12 They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;
13 And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea, and all this because that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore he was favored of the Lord, for the Lord heard his prayers and answered them, and he took the lead of their journey in the wilderness….
17 And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.
(Mosiah 10:12-13, 17)
We all make generalizations based on our experiences and on the experiences of those around us. We aren’t capable of comprehending life in all its detail. So, as an aid to decision-making, we tend to identify general principles which we then apply to the diverse situations we experience. When those principles are based on truth, are well-formulated, and are applied to appropriate problems, they are useful decision-making tools. When they are based on misunderstandings, are poorly articulated, or are applied inappropriately, they can lead us to make poor decisions, even harmful ones. And because of our natural tendency to prioritize evidence which supports our foregone conclusions, those inaccurate generalizations can persist for a long, long time.
The Book of Mormon speaks many times of the “traditions of your fathers.” About half of the time, this phrase refers to gospel teachings and practices. The rest of the time, as in the passage above, it refers to incorrect beliefs and practices which result in sinful behavior.
Inaccurate stereotypes can be difficult to detect, especially in ourselves. For example, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf pointed out that, even as Zeniff condemned the traditions of the Lamanites in the passage above, he betrayed his own prejudices against them by calling them a “wild, and a ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people” (“What Is Truth,” CES Devotional, August 12, 2013). The sons of Mosiah later discovered that there were many of the Lamanites who were receptive to the gospel when given an opportunity to hear it. Those who were converted by their teaching turned out to be as durable in their righteousness as any of the Nephites (Alma 23:6).
Today, I’ll watch for stereotypes and generalizations in my own thinking. When I find myself drawing broad conclusions, and particularly when I am tempted to judge people, I will remember that Heavenly Father loves each of His sons and daughters individually. I will follow His example and treat everyone as an individual child of God.