Jerry Earl Johnston: Time to listen and learn from our neighbors

Published: Friday, July 29 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

I'm sure the Mormon Pioneers would be amused to learn that Utah is a big part of the mission field now. Each year, more and more people of other walks of life move here and each year more and more missionaries are being called to serve here.

And as outsiders become insiders, LDS leaders continually coach us on ways to treat the newcomers.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, especially, sounded that theme.

"My brothers and sisters," he told the Saints in Sudbury, Ontario back in 1998, "we must be good neighbors. We must be friendly people. We must recognize the good in all people."

The problem, I think, is that to "recognize the good in all people" we need to be curious enough to pay attention to them.

We need to listen and learn.

We must realize everyone has something to offer.

Sadly, that attitude doesn't show up as often as it should.

When I was a missionary in Bolivia in the 1960s, we'd go into towns where few — in any — Americans had ever stepped. And we'd quickly have a captive audience. Or better, we'd be the captives. People would crowd around asking questions and joshing with us.

It made me think of the day Carolyn Berry walked into Box Elder High School and became the only African American in our studentbody. She was tall and shy and had a singing voice that could melt titanium. And like those Bolivians who followed us everywhere, students at Box Elder focused on her as well. The wiser students hoped to learn new perspectives and insights from her. The less wise feared she would somehow upset the status quo and force them to adjust.

Those two attitudes — fear on one side, and a desire to learn on the other — show up today when the discussion turns to Hispanic immigrants or to the growing number of Utahns who are not LDS.

The wise among us feel curious and want to learn.

The less wise among us feel threatened.

Fortunately, LDS leaders seem to honestly believe that people who are different from us have many things that can enrich us.

They don't fear the change.

They sense an opportunity — not just for conversions, but for a wider, brighter way to live.

Curiosity may have killed the cat.

But I think curiosity also makes an old dog wise.

The counsel has been given: be good neighbors and recognize the good in all people.

It's time to put down our guard and look for ways our new neighbors can enrich our lives, and we can enrich theirs.

EMAIL: jerjohn@desnews.com

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