Melchizedek. The modified version may read: "Now (your name) was an elder/sister over the land of (city where you serve); and the members had waxed strong in iniquity and gossip; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness. But (your name) having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of missionary according to the calling from the Prophet, did preach the peaceable way to live unto the people in the ward. And behold, they did repent (change!); and (your name) did establish peace in the ward in his/her stay there as a missionary; therefore (your name) was called blessed by the people, for he/she did serve with honor under the direction of the mission president."

It may be that you can't change the entire mission—but maybe you can. You will never know the impact you have had until you have served your entire mission the way you know you should. It will probably require a rerun on the eternal video machine before the full impace of your righteous behavior is realized.

Because you will be serving with "all your heart, might, mind and strength," you may find fault with the bishop or other ward leaders for not being as diligent as you expect them to be. Unless it is your stewardship (which it isn't!) to correct the leaders, learn to work within the framework of the ward to introduce change. "Don't try to magnify the bishop's calling!" The bishop will know many things that you are not privileged to know. Many times, people (even some leaders) would say, "President, if I were you, I would do (this or that)." I would often think to myself, "If you were me and knew what I know, you would probably do exactly what I am doing." There is a reason why the saying "Every member a mission present!" is so well- known. Don't add to the problem. You become annoyed when people tell you how to serve your mission; think how the leaders must feel when a nineteen-year-old male or a twenty-one-year- old female tries to tell them how to magnify their calling.

Just as you have the potential to be the greatest talebearer in the ward, you also have the greatest potential of being the greatest peace- maker. If you use the excuse that "everybody else is doing it," you will never rise to the level to which you were foreordained. It is easy to dwell on the negative and overlook the positive. Remember, Christ is the builder. Satan is the destroyer. If what you say or do weakens and destroys, there is no question whose team you are playing on.

One of the difficult positions you may find yourself in is being in the middle of a dispute. Sometimes the opposing parties will try to attract people who agree with their philosophy. Scrupulously avoid taking sides. If you are going to be the healing agent, you must remain neutral. The Savior taught that a house divided against itself cannot stand. You will find that nine out of ten individuals can be wrong even if they all agree. What the gospel says is correct, even if it is unpopular. Teach correct principles with boldness, and leave condemnation and judgment to the Lord. To the degree you become part of the fighting among members or nonmembers, you will decrease your effectiveness as an instrument of the Lord in establishing peace. Referring to conditions that would exist just before the Second Coming, the Savior said of Zion: "It shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another" (D&C 45:69). If we contribute in any way to the "war," we also disqualify that ward or branch from being numbered among those who are called Zion and who are thus prepared for the second coming of Christ.

If you can learn how to be in the ward without being involved in its problems, you are on your way to mastering a principle that will benefit you for the rest of your life. Is there a time for you to enter the fray? Not as a missionary! Let local leaders work to soften the hearts of the opposing parties—you focus on your assigned mission. When you speak only good about everyone you meet, the Spirit of God causes that good to be magnified. Before long these negative factors that seemed so important disappear. Make it your goal to help people achieve the unity that will quality them as a Zion people.

Taken from the book: Serve With Honor, by Randy Bott