“Thou shalt not speak evil of thy neighbor, nor do him any harm.” (D&C 42:27.)
“… every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matt. 12:36–37.)
Another statement is the one we refer to as the Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12.)
Then he said: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.)
It seems that we all have a great tendency to talk about our neighbors. In fact, it is human nature to do so. For some reason or other it seems to be much easier to talk about a person’s faults than his virtues. We repeat some derogatory statements that we have heard regarding a neighbor, whether they be rumors or fact, and they, like weeds, seem to grow with the telling. It is, therefore, most important that we heed the words of the Lord on this subject.
If we want to be good neighbors, we should find out the truth and all the facts or refrain from making any statement lest we fail to observe the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Ex. 20:16.)
The following story gives us cause for reflection. A retired man who worked in his garden early each day noticed that a milkman began stopping regularly each morning at the home of his neighbor across the street. He arrived just after the husband left for work and stayed a half hour or so. The attractive young housewife was a Primary teacher and was almost always in attendance at sacrament meetings.
After this pattern continued for several weeks, the man began to call it to the attention of the neighbors, expressing concern for the children she taught and the effect of her example. By the time he felt it his duty to report the situation to the bishop, news of the situation was widespread in the ward.
The bishop was disturbed over the whole affair and called the manager of the dairy to get the name of the delivery man and to inquire into his character. The manager approached the milkman and said tactfully, “I notice you have a new customer out on Lincoln Avenue. How did you get the lead?”
“Lead?” said the milkman. “That’s my daughter. She fixes breakfast for me every morning, and my wife and I tend her children for her every Friday night. How’s that for a deal?”
This points out the importance of following the counsel of the Lord when he said, “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” (Ex. 23:1.)
Let us heed these words:
“Should you feel inclined to censure
Faults you may in others view,
Ask your own heart, ere you venture,
If that has not failings, too.
“Do not, then, in idle pleasure,
Trifle with a brother’s fame;
Guard it as a valued treasure,
Sacred as your own good name.”
—Hymns, no. 159
It seems we can always find what we are looking for in a person. As we all know, none of us is perfect. As we point out a fault or a weakness, it calls attention to the fault, and we overlook or fail to see the strong points of an individual, and no one benefits thereby. This is clearly illustrated in the following:
There is a very famous painting titled “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Many who have seen this painting or reproductions of it have admired the appearance of strength and dynamic leadership exhibited by General Washington. The painter has skillfully caught the vision of determination and courage in the expressions of the men in Washington’s boat.
But this is what some critics have pointed out: that 12 grown men with guns and supplies could not possibly remain afloat in a rowboat of the size illustrated. If this did not sink it, certainly the three men standing up would tip it over. The 13-star flag shown in the hands of the soldier was not even in existence at the time of the Delaware crossing in 1776. The background for the river was not the Delaware at all, but the Rhine River in Germany where the painting was made.
When one is reminded of these imperfections, it is difficult to appreciate the real message. The observer sees only the defects. So it is with people. When a defect or flaw in personality, character, or appearance has once been pointed out, it is difficult to see clearly the virtues of that person.
We may well ask: “How would I like to have others pointing out my weaknesses or saying about me what I am repeating about another?” How much better for us to look for praiseworthy qualities and pass on compliments, not only to the individual, but to others who know him.
A father came to me not long ago saying that there was building up between him and his son some lack of fellowship and communication. He said he loved his son and that he was generally a good boy, but that “he gets on my nerves.” The father asked for my advice.
I suggested that he let the boy know he loved him, that he look for some good point every day and praise and encourage him; I explained that his son could not help but improve and become a better boy. A few months later the father reported that conditions had changed materially and that both he and his son had improved and were now enjoying their new relationship.
A child will live up to what is expected of him. If you keep telling him he is dumb, he will believe it and may ultimately give up and quit trying to improve. He may say to himself, “Well, if that is all they think of me, why should I care?” A person falsely accused of wrongdoing, or of failure, often feels that he may as well enjoy the game if he has the name.
Children, wives, friends, and associates tend to live up to (or down to) the statements expressed about them. An honest, sincerely stated compliment helps to build character; criticism destroys it. Tearing down another’s reputation or character never builds or betters our own. Expressing admiration for the accomplishments or character traits of another builds us as well as those about whom we speak.
Here are some suggestions worth following:
1. Resolve to write a note at least once a week to someone about an accomplishment.
2. Give a compliment to at least one individual a day, in person or on the telephone. If you set a goal for a week, you will find you want to continue such a practice regularly.
3. Keep a secret record for a month of the number of times you are tempted to criticize and refrain from doing so. See if the number diminishes as you give sincere compliments instead.
4. Husbands and wives, compliment each other and your children at least once a week on strong character traits you would like to see further developed. Find tactful ways to help your children improve their undesirable traits. You will be delighted with the results.
If you think your bishop, stake president, or some other officer is weak, he needs your help more than ever and will be stronger if you sustain him and give him your support instead of pointing out to others the weaknesses you think he has. We serve the Lord by strengthening the character of our fellowmen, for “inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these, ye do it unto me.” (D&C 42:38.)
One verse of the hymn “Nay, Speak No Ill” expresses a thought that gives us proper perspective and an excellent guide for heeding the admonition of the Savior to which we have already referred:
“Nay, speak no ill; a kindly word
Can never leave a sting behind;
And, oh, to breathe each tale we’ve heard
Is far beneath a noble mind.
“Full oft a better seed is sown
By choosing thus the kinder plan,
For, if but little good is known,
Still let us speak the best we can.”
—Hymns, no. 116