Years ago, we had a staunch old scribe here who had built himself a kingdom. He was the master of his beats, a royal reporter. But management here was in a "shake things up" mode and they reassigned him.

He was livid.

Elder Mark E. Petersen was alive and well then and often spoke at the annual Mark E. Petersen Banquet. Despite his resentment, the old scribe went. When he returned to the office someone asked how it had gone.

"Mark talked on kindness," the old guy said. Then he jerked his thumb toward the management offices. "I just hope those @#$% were listening."

Kindness, then.

There's probably not a bigger trump card in the deck of human traits. Kindness will take the sting out of 90 percent of all our strained conversations and relationships.

I bring all this up because I've been struggling this week with people who are unkind — who cause suffering. I'm the clerk in a Spanish-language branch in Brigham City and I've been discouraged. So, I decided to turn to a man who knows me and also the Hispanic people pretty well: our columnist, John Florez.

John's a crusty old Catholic, but he sees things with a universal gaze.

We went out to lunch.

I told him I was disheartened — that I was having a hard time relating to Latinos. I tried to understand them culturally, politically and socially. I tried to understand their language and their struggles, but I was feeling like the odd man out. I kept getting broadsided by the things they said and did.

John listened carefully. We were sitting near the window in a little Greek beanery. I watched the sun slowly turn his bald head into one of those "idea light bulbs."

"Maybe that's the problem," he finally said.

"What?"

"Maybe you're trying to relate to them in all the wrong ways. Relate to their values. You have the same values. Think of the values you all share in your church."

"You mean like kindness?"

"Yes," he said. "And other values, too. We all believe in those things, even if we don't act like it sometimes. I'm sure leaders of Anglo congregations get just as disheartened."

I thought a minute. He was right. I'd been listening and watching for the wrong things. I was watching what people did. I needed to focus on what they believed was the right thing to do. Like a jazz singer who learns to pick up the rhythm from the bass instead of the drums, I needed to learn to listen and watch for the right things. Even unkind people believed in kindness. Belief in kindness could be a touchstone for all types of relationships.

John had nailed it. The best way to relate to people is through the values we share. We may not always live those values, but we share them. And that's a good place to start. That's where real connections can be made.

As for that "old scribe" — the one who hoped the @#$% were listening to Elder Petersen — I believe the old boy is still out there. I know he believes in kindness. He said as much. I ought to buy him lunch — just the two of us.

And a free lunch for John Florez, of course.


Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com