BOUNTIFUL — One person can save a two-way relationship from going sour.

That's what Mark Fournier believes. The Emmy Award winning producer and author says when people meet for the first time, they evaluate the other too often based on superficial judgments and misconceptions.

"This reality will then determine how you treat them," Fournier said. "And they will respond to that."

Just one person needs to change his mind, and the other will respond to that, too.

"Typically I would have to say most people feel their problems are unique and no one possibly can understand when the solutions are right under your nose."

Thursday night at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Bountiful Regional Center, about 1,100 people took in interpretations of Fournier books read out loud with piano music, stage props and song from the Salt Lake Children's Choir.

The Uniting Neighbors meeting also featured talks from members of Alliance for Unity, a group formed last year by religious and community leaders who want to bridge divides among Utah's religious, ethnic and political groups. The Deseret News was one of the event's sponsors.

The United Way of Davis County also sponsored the event. After a 1998 study showed affordable housing, teen suicide and adequate child care among problems in the county, the United Way began a program of training "neighborhood coordinators" who determine the needs of nearby residents. In Layton there are 100 neighborhood coordinators and in Woods Cross there are 50.

"When communities were built across America, people helped each other," said Larry Burdett, executive director of the United Way of Davis County. "We aren't doing that today. We need to get back to the basics."

"I think today we have to be so concerned about one another particularly when we consider what is going on in the world. We're living in a world that is spinning so rapidly." said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve.

In the unpredictable world of today, it's imperative "to live with each other, be willing to work with each other — regardless of our religious persuasion or culture from which we come," he said.

Elder Ballard credited Alliance for Unity's open and candid dialogue. "I'd encourage this same spirit be developed" in Circles of Unity, he said, referring to small dialogue groups affiliated with the alliance.

Salt Lake Tribune Editor Jay Shelledy cited a report published in the newspaper on the gap felt between members and non-members of the LDS Church.

People shouldn't label, bash or resort to stereotypes. LDS Church members should be more inclusive. Non-members shouldn't be so sensitive to off-hand comments made by members, he said.

Dialogue between members and non-members can also mend the rift, but the controversy surrounding the LDS Church's Main Street Plaza will leave some resentful, he said.

"Like the debate over liquor laws, the LDS plaza has become a symbol, unfortunately," Shelledy said. "Ultimately, I think the church will prevail. But that victory will come at a price."

Dee Rowland, government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said it takes courage to forgive. "We all, between neighbors, could accept we are not perfect," she said.

Former Utah first lady Norma Matheson spoke on "political morality," the manner and tone by which people treat each other. She quoted the 1980 inaugural address of her late husband, Scott Matheson: "The way we advance the cause as much as the cause itself defines our character."

Comment on this story

Bountiful resident Carol Butler was impressed with the message. "Actually, I didn't know there was an organization like this promoting understanding in neighborhoods and among people of different backgrounds. I think it's great," she said.

Ramona Johnson sits on the board of directors for the Family Connection Center, which runs Davis County's largest food pantry and provides family and individual counseling. The message Thursday night reinforced goals of Johnson's organization: "focus on the positives in each other and how we can help each other."

"This works with what we do, if people do this it will strengthen families and communities," she said.


E-MAIL: lhancock@desnews.com