“Kindness” seems to be a major buzzword these days. The detractors of #DezNat hold it like a dagger over our heads. The apostate bandies it about like a morning star whenever challenged. It is frequently mentioned in our hymns and brought up in General Conference; in October, President Dallin H. Oaks taught: “the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility – even when we disagree.” This is truth, and is Christ’s way: being friendly, generous, and considerate. Where many go wrong, unfortunately, is restricting kindness to mere affirmation. They then insist on using only this modified version of kindness (or rather, insisting others use it), and decry every other mechanism of communication or convincing.
The interpretation of love and kindness as a blanket and unquestioning acceptance is insidious. Such understanding has no basis in scripture nor modern revelation. Christ verily taught:
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
However, Christ spent a significant portion of his ministry giving people all over that part of the world hippopotamus levels of crap, and I’m not just talking about the Pharisees. The ministry of Jesus Christ was not a perfectly happy, painless, and endlessly joy-filled three years. It was a rough and tumultuous experience. He called out practically everyone he encountered in one way or another. He went ballistic on the money changers in the temple. He had to get on the apostles’ case constantly. He drove away half of his followers after one difficult-to-swallow and uncomfortably-direct sermon. If one were to search for the squishy modern interpretation of “kindness” in the New Testament, one would find far fewer distinct examples expected. The modern interpretation is clearly incorrect, and the singular, limited use thereof is also wrong.
Use the Right Tool in the Right Condition for Every Job
I work in a safety-conscious industry. The type of work we do generates tremendous value and wealth for humanity, but such miracles of energy come with great risk. One slip up, misstep, or goof can result in serious injury or death for you and/or those around you. In the worst cases, process failures can kill dozens and affect nearby communities. After a century of terrible mistakes, safety has grown to be the first priority: if it can’t be done safely, we won’t do it at all.
It is interesting to see safety culture play out in real life. There are, of course, great lectures and grandiose sermons on how to be collectively safe in our work; but most of the true magic happens on the individual level with small, seemingly insignificant tasks. Choosing the right pair of gloves, remembering to take out the trash, and precisely following our procedures may seem tiny and rote, but these small steps limit our exposure to hazards. Many of these choices are easy to do correctly every day, and, sadly, there are some for which every industry in the world struggles. One of these is the proper tool selection and condition.
A common example used in safety training is that of a worker using a screwdriver to chip paint away from a painted-over screw. What is wrong with using a screwdriver this way? It gets the job done, it’s handy, and it’s easy – just get down there and start chipping. That screwdriver may be “my favorite tool”. Similar excuses are made for using non-hammers to hammer nails, using screwdrivers as chisels, using flathead screwdrivers with Phillips-head screws, using crescent wrenches for everything imaginable, etc. It’s easy. It works. It’s also very, very wrong and can and will get you hurt.
In most cases, the problem is not in the direct outcome of using the wrong tool, but rather in the indirect or side outcomes, virtually all of which are negative. Yes, the screwdriver can chip away paint, but the paint scraper was designed to scrape paint away more quickly, effectively, and most importantly, safely. What are the differences between these tools? One, the paint scraper has a much wider blade that is thin and flexible. The screwdriver has a narrow, thick, and broad blade that is completely rigid. These properties of a screwdriver result in it requiring excessive force to dislodge hardened coatings, and once dislodged it will slip forward quickly. This places hands and fingers in immediate danger, and flying debris endangers the eyes of all around. Furthermore, the excessive force can damage the equipment being serviced, and can even damage the screwdriver itself.
There are endless examples of improper tool selection: using a crowbar to hammer a nail is one of my personal favorites. However, this is not the only facet of safe tool use. The state of the tools is just as important as selection. You may have the perfect tool for a task, but if that tool is compromised in any way – broken handle, cracked teeth, rusted components, etc. – the act of using it can result in loss of integrity, failure to function, and ultimately injury. Poor selection and poor condition of tools will result in a poor experience. Conversely, the right tool in top condition can make what appears to be difficult tasks manageable and safe.
Your Spiritual Toolbox
It is not worthwhile to try and identify a corollary between communication methods and tools of the workbench, but I did give some thought as to what tool “kindness” represents. In its proper, actual definition, kindness means having the qualities of friendliness, generosity, and considerateness. Ergo, to be kind is to be friendly, generous, and considerate. These are adjectives, descriptors of quality. When I thought about what tool to ascribe to kindness I ran into difficulty; we are to use kindness in all our interactions, be they gentle, bold, sharp, biting, or whatever they may be. What tool is used in every situation? Not many, if any. I thought perhaps of personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, but these have a far better spiritual analogy as being part of the armor of God. A screwdriver is very useful, but not when I need a hammer. A hammer is very useful, but not when I need a knife. A knife is very useful, but not when I need duct tape.
I have come to think of kindness not being an individual tool in our arsenal, but rather a clean, sharpened, and damage-free state of our toolset. Malice, on the other hand, being the opposite of kindness, would represent tools in terrible shape with a high likelihood of failure. These are tools we have worn down due to our fallen state. We like them. They’re comfortable. They’re easy. We view them as reliable. They have character and others may see our use of these old, gnarly tools as a sign of wisdom or power. But, when put to the test, they will more than likely hurt whoever it is we are trying to fix, as well as ourselves.
It takes work to maintain a toolset in good condition, just as it takes work to resist temptation and do all that we do in love and kindness. But, how do we know what tools to apply in every situation? How do we acquire and train ourselves with these tools? How do we become even as the carpenter, that in every turn we do what is good and right? That, dear reader, is the great challenge of the faithful.
Follow the Instructions
We are not abandoned when it comes to spiritual education and enlightenment. For the temporal tools of this world, there is a wealth of information: diagrams, schematics, patents, literature, instruction manuals, tutorials, videos, and so on. There is not a tool on this Earth that has no description of its proper use and place. Likewise, the tools of the spirit unto the convincing of men are laid out clearly for all to see and hear. The holy scriptures teach us the experiences of those who have gone before us. Modern prophets reveal new guidance we need in the present day. Apostles and priesthood leaders train and guide us in the ways of the Lord. Personal revelation and prayer open our eyes to things we have never before considered. The information is endless, and it is right there for us to consume.
It is imperative that we do all we do with love and kindness, including those times where boldness and harshness are needed. The Lord spells this out clearly in revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without guile – reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him who thou has reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
Sharpness may be needed, and it may be needed often. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob was exceedingly expert in sharpness and boldness. The prophet Elijah was the Old Testament equivalent of an internet troll (h/t @jpbellum). Samuel the Lamanite was a truth-bomb fanatic. Abinadi called the King and his priests to repentance to their faces even while being lit on fire. Paul just let you have it. None of these, however, did anything for the Lord out of malice, or hatred, or cruelty, or any property of the devil. They did all their deeds out of love and kindness for the children of God, for that is how He taught them to be: even as He is. Let us be more like Him in our deeds, and use all the tools He gives us through the Spirit the way He would use them.
In closing, consider these words from C. S. Lewis:
If God is Love, He is, by definition something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.
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