What would possess a group of people to invade and occupy their own Capitol Building while their elected representatives were conducting official government business on their behalf? How could they convince themselves that this action was morally acceptable, or that it was even helpful to their cause?
The troubling events this week in the United States have caused me to reflect upon how easily we can become swept up in passion and emotion and disconnected from reason and prudence.
Many times in the Book of Mormon, people are “stirred up” to take actions which are irrational and contrary to their own self-interest. Here are a few examples:
- After the death of Ishmael, Laman convinced Ishmael’s sons that Lehi and Nephi had lied to them in order to obtain power over them. “And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger.” Only by the miraculous intervention of God was the situation defused (1 Nephi 16:38-39).
- When Abinadi boldly declared to King Noah that he was not afraid to die for the truth, the king “was about to release him… But the priests lifted up their voices against him…saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain” (Mosiah 17:9-12).
- After Amalackiah became king of the Lamanites, “he did appoint men to speak unto the Lamanites from their towers, against the Nephites. And thus he did inspire their hearts against the Nephites” (Alma 48:1-4, Alma 51:9-10). Many people died in the resulting war, which the Lamanites ultimately lost.
- In the last days of the Jaredite civilization, when millions of people had already died, the people gathered for a final battle which would result in their extinction. “The people of Coriantumr were stirred up to anger against the people of Shiz; and the people of Shiz were stirred up to anger against the people of Coriantumr” (Ether 15:6).
In 1820, Joseph Smith observed the people in his hometown of Palmyra, New York becoming similarly agitated. “Great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties,” he later wrote, “which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, ‘Lo, here!’ and others, ‘Lo, there!'” He said that this “war of words and tumult of opinions” resulted in “a scene of great confusion and bad feeling,” and that his own mind, as a fourteen-year-old boy, “at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant” (Joseph Smith—History 1:5-9). How did he avoid getting swept up in the confusion?
One key was that he made an intentional decision to remain in control of his own thoughts. “I kept myself aloof from all these parties,” he wrote. He didn’t completely disconnect; he “attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit,” but he recognized the need for self-discipline, not to allow himself to become a slave to passions inflamed by the words of other people (Joseph Smith—History 1:8).
In the year 2018, President Russell M. Nelson twice recommended a social media fast. In June of that year, he asked the youth of the church to stop using social media for seven days. In October, he invited the women of the church to participate in a 10-day fast from social media. In both cases, the purpose of the fast was to help us become more intentional about our information consumption. Here is what he told the youth:
See if you notice any difference in how you feel and what you think, and even how you think, during those seven days. After seven days, notice if there are some things you want to stop doing and some things you now want to start doing.“Hope of Israel,” Worldwide Youth Devotional, 3 June 2018
And to the women of the Church, he said:
The effect of your 10-day fast may surprise you. What do you notice after taking a break from perspectives of the world that have been wounding your spirit? Is there a change in where you now want to spend your time and energy? Have any of your priorities shifted—even just a little? I urge you to record and follow through with each impression.“Sisters’ Participation in the Gathering of Israel,” General Conference, October 2018
President Nelson did not recommend a permanent renunciation of social media—just a few months ago, in fact, he invited us to “flood social media with a wave of gratitude that reaches the four corners of the earth” (“President Nelson invites us to #GiveThanks,” Church News, November 20, 2020). Instead, the purpose of these fasts was to help us become more in tune with our own thoughts and feelings and more intentional in our consumption of information.
Today, I will avoid becoming “stirred up” by the impassioned arguments of other people. I will consume information more thoughtfully and deliberately, and I will avoid being unduly influenced by the “war of words and tumult of opinions” in the world around me.