A shoe manufacturer sends two employees to a remote region to evaluate prospects for expanding its business. The first employee writes, “Situation hopeless. No one wears shoes.” The second employee writes, “Glorious business opportunity! They have no shoes!” (Adapted from The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, Harvard Business School Press, 2000, p. 9.)
When the children of Israel arrived at the land of Canaan, the Lord instructed Moses to send twelve leaders, a representative from each tribe, to scout out the land and evaluate their prospects for settling there (Numbers 13:1-16). Of course the Lord already knew the answer. Before delivering the Israelites from slavery, He had promised to bring them “unto a land flowing with milk and honey,” and he had listed the groups of people who currently lived there (Exodus 3:8, 17). But God wanted them to see for themselves and make their own evaluation.
The outcome was not good. After exploring the land for forty days, the scouts returned with their report. The land was truly fertile: they brought lots of fruit as evidence. However, the current inhabitants of the land were powerful (Numbers 13:23, 26-29). The Israelites would be like grasshoppers under their feet, completely at their mercy (Numbers 13:33).
That was the view of the majority, but two of the scouts—Joshua and Caleb—drew a different conclusion:
The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.Numbers 14:7-9
Same facts, opposite conclusions. How can this be? Because in our world of incomplete information, very much depends on which facts we prioritize and what inferences we draw from those facts. And the attitude we bring to the inquiry, consciously or not, influences those priorities and inferences to a large degree.
Here are a few examples of the same phenomenon in the Book of Mormon:
- When Zeniff was sent to spy on the Lamanites, he saw good people who didn’t deserve to die. But his commander and colleagues saw a dangerous enemy who had to be defeated. (See Mosiah 9:1-2.)
- When Ammon and his brothers went to preach to the Lamanites, they saw children of God who needed the light of the gospel. Their friends saw hardened warriors who wanted to kill them and who would never change. (See Alma 26:23-26.)
- Nephi saw his family’s experiences in the wilderness as a manifestation of God’s tender mercies. His brothers saw the same events as evidence that their father had made a disastrous decision in leaving Jerusalem. (See 1 Nephi 1:20, 1 Nephi 17:1-3, 20-21.)
Same facts, opposite conclusions.
God praised Caleb and Joshua for giving a hopeful report of their observations in Canaan. Of Caleb, He said, “He had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully” (Numbers 14:24, italics added). As I’ve pondered that passage today, I’ve wondered: What kind of spirit do I bring to my fact-finding activities? Am I so jaded and cynical that new information is clouded by negative interpretations? Can I place new facts into a context of faith, and draw conclusions which lead to constructive actions and outcomes?
Today, I will strive to have “another spirit.” I will evaluate facts accurately, and I will interpret those facts hopefully, with trust that the Lord can help me accomplish my righteous goals.