Episode 11 // Building Bridges Through Dialogue: Lessons from Zeniff and Ammon with Becca Kearl

Jun 18, 2024
Proclaim Peace S1E11




Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or watch on YouTube.

Exploring the theme of peacemaking through the lens of the Book of Mormon, hosts Jennifer and Patrick are joined by the Executive Director of Living Room Conversations, Becca Kearl, and delve into the story of Zeniff from Mosiah 9. Starting with a mission of aggression, Zeniff's preconceived notions about the Lamanites and Nephites are challenged as he confronts the complexities of the situation. The episode discusses the power of narratives in shaping our perceptions and the importance of reevaluating our ingrained stories to cultivate peace.


[00:01:41] The power of narratives.

[00:05:57] Defining peace as a process.

[00:09:27] The power of dialogue.

[00:12:30] Curiosity and dialogue in conflicts.

[00:15:30] Curiosity and sincere interactions.

[00:19:36] Human beings as storytelling creatures.

[00:25:25] National narratives and cultural impact.

[00:27:42] Empathy through shared narratives.

[00:32:35] Empathy and understanding in dialogue.

[00:34:20] Dialogue and shared values.

[00:39:33] Sharing personal experiences to connect.

[00:42:21] Dialogue and building together.

[00:45:22] Living doctrine through culture.

[00:51:18] Finding peace in daily life.

[00:52:28] Restored gospel conversations.



(00:03-00:06) Jennifer Thomas: Welcome to the Proclaim Peace Podcast. I'm Jennifer Thomas.
(00:06-00:19) Patrick Mason: And I'm Patrick Mason. And this is the podcast where we apply principles of the gospel and read the Book of Mormon to become better peacemakers. How are you doing, Jen? I'm fabulous, Patrick. Good. So what are we talking about today?

(00:19-00:52) Jennifer Thomas: Well, we say this a lot, but reading the Book of Mormon through a lens of peacemaking has opened up so many new vistas for us both as we read. So one of those realizations was the jumping off point for this particular conversation. It might seem a little bit weird and not something intuitive, but in Mosiah 9 we are introduced to the story of Zeniff, and it's probably Important to note that his story doesn't start peacefully. He's part of a group of soldier spies that are sent out on a reconnaissance mission with the intent to plan an attack on the Lamanites and recapture the land of their fathers. So this starts from a point of pretty significant aggression.

(00:53-01:31) Patrick Mason: Right. And but of course, things don't go as planned. I feel like I've seen this movie before. So but but in this case, it's interesting. So Zenith comes in, he's a spy, he wants to know, like, how are we going to take over this land and like, and all this kind of stuff. But but actually, the the narrative that he comes in with, as accepted fact, is a pretty simplistic one. And it's like, Lamanites bad, Nephites good, right? I mean, it's, it's, you know, the Lamanites are always bloodthirsty, they're irredeemable. And this is exactly what Zenith walks into this story with with these preconceived notions.

(01:31-02:31) Jennifer Thomas: So we want to talk a little bit today about narratives, because those preconceived notions are the narratives we tell ourselves, and they're how we construct our lives. We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves, we tell ourselves stories about other people, and the Book of Mormon is chock full of them. Even the way we read the book, who we believe are the protagonists or the good guys, is very colored by who is telling us the story, what their perspective is and their narrative it is. So as I was thinking about preparing this episode, I realized how much even when I'm trying not to, I just accept those narratives and I continue to do that even when the evidence is to the contrary. So if some of the most powerful stories in the book to me are stories actually of peacemakers that are Lamanites, but if you asked me quickly on a dime to tell you what the Lamanites were, I would still maybe default to the initial narrative. And the reason we bring this up is because those narratives change how we see people and our willingness to interact with them. And they change whether or not we are even willing to talk to people.

(02:32-03:46) Patrick Mason: Yeah, amazing concept, like talking to other people, right? And I think that's really what we want to dive into today, is the art and the power of conversation and dialogue. I think this runs deep, not just in the Book of Mormon, but in all Scriptures. And it's actually part of the way that God interacts with us. For instance, the way that in Isaiah, the Lord says, come, let us reason together. Sometimes God's just, it's a monologue, right? Here's the Ten Commandments. We're not talking about it, right? But other times, he really wants to be relational. He wants to be in relationship with us. He wants us to talk to him, and he wants to converse with us. And so this is, of course, what Jesus did throughout his ministry, right? He was in direct contact with people. having conversations with them, even with people who were his enemies, who wanted to harm him. And so I think the question for us is whether we can truly be peacemakers if we're not willing to follow that example, if we're not willing to be in ongoing conversation and dialogue, even with people that not just we disagree with, but who sometimes we find ourselves on very different sides of a conflict with.

(03:47-05:36) Jennifer Thomas: The tricky thing for all of us right now, and I think we want to acknowledge that, is that conversation doesn't feel as easy as it used to. I am faced with a situation personally right now where I have to decide to go to a larger family event that 10 years ago I wouldn't have even thought twice about going to, but now I know is going to be maybe fraught with some political tension that I want to avoid. I think that plays out in a lot of our lives. How do we figure out how to be in dialogue with people when it now feels fraught to do that? Today we wanted to bring on a guest who can help us bridge those gaps. Becca Curl grew up in Maine, but about 10 years ago she exchanged the rocky coasts for mountains and she now lives in Provo with her husband and children. Like many of us, and you'll hopefully hear more about that today, she found her calling by engaging with her community. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of Living Room Conversations, an organization that has collected the best practices in person-to-person communications and translated them into simple and accessible guides that are available to anyone who wants to lean into difficult and important conversations. I promise that if there's a topic you want to talk about with someone with, they have a guide that will cover it. They have an app for that. They have an app for that, right? So we would really encourage you to go to their website. I have seen Becca at work personally in professional settings, and she practices what she preaches. Even at the highest levels of organizations, she is committed to ensuring that a range of voices are participating in conversations. and that everyone that does enter into those conversations is treated with warmth and respect. She's really a remarkable person and we are so happy to be able to introduce her to all of you and share her perspectives on life, work, and the gospel. So, welcome Becca. Becca, we're really excited to have you here with us today.

(05:37-05:42) Becca Kearl: I am so excited to be here. I'm a big fan of the podcast and both of you, really.

(05:42-05:57) Jennifer Thomas: That's very nice. Thanks. We'll enjoy a mutual admiration society today. We'd love to begin these conversations by grounding them specifically in our guests' perspectives about peace. And so we're wondering if you would start by sharing with us how you personally define peace.

(05:57-06:58) Becca Kearl: Yeah. We often get caught up thinking about peace as a state of being, or the absence of conflict and tension, but really I have experienced peace as more of a process. It's something that you seek for, work towards, and create, which is why I really like the term peacemaking, because it acknowledges that kind of effort and intention. There's this quote from, in my work, we do work with leaders of different faith communities and higher ed and other people who want to lean into dialogue and connecting across difference. And this quote from a faith leader we've worked with always comes to mind. He said, there's a difference between making peace and keeping peace. Keeping peace avoids conflict, and making peace means moving toward conflict. So in a way, peace is always kind of tethered with conflict. You need them. You need them together to have peace. You need to have healthy conflict and be able to work through it to really get there. So very active, very intentional is how I see peace.

(06:59-07:41) Patrick Mason: I like that definition a lot, and I think that it's a really helpful distinction between peacekeeping and peacemaking. And of course, Jesus invites us to be peacemakers, right? Not just peace lovers or peace observers or peace admirers or something like that, but to be very active. like you said. So tell us a little bit about, you've sort of gestured towards this in terms of talking about your work with faith leaders and higher ed and other kinds of things. So can you tell us a little bit more in detail about the work that you do and some of the professional and personal experiences you've had around dialogue?

(07:41-10:51) Becca Kearl: I really stumbled upon dialogue once I moved to Utah. So I've been here for about nine years now. lived in a couple different places. I'm from Maine originally, and I was working at a women's shelter here, and part of that experience is this really in-depth training. You have to do several hours of training to be able to work with the women and their families. they talked about the high incidence rates of domestic violence in Utah, which is higher than the national average. And all of these other statistics and things that I kept finding myself saying, I had no idea. And why aren't we, we should be talking about this. Why aren't we talking about this more? And so it was kind of interacting with different populations. You know, I did some work with English as a second language, I worked in special education. I've had kind of a varied patchwork background professionally. But over and over, I find myself saying, why aren't we talking about this? We have these social issues that if we were to talk about them, to be more aware, to have some more understanding, and more than that, to really center the human experience within all of these issues as a through line, maybe we could find some solutions. Or at the very least, maybe we could work together towards something and have better understanding, because all social issues are also community issues, are also human issues. And so that's what drew me into this field. What I love about the work that we do at Living Room Conversations is that we have recognized this power of dialogue to help us build relationships, understanding, trust, to put us in a better position, really, to be more resilient in our communities and in our relationships. And we have done that by taking best practices from family mediation and dialogue and putting them into a format that can be self-facilitated. So it basically means anyone has the power of dialogue in their hands. You can go to our website, you can look at our huge library of more than 160 topic guides, print one off, and have a conversation. And I think that we need more of this. I talk to people across the country, and I always ask them, what are the conversations you're avoiding or wish you were having, and what gets in your way of having them? Everybody has a topic they want to be able to talk about and that they're actively avoiding. And then they all have people they wish they could talk to about that thing. And overwhelmingly, what gets in people's way is feeling like they either don't have the skills or the opportunity to engage in those kinds of conversations. And I think that's what our organization exists to be and is very much in line with my personal values of helping everyone really connect and understand each other because if there's anything that I've learned in my varied life experiences or varied work experience, it's that everyone has a story to tell and I don't know what I don't know. And so I see dialogue as being one of those ways to open the door to that kind of learning.

(10:52-12:30) Jennifer Thomas: So this is exactly, Becca, what I think jumped out at Patrick and I when we were thinking about doing this episode, is particularly we've got this portion of the Book of Mormon where we've got a group of people who, I love the way you put it, don't know what they don't know. They in fact assume they know a lot of things they don't know, right? And so they've been operating for decades, even centuries, on a set of assumptions that The story of Zenith has some pretty hidden depth to it, and that depth appears right in the very first verse of chapter 9. Basically, we've got someone who was sent to spy on a group of people to prepare to essentially attack them. He's looking to discover their weaknesses, and he has this expectation going in that they are his mortal enemies. But what he finds surprises him. And I just wanted to pick out a quote from that first verse where he says, when I saw there was good among them, I was desirous that they should not be destroyed. And suddenly, he finds out what he didn't know, that these are real people living real lives, that there's a lot of good things happening there. And he feels so strongly about what he's seen that he has a desire to go to battle on the behalf of these people. So what does that relate to your work? I think it relates because you work really hard to bring people who disagree into close conversation. And I'm wondering if you could start by sharing with us some thoughts about how curiosity, the kind of curiosity that Zenith exhibited in that situation, he really was willing to change the way he thought. And a sincere interest in the people around you can positively impact our ability to dialogue and bring peace.

(12:30-16:21) Becca Kearl: Yeah, I think that this this interaction in the scene is so interesting. And one of the things that that jumped out to me as I was reading this was, you know, I kind of went through and was looking at how do we talk about Lamanites or how did they talk about Nephites? What are kind of the different adjectives and the things that kept coming up and coming up? And I think over and over you see bloodthirsty, lazy, idolatrous, like eternal hatred. with the Lamanites and then the Nephites, they just go forward in the strength of the Lord. Like they're, like that's what they're supposed to be doing. They battle and then you look and so I think the first time that I noticed bloodthirsty being associated with a Nephite was actually with the captain who had sent Zenith in as the spy and he comes back and he describes him as an austere and a bloodthirsty man and then they have this kind of battle. But what I think Going back to curiosity, what I think is so interesting here is that Zenith goes in with a learning mindset, which is really critical to dialogue. So he goes in and he's in this discovery phase where he's looking at people, he's observing them, and as he's doing that, as he kind of has put his guard down a little bit and is learning and discovering, he just sees that they're good. He sees them in their habitat. And I think most of the interactions between the Lamanites and Nephites are always in this antagonistic setting, right? Like, they're going to battle. That's how they're engaging. They're stealing from each other. They're running away. They're going to battle. And this was just a much more passive kind of looking at what they were doing. And there are some basic sort of skills that act as like a petri dish for dialogue, for lack of a better term. And it is listening, it's curiosity, and it's empathy. And they really all set the stage and are really a description of what a learning mindset is. So as we And they all kind of happen at the same time, right? We could hear something and be curious about it and could ask more questions. And then we hear more, we can empathize, we're perspective taking, we're putting ourselves in their shoes. And there's dialogue that can seem trite or trendy. I had a friend who I hadn't seen in years and ran into him. And when he asked what I was doing, I mentioned the word dialogue and he just started laughing. And he's a lawyer, and so maybe they throw the term, like, we need to dialogue about this. And he was just like, kind of this giant, like, full body eye roll about the idea of dialogue. But what dialogue actually is, is a co-creative experience. It's the people who are in the room together, each practicing those skills and learning something from each other. And so the only goal is really better understanding and to be better connected. And so this kind of curiosity is one of those seeds that then can lead to more sincere interactions, more sincere understanding. And you see Zenith leaning into that, which is so great because you don't see a lot of that. There's a lot of exhorting that happens as far as interactions go with Lamanites and Nephites, but you don't really have an instance like this where he's just kind of watching them and saying, actually, I don't think that we should go to battle. And so much so, he's so convicted of this, that there's this infighting where the majority of their party dies of the group that went into the land of Nephi, and then they all go back home.

(16:21-17:54) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I think it's so interesting as you talk about, I mean, that over time, especially by this point in the narrative, the only way that Nephites and Lamanites actually interact with one another is in these kind of antagonistic modes, basically when they meet in battle, right? Otherwise, they're just telling stories about each other. And I mean, it reminds me at a previous university I worked at, I was in a department where every department meeting felt like a battle. Fortunately, people did not bring actual weapons, but there were a lot of word weapons that were being used. And literally, every month in these monthly meetings, people had their positions that they staked out. Every meeting turned into an argument, sometimes with raised voices. We could get very little done. But then every once in a while, we would do something else. We would bring in job candidates. We'd all go to dinner together. We're not in a department meeting. And actually sitting around and having dinner, it's like, oh, wow, these are actually interesting people. People didn't come with their weapons of war ready and their positions. We were just having dinner. or sometimes I would see them in their context, right? Go to a, like, if they were delivering a paper or giving a talk or something, I'd be like, oh, wow, they're really good at what they do, right? So like what I see in the department meeting is only like this fraction, but that was oftentimes the only place where we met each other was in this position of heightened conflict and sort of staked out positions.

(17:55-18:30) Becca Kearl: And we don't often think about positions and opinions as weapons, but they definitely are. Because especially if you don't share that opinion, or even when you do, you either are like, yes, like you have this like, we're so right about this kind of reaction, or you're put in a defensive like positions and opinions are things to react to. Whereas experiences and seeing people in their lives is not necessarily something to react to. I don't have to have a reaction. I can just sit back and watch and connect to the person and try to understand who they are.

(18:31-20:19) Patrick Mason: Yeah, like to see somebody interact with their children, like, oh, wait a minute, that's a human being, right? That they have these kinds of relationships, just like I do. And so, I mean, this is what we see over and over and over with the Nephites and the Lamanites, is like the Nephites will just say something and we get it in the record. It's a mostly Nephite record that we have here, right? So they'll just say something about the Lamanites, which is like an eternal fact. It's just about the DNA of who all Lamanites are, always and in all time, this incontrovertible fact, except for the fact that five chapters later, that fact gets undermined by the Lamanites' own behavior or something like that. So the record itself is constantly I think this is part of the brilliance of the Book of Mormon, actually, is it's constantly sort of challenging the very narratives that it presents. Can you tell us a little bit about this? I mean, we all do this. We all live with narratives. Human beings are storytelling, story-creating creatures. We probably have to live with narratives. It's how we make sense of the world. It's how we make sense of relationships. So how do we do this in ways that are positive? I mean, I have to have a story, or maybe, I think we probably have to have stories about other people and about relationships and organizations and all these kinds of things. We just live in narratives. How do we do this in a way that bridges divides rather than reinforces kind of tribalism and reinforces prejudice? So how can we make our narrative building, our storytelling proclivities as human beings, a tool for peace building rather than tribalism?

(20:19-21:16) Becca Kearl: I'm going to answer the question two different ways. So first, I read this lovely book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans. And one of the things she said in the book has stuck with me forever. She said, a relational God gave us a relational text. And so I think one of the ways that we can practice this sort of perspective taking or narratives or checking for narratives is just by reading the scriptures, you know, just noticing and asking yourself questions, because these things take practice. And so this is a great way to practice. And I remember, I don't know upon which reading of the Book of Mormon it was, but early on with Lehi's family, I started noticing these different reactions to the same circumstances where Nephi would react one way. Layman and Lemuel, who are sometimes just joined together, react another way. They're one brain. It's just, yeah.

(21:16-21:22) Jennifer Thomas: It's sort of the early phase of dehumanizing, right? They aren't individuals anymore. They're just a collective.

(21:22-27:42) Becca Kearl: Absolutely. And there's this one section where they're talking about their journeys in the wilderness. And I'm just going to read them because I think it's good practice to kind of think about both of these accounts. So the first is from Nephi where he says, this is in first Nephi 17 verses one and two. And he says, and we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness. And our women did bear children in the wilderness. And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children and were strong, yea, even like unto the men. And they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings. And then a couple of verses later, we have the other side of that coin where they say, Laman and Lemuel are complaining and they say, and the land of our inheritance. Yay, and we might have been happy." So it's like, it's the exact same journey through the wilderness, right? I also think it's important to note that these are both men talking about these women. Thank you for them to say that everyone was happy or not happy. But it already starts to establish these narratives of like, relying on the Lord, being happy no matter what happens with the Nephites, and this, why are we doing this? From Laman and Lemuel. Like, why did we have to come? Like, this is terrible. And then they also kind of establish this, like, we want to enjoy our possessions. And the land of our inheritance is really important to us. And so I think when thinking about narratives, kind of going back to your question, There are some things that we should consider. We need narratives to build bridges. Our brains are wired for story, it makes it more sticky, and so they're a really critical component of of building this kind of connection and understanding across differences. But you need to bring a learning mindset with that. And I think about, you know, Adam Grant's book, Think Again, where he talks about revisiting your opinions. How long have you had that opinion? And even Patrick, what you were sharing about those things, when we have an opinion, we go into autopilot, right? We're like, oh, this subject, this is what I say. And you're no longer thinking about if you really even believe it anymore. And so I think some of the dangers or some things to look out for in narratives is acknowledging our limitations. So we're not reliable narrators. There's this neuroscientist called Sharon Ranganath, and he talks about how our memory holds on to what matters. So if we have this experience or this narrative or this story that we're telling ourselves, it can shift over time. but what it serves the purpose of helping us protect ourselves. So, you know, maybe you had a really bad breakup and you're like, oh, everything was their fault. And like, that's what you needed to feel safe in the moment. And then 10 years later, you're like, yeah, no, I was probably like a big factor in that relationship dissolving or whatever it is. Right. So we're constantly re constructing our memory for what we need in the moment. So being aware that our brain does that, acknowledging where the narratives come from. Is it the region you grow up in? Is it your family culture, your religious culture, your education? There are also national narratives, which we definitely see play out in the Book of Mormon. But I even remember as a 19-year-old, I went to study in Italy for a month. And while I was there, there was this huge protest And they were burning American flags. And it was my first time that I was like, hold on a second. You mean, not everybody loves us? There are people who think we're the bad guys? How have I not ever discovered this in my young life? And I felt like this real uneasiness because I was you know, offered a counter-narrative to something I had never questioned in my life because it was something that I was taught in school, because it was part of my family culture, because of all of these things. Even my religious culture, right, with this promised land narrative that I had just gobbled up. And so it's important to recognize where those narratives come from. And then when sharing our narratives or our stories, it's also important to think about what your intention in sharing is. Are you trying to weaponize a story to prove your point? Are you in that autopilot mode? Or even sometimes I found myself, one of the ways that I relate and connect to people is they'll tell a story and then I'll tell a similar story. Because I'm like, oh, look, we're connected. Here's my similar story. And I had this experience recently. I have a group of neighbors that we go on walks together. And one of them had shared that her father had pancreatic cancer. And I had just had a really close friend whose father-in-law just had a brutal encounter with pancreatic cancer and ended up dying really quickly. And so instead of just sitting and listening to her and supporting her, I share this horrible story about how my really good friend, and it went so fast. And before I could realize it, I was like, oh, I just, was a giant buzzkill. And now she's all worried about it. Ended up being prostate cancer instead of pancreatic cancer. But what a terrible friend of mine. Instead of just like listening and being there for her and appreciating her story, I felt like I had to not necessarily compete, but add my own to build this what I thought was a sense of connection, but really wasn't. And so we share stories all the time. We have narratives all the time. What we should use narratives toward is to better understand where we're coming from.

(27:42-30:34) Jennifer Thomas: Absolutely. So a few months ago, I got off a plane in a city I had never been in before. So that's always a little bit disorienting, right? I'm trying to find my way to a conference. My plane was a little bit late. I'm late. I'm listening to a call that is really important. And I get in my Uber, and I say to my person, hey, I apologize. I need to be on this call. And immediately, the guy's like, yeah, no problem. So two minutes later, he's like, where are you from? And I'm like, OK. So we've already, I'm irritated, right? I'm lost. I'm irritated. I've expressed my need. I've apologized. And yet, you want to know where I'm from. At which point, I say, I'm from Massachusetts. And the person responds to me, oh, you're those people that want to take my guns. and I am now in the back of a car in a strange city in an uber late at night and suddenly guns I'm like wait what I don't want your guns like I don't want you to hate my guts like I didn't realize that by answering that question I was setting us up in a situation of enmity but I have done that and um And so my narrative now, and I'll tell you based on where I was, I won't tell you where that was, but I'm like, dude, you just confirmed my narrative about you, right? And I have just like, he's got some narrative about me, whether it's true or false. And I'm like, we are in really big trouble here. So how do I get out of this mess? And one of the things that I have learned partially through doing work with living room conversations and other dialogue groups is Just what you had suggested. I need to ask questions to figure out what where is his narrative coming from. And, and so instead of saying, either to the affirmative or negative or like making this conversation about me, I instantly was able to ask him. Wow, that's an interesting response. Tell me why you think that. And it sounds like this is something that matters to you. I'd love to hear more about why. And it blew up my call. I had to get off my call. But I but I was able to listen for the rest of this almost 45 minute ride to this person's experience. And mostly I just kept asking questions. And I think one of the things that I would love to have you share with us now is in a previous life, in a previous version of Jen, my response would have been either to be defensive or to try to persuade that person that he was wrong. And I opted in that moment completely out of persuasion and leaned into just trying to understand. So one of the things I would love to have you share with us is a little bit more about what people like you have taught me is that persuasion, when that's our objective, can be a real obstacle to bridging. What is the important role that just listening plays and not trying to persuade? And when is it time for us to try to persuade when we're in dialogue with someone else?

(30:34-32:35) Becca Kearl: I think we know when we're trying to be persuaded. there's some sort of sense where we're like, oh, you just want to tell me how I'm wrong. You just want it. Like you actually have an agenda in this conversation that has nothing to do with any sort of interest in me. So I think one, it's just acknowledging that people can tell, like people know when you're trying to persuade them. And the other thing that's interesting, even kind of what you set up by interacting with your Uber driver was, you know, tell me more about that. What does this issue look like in your life? Why is it so important to you? And when they share that story, it actually opens the door for you to share your story. Be like, can I tell you about my experience with guns? And then, you know, now you don't even have to persuade because your stories are more compelling than any sort of opinions or facts that you could share. And so there's a little bit of natural or authentic persuading that's going on without being really overt about it. And that's a really important first step. So the power of questions, absolutely. Getting people to move from that opinion space into a personal experience space is also just huge. It is so important when you're trying to build connection and understanding. And so some of our questions, you mentioned guns, the first question to our conversation guide on guns is, what role has guns played in your life? And I've been in a conversation where I watched people answer those, that prompt so differently. And every time it was like, oh, if that was my experience, I would feel the same way. So it's not like I was being persuaded, but at the same time, I kind of was. I was like, oh, well, this issue is a lot more complicated. I hadn't thought about it from that experience because that's not my experience. That's not what I've already felt.

(32:35-32:57) Jennifer Thomas: It sounds like it's inviting you to enter a position of empathy, right? Instead of a position of defensiveness. Like if if dialogue goes well, we're inviting people into an empathetic relationship with each other, which is really important if we then want to build peace together. We have to at least understand where the other person is coming from emotionally and relationally.

(32:57-34:20) Becca Kearl: And it just kind of establishes that good faith effort. Like, I care about you as a person, not your position on this issue. And I want to understand you better, and then I also get to understand the position of the issue. And when I understand how much you care about it, I'll naturally start to care about it because I care about you. And so it's very different. There are forums for persuasion. And I think especially when there's harm involved, there's threats of physical violence, those are all places where you can move out of that space. But I feel like you still need it to some extent. You still need to be able to understand why that person feels the way they do. It really brings to mind Megan Roper Phelps, who was part of the Westboro Baptist Church, which is a very sort of aggressive activist sort of church. And she sort of became de-radicalized just because people engaged her on Twitter, because they asked her questions. And why do you feel that way? And it was enough for her to realize, oh, She kind of found holes in some of her thinking and how she was acting. And so she wasn't being persuaded directly. It wasn't people pushing back really hard on her. It was people being inquisitive that totally changed her life.

(34:20-35:04) Jennifer Thomas: I think sometimes we move into dialogue and unintentionally. prove someone else's worst perceptions about the tribe that they think we belong to, right? And what dialogue to be effective, what we have to do instead of just initially like, I am gonna lay out my position and prove that everything you think about my tribe is what you actually thought about my tribe. I think when we're not so interested in defending a position, but we're interested in relating to people on a very human disciple level, And that was, that is, those are actually the moments when almost immediately we disarm what people think about tribes as a whole and are able to interact with people on a very human individual.

(35:04-35:07) Becca Kearl: And how Christlike is that too, right?

(35:07-35:16) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah, exactly. It's seeing people as an individual rather than as just a representative of a tribe that I don't dialogue with and don't like.

(35:16-36:51) Patrick Mason: All right, so in the spirit of curiosity and dialogue, this is all lovely, but I could imagine a listener saying, this all sounds great. But what about the things that are actually true? that are not just a perspective, not just an honest difference of opinion, but some things are actually capital T true. And I'm not going to dialogue about that to legitimate somebody else's point of view. So let's say that you're a religious person, as probably a lot of listeners to the show are, and you really believe that there's a God in heaven. And you know that there's atheists out there. You know that your neighbor or your coworker does not believe that there's a God in heaven. But for you, that is absolute… And you would say, it's not just my perspective, right? It's not just my experience. And we could even think about things that might be even more empirical. But for people, it would say like, I know that there's a God in heaven. When you say that there isn't, Like I can honor your place in society, right? I'm not going to try and like throw you in prison or something like that for your atheism. But this is a, this is capital T truth that we're talking about or talking about, you know, the 10 commandments or something like you can't say like adultery is good, right? Like I don't want to have a dialogue about that. So, so how does dialogue not water down truth?

(36:52-37:52) Becca Kearl: That's a really interesting question. I have all these kind of thoughts in my head as you were talking. One is that there is a role in dialogue about shared values. So if you can connect across shared values, that can open up some things in dialogue. And so maybe whether I am a committed Christian or an atheist, maybe we have some shared value. that could start to bridge a little bit. And then it's like, this is where I've learned the value, and this is what I care about. I think another thing that's interesting is research shows that what we accept as truth is really more based on our gut than on any sort of facts or empirical evidence. And then we collect evidence to reinforce what we believe. And so knowing that that is in place doesn't really play out necessarily with the God.

(37:54-37:57) Jennifer Thomas: The extreme example Patrick offered.

(37:57-40:17) Becca Kearl: It's a strong ad that it would be impossible to take down. People who maybe are concerned about climate, like where I can find a fact and then I'm going to do everything that I can to support it. That's just how we create stances and positions. But I do think that when you are sharing from your experience, people can tell. because your emotion comes through and it's caring and it's something that I've lived and it's a lot harder to negate or contradict something that someone has lived than it is something that they just say they believe. I had this experience in high school where I was one of the only active members in my high school where I grew up and I had my boyfriend at the time was Jewish, but also was not interested in God at all. He was more culturally Jewish than anything. And then another friend who also didn't attend church and wasn't really religious. And we were talking about, I don't even remember what we were talking about. But the opportunity presented itself and I just started talking about what I believed in. And I started getting emotional and I started like, I was crying because I cry really easily. And this, I think it was actually an ex-boyfriend at the time, was just kept like pushing and being like, yeah, but there's no proof and all of this stuff. And then the other friend kind of stepped in and he said, just look at her. Can't you tell she believes what she's saying? Like, it's not about proving one thing or another. You can tell that she believes what she's saying and she has conviction. And I think that when you are able to bring experiences in, even though it's like you don't want to debate the big T truth and whatever anyone claims is their truth, when you can add layers and depth to it, to what I've actually lived and experienced, it's a much stronger position in a way. And people can sense and feel your conviction, and they can sense and feel your sincerity, especially if you're not in sort of a combative thing, but just, can I share what this has meant to my life? Like, can I share this experience that really helps to explain why I believe this so strongly, that is really effective?

(40:18-40:42) Patrick Mason: Yeah, so it's ultimately, I mean, in that moment, it's more about your shared humanity, right? It's not about, like, at least in this moment, in this conversation, we're not trying to prove anything. We're just, we're relating to each other as human beings, and we're probably not gonna persuade each other, but that's actually not what we're even trying to do in this moment.

(40:42-41:19) Becca Kearl: And in that moment, I could have started sharing Albert Einstein quotes about how he believed in God and how like, there's no proof that there is no God, like that could have been my tact. And like, it wouldn't have gone very far. But instead, by saying, this is why I believe this and feel such conviction, it's more compelling. And it's more true, instead of me having entered in that more combative state, which I've definitely done in the past, right? Like, trying to grab evidence and things that might be compelling, that would back it up rather than just relying on This is why I feel this so strong, especially when you're talking about religion.

(41:19-44:38) Jennifer Thomas: So one of the things that jumps out at me about this is that most of the really remarkable things that human beings have accomplished are collective enterprises, right? They're things we have done together. And one of, I think, the failures of our age as we move into a very polarized combative society is that people think that the only way we can construct something together is if we all share the exact same worldview, if we all have the exact same ideological framework, Like that is the only way that human beings can work together is in absolute symbiosis. Now in the first place, that doesn't ever happen. Like even if you find a bunch of people that are sort of ideologically on page with you, within 10 minutes you can find out that you ate half of them because they have irritating personality traits or whatever. But also, I think one of the things that I love that what's come out of this is that dialogue done well It actually allows people with very distinctly different worldviews to share an objective and build on it together and build something together. And so to me, one of the great strengths of dialogue isn't in, it's like, verbal combat where you win, but it's where you figure out how you stand in relationship to that other person, what your shared values are, what you would collectively like to try to build together. What do we agree is something that we would like to accomplish? And then we've got a communication strategy that allows us to work towards that. And that's how human beings thrive, right? It's not in this absolute only my team or your team building things. So one of the things I'd just like you to kind of share with us as we sort of get ready to close is that is I'll just sort of tell you that part of the reason that Patrick and I very much wanted to do this podcast was because we really do believe that the Book of Mormon was written for us in our day. And we are concerned that sometimes as saints, we read it as a forecast of how things will inevitably go. rather than an invitation or a pathway so that we can see someone else's mistakes and do better. And over and over again, part of that is, if we just think that people devolve into chaos, warfare, and genocide, like if that's the pattern of human beings, right, and that's where things end, then we read the Book of Mormon differently than if we say, hey, this is how some people ended, and we have been given the opportunity to use their mistakes to do better. And so with that framing, I think it's really interesting. You and I had talked a little bit about this, that there are different times in the Book of Mormon when there are personal pattern-breaking interactions between people. Like, Zeniff is one of them, and Ammon is another one, right? Where people move into a situation where their peoples are misaligned, but their personal relationships are able to, like, transcend the moment. Now, the outcomes of those two situations are really different. In one, the groups of people shortly, maybe 13 years later, descend into warfare. And then in another one, it's transformational for both cultures. So I'm wondering, what would you take away from these two experiences and share with us what we can learn in terms of dialogue and how we do dialogue to make the peaceful civilization-building outcomes much more likely?

(44:38-46:08) Becca Kearl: It's interesting, too, because both Ammon and Zenith came from the same religious tradition and background, right? And I think this idea of a relational God gave us a relational text, I'm always deeply inquisitive of like, what does this mean? What does it look like right now? And I think, you know, we could all be members of the same church, but there's doctrine, and then there's culture, which is kind of our best approximation at living doctrine. And we can end up in very different places, even in different geographies belonging to the same religion. So I think that one of the things that we need to always be revisiting to see which brings us into which of those outcomes that we saw, you know, Zenith, who started out being very welcoming, and then when he starts to prosper and King Laman gets nervous, then he just reverts to the old tropes and he starts calling them bloodthirsty and all of this stuff. And then he even says that he's doing it to stimulate them to go into battle. He had a very clear purpose for like, I need to get them riled up because we're about to go into battle and we want to win. And then you have Ammon who goes with this intention of just serving the Lamanites and he goes service first and he's listening and he finds ways to connect and he discovers the seed of the Great Spirit and so he builds on that to build this relationship and King Lamoni, like they've built this relationship of love.

(46:09-46:16) Jennifer Thomas: He doesn't set up oppositional narratives, but he invites King Lamoni into the same narrative. It's like, what's our shared narrative?

(46:16-48:49) Becca Kearl: Exactly. And you can assume that Zenith had some kind of relationship with King Laman. By observing him, he felt confident enough to go in and try and negotiate. And King Laman says, sure, you can have the land, and I'll clear all of my people out. And then there was peace for 13 years. So something went well in some kind of a relationship. There's this quote from Sharon Eubank that she gave in a Fair Mormon address, and she talks about this disconnect between doctrine and the way that we practice our doctrine, which I think is really important for us to acknowledge when we take into account our narratives and how our narratives can be shaped by our culture, as well as our religious doctrine. And she says, There is stuff that is plain wrong, and there are consequences, too. It would be absurd for me to stand up here and say that our political and our traditional and our cultural practices always live up to our doctrine. I'm not even sure that we fully grasp our doctrine. And to be honest, in my opinion, we can improve in many, many ways. We should, and I think we will. It's important when we come from a perspective of righteousness it can give us blind spots. And so what you mentioned, Jen, about this, everyone, if we all have the same, like, couldn't we get a lot more done if we disagreed on everything? But we need conflict and tension because it helps us to check our blind spots because we do all live out our values and our principles and our religion in different ways. And if we can take everyone and put everyone into a room and have that open dialogue where we don't feel threatened by asking questions, but we see them as, critical building blocks to our shared learning and to our growth and to our progression, then we're, that's where we should be, right? Because then we get the best possible outcome. And so it's impossible to avoid conflict. I know there's some scriptures that kind of talk about it like that way, and it always kind of is a little grating. Avoiding conflict doesn't really help anyone. We learn by going through conflict with the goal of trying to understand each other and take the best ideas and the best, and recognize all the different experiences that are out there. And I think that, you know, to some extent, that's what you get with the difference between how Zenith approached people and how Ammon went into, to go back into Lamanite territory and get the kind of results that he did, because he was really invested in the relationship building. And dialogue is critical to relationship building.

(48:50-50:10) Patrick Mason: Yeah, and I like how you suggest that the questions that we go in, the stories that we go in, maybe one way to check ourselves is to really be self-aware about where might those stories take us. What's the kind of logical end? If I keep pulling on this thread, Where does it go? And as you said, with Zenith, his story changes. And we don't have all the details, right? It's just a few verses and everything. But it does this remarkable moment of collaboration. transforms into conflict, and he does not go into battle saying, you know what? Remember those past 13 years when things were really good between us? And you know what? They're probably better than you think they are. Nobody ever goes to war saying the other side is probably better than you think they are. And so I think that's one practice that I could use in my life, certainly. Like, OK, what is the story I'm telling about this other person, this other group, this whatever, right? And if I pull on that thread, where is that eventually going to lead me? Does it lead me to more compassion and charity and understanding for that person? Or am I building bridges? Or is the canyon getting bigger and bigger between us?

(50:10-50:33) Jennifer Thomas: And I'm just going to add that my takeaway from this conversation, Becca, which I love, is that if my cultural narrative is in conflict with my doctrinal narrative, if the voices from my culture are telling me things that conflict with the things that my doctrine tells me, then I'm going to make a commitment to pick the doctrine, to pick the love my neighbor, to pick the things that the doctrine is telling me God wants me to do.

(50:34-51:17) Patrick Mason: Yeah, it's a choice. That's the choice that Ammon makes. But unfortunately, it's the choice that not enough Nephites and Lamanites make throughout the course of the book. So, well, Becca, we could talk about this all day. I mean, I'm so fascinated. I'm grateful with with all the work that you're doing with Living Room Conversations. I think it'd be awesome for listeners to go check it out, to go check out your website and look at those 160 conversation guides and just see where it can help them in their own lives. But as we wrap up, we want to ask you the same question we ask all of our guests of where and how do you find peace in your own life?

(51:18-51:50) Becca Kearl: This is kind of related to what I like to define as one of the key components of dialogue if you boil it all the way down it's about time and intention. And so the times where I feel the most peace is where I have set aside time and I have some kind of intention, whether it's being out in nature, whether it's asking questions or contemplating things, whether it's being with my family, that when I set aside time and have some kind of intention, I just I feel at peace kind of no matter what I'm doing.

(51:50-51:58) Patrick Mason: That's terrific. Yeah. Thank you for that. Thanks for all those great work that you're doing. And thanks for all the insight you've shared on this episode.

(51:58-52:04) Jennifer Thomas: It's been a delight having you. Thank you so much for having me.

(52:04-52:23) Patrick Mason: Thanks everybody for listening today. We really appreciate it. We just want to invite you to subscribe to the podcast and also to rate and review it. We love hearing feedback from listeners, so please email us at podcast at mweg.org. We also want to invite you to think about ways that you can make peace in your life this week. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.

(52:28-52:43) Jennifer Thomas: Thank you for listening to Proclaim Peace, a proud member of the Faith Matters Podcast Network. Faith Matters holds expansive conversations about the restored gospel to accompany individuals on their journey of faith. You can learn more about Faith Matters and check out our other shows at faithmatters.org.

Back to Proclaim Peace Episodes