2 And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.
3 And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes.
(3 Nephi 7:2-3)
Why did the Nephites separate into tribes? Because they didn’t know who to trust anymore. Their governor had been assassinated. They were surrounded by robbers who appeared to be ordinary people and who were willing to lie to defend one another. Their justice system, as a result, was useless. All that they could do was gather in groups of people who really could trust each other—family and close friends. Since it was impossible to trust acquaintances, it was also impossible to select leaders and to organize shared activities beyond these groups. Since we all benefit when we are able to collaborate with other people, we are all impoverished when our circles of trust constrict.
The Gadianton robbers played a pivotal role in destroying trust in the society, but the hardening of social classes also played an important role. In the prior chapter, Mormon tells us that “the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches” (3 Nephi 6:12). A rigid class structure with little movement between social classes created a climate in which distrust could spread rapidly.
What is the antidote for this phenomenon? It is to build relationships with a diverse group of people, to form alliances and build trust with people who are different from you. As President Russell M. Nelson said this week after a historic meeting between Church leaders and the NAACP:
Together we invite all people, organizations and governmental units to work with greater civility, eliminating prejudice of all kinds and focusing more on the many areas and interests that we all have in common. As we lead our people to work cooperatively, we will all achieve the respect, regard and blessings that God seeks for all of His children.
And in turn, Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP said:
Like the Latter-day Saints, we believe all people, organizations and government representatives should come together to work to secure peace and happiness for all God’s children. Unitedly, we call on all people to work in greater harmony, civility and respect for the beliefs of others to achieve this supreme and universal goal (“First Presidency and NAACP Leaders Call for Greater Civility, Racial Harmony,” mormonnewsroom.org, 17 May 2018)
Today, I will work to build relationships of trust with the people around me, particularly with people who are different from me. I will remember that contracting circles of trust impoverish all of us. I will do what I can to build bridges of trust and collaboration among the people in my community.