We have all experienced the ear-numbing effects of a car pulling up next to us at a red light with its windows down, stereo cranked up with foul lyrics spewing hate, and the driver whiplashing himself into pop-culture paralysis.
Have you ever reacted to such a driver with anger? In my natural-man moments I have imagined quietly exiting my vehicle, walking calmly up to the driver’s open window, and, with a polite smile, producing a sledge hammer that silences the bad vibrations with one mighty whack to the offending stereo.
But just as I imagine teaching some manners to a thoughtless person, I realize the Savior would see beyond the base-blasting rhythm to the soul of the individual.
Admittedly, it is difficult for mere mortals to see a person’s true value while on the receiving end of a teeth-chattering car stereo. This is not to suggest that we should excuse bad behavior, but looking beyond behavior to a person’s heart is at the center of love and discipleship. Such vision is godly vision.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminded us in a recent general conference, “I am not suggesting that we accept sin or overlook evil. ... Nevertheless, in our zeal, we sometimes confuse sin with the sinner, and condemn too quickly and with too little compassion. ... Every person we meet is a VIP to our Heavenly Father” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “You Are My Hands,” Ensign, May 2010).
While I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, I have noticed that certain behaviors have a common root. They include everything from the attention-cry of tattoos or pop fashion to addiction in all its various permutations. They are all traceable to the same corrupt soil. By identifying the roots of behavior, it is easier to love unconditionally — by reaching out and being a friend who lifts, rather than one who loathes.
For example, deafening car stereos, pornography, and even drug and alcohol addiction have at least one thing in common: the desire to feel better about oneself. The drug addict needs the new high to change a depressing reality. The boom-box addict desires an escape to the controlled chaos of a better mood, and the slave to pornography finds in fantasy the mood-altering mask to escape the ugly face of self-confrontation. Thus, the natural man seeks diversion as a form of self-therapy.
When I was in high school, “if it feels good, do it,” was a common phrase. This sentiment was not new then and is not unique today, having failed in the bankruptcy of bad experiments throughout human history. Doing anything that “feels good” is a pop-culture lie and one of Satan’s oldest and most effective tools. As the Book of Mormon warns, the devil uses “carnal security” to lead people “carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21). Others, he will “pacify” through diversion. (Id).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Many individuals preoccupied by the cares of the world are not necessarily in transgression. But they certainly are in diversion and thus ‘waste the days of (their) probation (2 Nephi 9:27)’” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The Tugs and Pulls of the World,” Ensign, November 2000).
The adversary knows he can exploit our desire to feel better about ourselves. By lulling us into “carnal security,” even the halo of “innocent” diversion needs to slip but a few inches to strangle us like a noose. True joy is found, not in carnal diversions, but by becoming a new creature in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Ironically, by redirecting our self-indulgence to the love Jesus offers, we gain our true sense of self.
In a world without consequence, anything goes. By contrast, in the self-discipline of discipleship, the penitent heart knows that unrighteous diversion is not a permanent destination. Our detours can be redirected to safer paths.
But the next time we bristle at the abrupt behavior of those who soothe their unhappiness in the world’s titillating hug, remember that Jesus extended his embrace to these same persons. He did so with true charity, where “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Fear motivates so much of today’s bad behavior, but such feelings do not define the soul. They are a mask, which Jesus can strip away in the warm exposure of love, friendship and the trust so evident in the life he led.
If we are quick to condemn the people behind the boom boxes and other outrageous attention-getters, consider that charity “is not easily provoked” (Moroni 7:45) and “for man looketh upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh upon the heart” (1 Samuel. 16:7).
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law in Gilbert, Ariz. A former Phoenix stake president, he serves on the high council for the Queen Creek Chandler Heights Stake. He is active in Arizona Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran. He is an adjunct professor of business law and ethics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. He and his wife are the proud parents of seven children and 13 grandchildren.