How do we know what we know? To what degree is our knowledge based on our personal experience and to what degree is it based on what other people tell us?
We all know that our own personal experience provides insufficient information to direct all of our decisions. That’s why we read books, ask advice from friends or from specialists, and run Google searches. That’s why church organizations are led by councils. The combined wisdom and experience of multiple people is more powerful and more trustworthy than the wisdom and experience of a single individual.
King Lamoni’s wife faced a difficult decision as her husband lay unconscious for two days. Some of her advisors told her that he was dead and should be buried, while others believed he was still alive and advised patience. Oddly, those who believed he was dead argued for burial on the grounds that his body had begun to stink. They may have smelled something, but as Lamoni’s wife later declared to Ammon, “As for myself, to me he doth not stink” (Alma 19:5).
Have you ever been in a situation where everyone else detects something but you don’t? Or where you are the only one to detect something? When your perception differs substantially from the people around you, it’s easy to second-guess yourself and to wonder if you might be imagining or making up what you thought you had seen, heard, or smelled. This is apparently the situation Lamoni’s wife found herself in.
We often see what we want to see. So, when other people see things differently from us, it is wise to pause and consider their point of view. But it’s also important not to let them talk us out of the things we have learned by our own experience. As a character in a Groucho Marx movie quipped, “Who ya gonna believe: me, or your own eyes?” (“Duck Soup,” 1933).
Joseph Smith learned that when you share a spiritual experience with other people, even with trusted friends, they may not believe you. They may even try to convince you that you are wrong, that you haven’t really experienced what you know you have. As a fourteen-year-old boy, he decided to trust his own experience over the objections of people who thought they knew better:
I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny itJoseph Smith—History 1:25
Today, I will follow the example of Lamoni’s wife and of Joseph Smith and trust the truths I have learned by my own experience. I will be grateful for the wisdom and guidance I receive from other people, and I will take their advice seriously, but I will not let them talk me out of the truths I have learned for myself.