Motivating people to change

01 May

Today I got frustrated during the Priesthood meeting. It was a combined meeting for Elders and High Priests, and we basically got told that we were not doing anything for each other, we don’t care for each other, we have no unity etc. I won’t go into details, but my thoughts were that, although the teacher had some valid points, his approach was almost completely useless and ineffective.


Because he’s trying to motivate people to love each other, with the almost explicit assumption that we don’t. “If we loved each other, we would do this and this for each other. We don’t do it, therefore we don’t love each other.” Not only does that make everyone in the room feel judged and criticised, regardless of how much they actually do for each other, but it also fails to motivate those who are not “doing” what is apparently required as a proof of their love for each other.

The truth is, most, if not all of the priesthood holders present at that meeting are loving, kind, thoughtful people who are trying their best to do what is right. The real issue is that they don’t spend much time with each other, making it difficult for them to appreciate and show compassion for each other. How can you love someone you don’t know, or hardly ever speak to?

This illustrates the vicious cycle that maintains the problem of lack of unity: we don’t do much for each other because we don’t love each other enough, and we don’t love each other enough because we don’t spend much time with each other.

Another problem in our teacher’s approach is unfortunately extremely common in the Church: a resistance towards organised care. Somehow, organised care in the form of home teaching and fellowshipping assignments are seen as cold and void of compassion, as if it were impossible to truly love someone we have been asked to care for. The assumption is that, for true loving kindness and compassion to exist, our actions must be spontaneous and completely free from the constraints of accountability to another person.

What is wrong with that view? Spontaneous acts of kindness are certainly encouraged in the Church, but to believe that they are the only kinds of actions we should do for each other is a mistake. Here is a real-life scenario that can illustrate this:

One Sunday, an active member of the ward doesn’t come to the meetings. Under the principle of organisation-free care (a nicer way of saying “chaotic care”), every single member of the ward who came to Church MUST give this missing member a phone call or personal visit, because not doing so would be showing a lack of love. This sounds ridiculous of course, because in reality even the most caring of members would realise that 140 phone calls would be rather burdensome for the missing member to receive. However, that is essentially the message given by our teacher. The implicit message was: “If I don’t come to Church today, I expect that someone will call me, and everyone who doesn’t call me needs to love me more.”

Thankfully, the Lord’s way of caring for each other is organised. It involves effective communication, specific stewardships, accurate reporting, and assignments taken seriously. Throughout this organisation, the underlying theme is love, always love. If we see home teachers who are not visiting their families, the worst thing we can do is tell them publicly how unloving and uncaring they are, and how guilty they should feel for not taking their duties seriously. The best and only thing we should do is to ask them individually (or by companionship) about the individual needs of the families that have been assigned to them. If they don’t know, they’ll feel guilty about that without having to be told that they should feel guilty. In that case, when the guilt comes out of a recognition that one’s actions are not in line with divine requirements, a bit of guilt is a good thing, because it will lead to repentance and change.

You don’t motivate people by making them feel bad. For most people, that kind of pep talk only motivates them to avoid the speaker in the future. You do motivate people to change, however, when you acknowledge their individual strengths and efforts, ask them to report on their stewardships, and let them choose how they will exercise their authority and agency in the discharge of their divine obligations.


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