Influence and Persuasion- 1 Kings 18:21, Matthew 26:41, Exodus 8:28,32

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: entreat for me.
And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.

COMMENTARY

How long halt ye between two opinions?
And Pharaoh said, I will let you go…And Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak
We find multiple examples in the scriptures of people that are of two minds. The Israelites try to conflate two incompatible theologies into one. Pharaoh says he’ll let his slaves go, but his hard heart keeps holding on. The apostles want to stay up with their beloved master, but they’re just too tired to do so.
Clearly the strife between competing thoughts and desires is not only between different people, but also within us. We have different voices inside that want different things, and each side debates against the others.
The question of how to persuade and influence others is also a question of how to persuade and influence our own selves. The mystery of how to change the world for good is the same as the mystery of how to change ourselves. Indeed, coming into harmony with ourselves is a prerequisite before we can hope to bring harmony to those around us.

Influence and Persuasion- Personal Example #1

Previously I spoke of the contention that arises when two egos strive together, versus the unity that arises when two hearts do. And I actually experienced a recent example of both sides of this.

The most difficult disagreements to navigate are the ones where each side feels a moral conviction. It is very easy to entangle pride and ego with your personal sense of right and wrong, and to feel insistent that your way is objectively correct.

The example I saw of this recently was when my wife and I were discussing the question of tithing. We’ve always subscribed to that practice, but there is definitely some room for interpretation within that law. Does that ten percent come before or after taxes? Does it come before or after benefits? If you realized you forgot to tithe a previous sum do you go back and cover that, or do you just let it go?

And generally I would say “do what your conscience tells you, and don’t worry if it is slightly different from someone else. So long as you are sincere in trying to follow the law, God will approve.”

And if my wife and I had separate incomes, I could tithe mine in the way that made sense to me, and she could tithe hers how it made sense to her. But we share an income, and when we received a sum that fell into that tithing-gray-area we each felt “right” about a different course of action to take.

And for the first while, each of us tried to convince the other of why we were right, and each of us felt a little ruffled about that. It did not become a very hostile situation, but there was definitely some friction in the moment. It was easy for each of us to feel unheard and judged.

Ego against ego. There was never going to be a mutual outcome from this.

Eventually we took a different approach, though. Instead of trying to “solve the problem,” we backed away and spoke about our stung feelings. We admitted to pride and frustration, to feeling unimportant and unprioritized.

We bypassed ego, and started taking heart-to-heart and spirit-to-spirit.

And then we didn’t feel like we were on two sides anymore, we felt like we were on one side together. It wasn’t important to me that we use my solution anymore, and it wasn’t important to her that we use hers. Neither of us had to be the one that won. Now, at last, we could kneel down together and ask God what to do about the matter.

And each of us came out of that prayer with a shared feeling, a warm assurance about the right thing to do.

And it wasn’t what either of us had been recommending. It wasn’t “my way” or “her way.” Nor would I say it was a compromise between our two extremes. It really felt like a third choice. A shared choice. Shared between me and she and He.

Influence and Persuasion- Contention

Before really diving into this matter of “good” and “bad” ways to influence and persuade others, I wanted to address the fact that words like “influence” and “persuade” feel like they are taking on a more negative definition of late.

When two people debate about their different desires or beliefs, they can easily find it a negative experience, where each has their feelings hurt and grows more divided from the other. Repeated experiences like these might start to make one feel that “influencing” and “persuading” are synonymous with “manipulating” and “coercing.” To proselyte starts to be seen as just forcing your opinions on others.

But while these conversations can turn negative, they really don’t have to. I am sure each of us can recall a situation where we had our minds changed, and it was done in a way that left us feeling edified and improved. We can have a conversation that is mutual, where each side contributes to a greater whole, and where truth is found in the intersection of core beliefs.

Or put another way, each of us has an ego, and when that communicates with another ego, only contention can occur. But also we each have an eternal spirit, and when that spirit feels directly spoken to by another eternal spirit, it awakens and remembers itself. Then we see the truth in what is being shared, and are convinced in a wholesome way.

And this is the sort of experience I want to pursue with this study. I want to understand what it is that makes those moments work, and how we can actively work for them in all of our interactions with each other.

Our Own Reality- Summary

One of the reasons this study occurred to me was the deep conflict of opinions I have seen in the world recently. People has always found it simpler to vilify those that embrace a different reality from their own, rather than accept that “the other side” might have legitimate reasons for the reality that they perceive.

In my experience, though, the first step to improving world problems is to consider one’s own failings in that regard. Before I can try to bridge the gap between other peoples’ realities, I have to be able to understand my own reality, the reasons why I hold it, and whether it is valid. Because yes, some of my perspectives have been detached from truth, and I’ll never be the one to judge right from wrong until I have taken any beams out of my own eye first.

In this study I considered ways to recognize truth from error, how to correct my flaws, and how to know when I stand on truer ground. Here are a few of the principles I learned along the way.

Reality is Personal

The first thing I have come to realize is that the reality I perceive is far from objective. It is extremely biased. In fact I tend to view the world with the same lens as the one I view myself with. Thus the entire world becomes a place of deceit and suspicion when I am hiding personal shame, and the entire world becomes a place of potential and grace when I am forthcoming.
But of course coming to this realization is a tricky thing to do. Most often we deny that there is any bias to our perspective whatsoever. Our perspective, we maintain, is one based on common sense, the natural truth that anyone can see for themselves if they would just look. And anyone that disagrees with it must therefore be delusional or a liar, for they are denying fundamental truth.
Taken to the most extreme, we feel a deeply personal attack whenever another disagrees with our perspective, and then there is no greater cause than to get them to understand just how very, very wrong they are.
Matthew 7:4- Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Proverbs 21:2- Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the Lord pondereth the hearts.

A More True Personal Truth

Fortunately, there is a way to live other than in this war of isolated realities. Because the way we view the external world is based on how we view our inner self, we can cultivate a truer perspective by first cultivating a truer inner self. In fact, putting our focus on the self first is the only way we’ll ever achieve a proper view of the world.
So if I want to see reality in a way that is objectively true, I need to cease living as a contradiction. Not only a contradiction in how what I do differs from what I say, but also in how what I do and say differs from what I think and feel. In short, I need to live with integrity.
The more aligned I become with that spark of divinity God put in me, the more I am living in harmony with my conscience, the more I am consistent in every facet of life, the more I will start to see the world in a way that is actually true. I will start to see the world the same way that God sees it.
Matthew 7:5- Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Psalm 24:3-4- Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

Reality as a Choice

And so the reality we hold is ultimately a matter of choice, not of chance. It is a matter of choice in that the environment we choose, the sources we listen to, and the patterns we implement will all bleed into how we view the world. Whether we choose those thoughtfully or not, still we are choosing. And if we don’t make a conscious choice of it, then we are making an unconscious choice, one that is heavily influenced, and influenced by others that do not necessarily have our best interests at heart.
But also there is another way in which we choose our reality, too. For while our perspectives are usually altered slowly and imperceptibly, there are also key moments where we make a dramatic and conscious decision for what reality we will pursue.
These might come after our daily practices have softened our hearts to the point that we can accept a reality we had previously been averse to. It might come when we encounter a testimony that moves us powerfully, and makes us reconsider other long-held beliefs. These are critical junctures in life, and though we might make up all manner of reasons in them to not follow our conscience, we must be true to our better nature or else our growth will come to a stop.
Acts 26:27-28- King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.
Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.

Alma 18:24, 33- And Ammon began to speak unto him with boldness, and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God?
And king Lamoni said: I believe all these things which thou hast spoken. Art thou sent from God?

Our Own Reality- The Fifty-Two United States of America

I once spent two years in a country that was foreign to me. While I was there I encountered a bizarre example of misinformation several times, where the locals were convinced that the United States of America had fifty-two states.

Whenever I encountered this belief I tried to convince them that there were still only fifty states, but to no avail. I mentioned that there were several territories that were also a part of the USA, and that perhaps they had been hearing about a couple of those? They insisted not, it was two full-fledged states had just recently been added, and perhaps I hadn’t heard about it yet. I said that two states were added a few decades ago (Alaska and Hawaii), bringing it from forty-eight to fifty, perhaps they had heard about that and thought it was a recent event? They said no, they were sure. It was fifty before, plus two more, now fifty-two.

In the end it didn’t matter very much. I don’t feel personally offended if someone thinks there are two more states to my country than there actually are. Eventually I just stopped discussing the matter altogether.

It was a curious lesson in human nature, though. It did not matter that I was a native of the United States of America, a citizen that had been educated in its history and geography for years, and was being kept abreast of current events. For though I was a local in the USA, in this land I was the foreigner, and thus my perspective was suspect. In a case of he-said-she-said, we tend to side with the individual that we are personally closer to, regardless of whether their stance is as well-founded as the other.

And I have no delusions about the fact that my own opinions and beliefs are also molded by my culture’s biases. I am sure there are many things that I take as a matter of fact, which are absolutely wrong. In fact, I have a personal example of how I came to be corrected in one of those misconceptions just a few years ago. I’ll share that, and the lessons that I learned from it, tomorrow.

Our Own Reality- Question

There are eternal truths which we are powerless to revert. Things that will always be, and do not require our agreement to be so. However there are also things that we do get to choose about our reality. Thus if God exists, He just exists, and we cannot turn that off…but we can still elect to live a “Godless” life even so.

Indeed it is our common pattern to make up our minds about what we believe to be true, and then find the world reinforcing our opinions at every turn. Almost every situation is able to be construed to support both my reality, and also the exact opposite reality. The same event can be seen as proof that miracles are real and also as proof that only coincidences are.

With this study I would like to consider how we navigate this balance of truth vs personal lens. How do we tell the difference between God telling us something, and us just reaffirming what we want to hear? To what extent are we allowed to create our own reality, and what are the eternal verities that exist regardless of our opinion?

I’d be curious to hear how you have navigated between opinion and truth in your own life. How do you know when you stand on a foundation that is not just your own self? How do you answer those who would impose their reality over your own? How do you, in turn, share your truth without trying to force it upon others?

The Way That Things Are- 1 Corinthians 2:6-8, 1 Nephi 8:27-28

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.
And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.

COMMENTARY

But we speak the wisdom of God, even the hidden wisdom, which none of the princes of this world knew
As I said yesterday, truth does not need to be known to be true. That one does not understand something is not evidence against it. As a three-year-old I did not understand Algebra, Geometry, or Calculus, yet they still contained correct teachings.
Now imagine if I grew to adulthood, successfully gained an understanding of many other things, but still could not comprehend mathematics. Would the fact that I was capable of knowing many other things, but still not mathematics, be evidence at last that there was no truth in arithmetic? Still no.
To be intelligent beings, yet still have our blind spots of ignorance, is a fact of life.

And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them
When our car has trouble we go to a mechanic, when we want to build a house we find a contractor, when we feel sick we seek guidance from a doctor. Wisely we have learned to rely on those who know when we ourselves are ignorant….except, it would seem, in one particular case.
For some inexplicable reason, we take the religious opinions of those that openly admit that they are not religious, and we take the moral guidance of those that are not moral. We give people credentials in the matters of the soul simply because they are popular or because we like them, not because they actually know.
There are those that actually know, there is even one who knows all. If we want to understand divine truth, we cannot hope to gain it through an ignorant source.

The Way That Things Are- John 18:37-38, Doctrine and Covenants 93:24, 30

Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.

And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.

COMMENTARY

For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth
Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?

During the trial of Jesus he had philosophical discussions with Pilate, in which he testified of his role as the bearer of truth. Pilate’s response shows a cynical mindset, one that questions what truth even is. Thus we see that a “meh” attitude towards the eternal verities is not a modern invention at all, it has been around for millennia!
For as far back as philosophy extends, the question of absolute truth has been debated. Are there things that are eternal and constant, or is everything shifting and impermanent? And if everything on earth is shifting and impermanent, can there still exist a higher realm where things are eternal and constant?

Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come
All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it
I once heard a brother compare truth to a tool lost in the yard. If a family cannot find the tool, they might have all manner of opinions as to what became of it. The father doesn’t recall that the tool was ever actually owned. The mother knows that the tool was owned, she was the one who bought it for a specific project. The son who used the tool last knows that he must have been the one to lose it, and claims total ignorance of anything to do with the tool whatsoever! The sister hears all of these conflicting opinions and decides that there is just no definitive truth related to the tool.
But there is a truth. It is still sitting under the bush in the backyard, whether anyone knows that it is there or not. Because truth is not based upon opinion. It is simply “things as they are.” And so truth is independent, it does not have to be known or even accepted to exist. It just is.
Pilate didn’t know what the truth was. Not because the truth didn’t exist, but because he did not receive it. He delivered it up to the crucifixion instead. But even though he was ignorant, Jesus still was who he was, and the truth is what it is.

Knit Our Hearts- James 3:2 (NIV); Proverbs 9:9, 27:17

We all stumble in many ways.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

COMMENTARY

We all stumble in many ways
Give me a list of moral dilemmas, ethical quandaries, and human behaviors to judge. I will answer each one and I will invariably feel that all of my answers are the right answers, or in other words I will feel that my opinion is the same as God’s. Every man believes that he judges rightly.
But if I ask you to answer this same list of questions, you might answer some the same as me, but you will inevitably answer others of them differently. And for all your answers you will be just as convinced of your own rightness as I am of mine, and this would mean that at least one of us must be wrong, even when we are convinced that we are right.
If we’re being perfectly honest, though, it isn’t just one of us that is wrong. Neither you nor I will be totally right in all of our judgments because we are flawed and imperfect beings. In one of our disagreements I might be the one in error, but in another disagreement it might be you.
Every man believes that he judges rightly, but every man is at least somewhat mistaken.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser
A man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend
Exploring the differences in our beliefs can be a painful exercise, because it is very easy to get one’s pride tangled up in it. If one is not careful, then feelings are hurt and bitterness comes out. However, if both parties are willing to shelve their pride and sincerely seek truth, then something remarkable occurs.
First we can examine our areas of disagreement objectively. By questioning our motives we may discover a bias that blocked our discernment. With time and care we can each improve, or sharpen, the other’s understanding.
There is another benefit as well. Though we may have differences of opinion, we also certainly have agreements. As I suggested yesterday, in those places where our opinions overlap our confidence in having judged rightly greatly increases. There, in our mutual agreement, we begin to see God in our midst.