7 Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?
When we feel animosity toward other people, we have a tendency to exaggerate their weaknesses and to overlook their positive qualities. By the time Jacob delivered this sermon to the people of Nephi, their attitudes toward the Lamanites had hardened. They thought of the Lamanites as uncivilized, lazy, and violent. (See 2 Nephi 5:14, Jacob 1:14, Jacob 7:24, Enos 1:20, Jarom 1:6.) The Nephites apparently referred to them disdainfully as “filthy” (Jacob 3:5). But Jacob had noticed something about the Lamanites which most of the Nephites had completely missed: they had strong families. Husbands and wives loved one another and they loved their children. In contrast, the Nephites’ families were becoming weaker, as husbands, seeking to justify immorality, “[broke] the hearts of [their] tender wives, and lost the confidence of [their] children” (Jacob 2:35). It must have been shocking to them when Jacob said, “the Lamanites…are more righteous than you” (Jacob 3:5), or worse, when he referred to “the Lamanites, which are not filthy like unto you” (Jacob 3:3, italics added).
I also like the fact that Jacob placed the Lamanites’ negative behavior in a context. Their hatred toward the Nephites, he said, was a result of their upbringing, not an inherent character flaw. This awareness didn’t change the fact that the Nephites had to fight to defend themselves (Jacob 7:24-25), but it certainly represented a mature empathy on the part of Jacob, a recognition that people’s behavior has complex roots, and that bad behavior does not necessarily represent corrupt character.
Today, when I am tempted to think unkindly of another person, I will remember the example of Jacob. I will look for positive attributes which I might have been tempted to overlook or discount, and I will seek to learn from those positive attributes. I will also seek to put negative actions in context and to remember that those actions may be motivated by experiences that I’m not aware of. Today, I will give other people the benefit of the doubt.