Episode 12 // Navigating Factions and Fraying Societies: A Message of Hope with Eva Witesman

Jul 02, 2024
Proclaim Peace S1E12



 Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or watch on YouTube.

In this special episode of the Proclaim Peace Podcast, hosts Jennifer Thomas and Patrick Mason are joined by a live audience in Salt Lake City to hear a conversation with guest Eva Witesman. The episode introduces the Summer Hope Experiment, a program aimed at promoting civic and emotional healing before the upcoming election season. Drawing on The Book of Mormon, they encourage listeners to lean into conflict to become peace builders and reflect on the impact of collective unity on our nation and society. 


[00:05:08] Hope and peace building strategies.

[00:09:24] Defining peace at four levels.

[00:10:07] Levels of peace and harmony.

[00:16:16] Building peace through understanding.

[00:19:29] Framework for peacemaking.

[00:22:01] Peacemaking and peacekeeping examples.

[00:24:41] Peace praising.

[00:29:09] Building peace through pluralism.

[00:32:07] Building a generation of peace builders.

[00:36:03] Paradigm shifts in social impact.

[00:39:41] Cultural adaptation in program implementation.

[00:43:13] Fraying society in the Book of Mormon.

[00:48:00] Engaging in peacemaking online.

[00:50:37] A new way of reading.

[00:53:51] Transformative reading of the Book of Mormon.

[00:56:45] Making peace in your life.



(00:03-00:06) Jennifer Thomas: Welcome to the Proclaim Peace Podcast. I'm Jennifer Thomas.
(00:06-00:15) 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.

(00:15-01:58) Jennifer Thomas: Welcome everyone to our special edition of the Proclaim Peace Podcast. We are joined today in Salt Lake City by a live audience, which we are very excited about. Welcome to all of you. I think I can speak for him when I say we are so excited to have the rare opportunity to be in the same room with our guests, even though we are having great conversations online and to us, I think they feel like a really good dinner party, we love talking to the people that we've talked to. There is something special about being together and being able to connect with people in real time, and that just can't be replicated. Right now, more than any point in our recent national history, we need a reminder of how much we actually have to gain by pulling together on a human level and being in spaces with each other. At MWEG, we are inviting our followers to do that this summer by participating in our Summer Hope Experiment. This special program was specifically designed to help each of us do a little civic and emotional healing before we launch into what will certainly be a very tumultuous election season. So when naming that program, we chose that title very, very carefully. We're doing a lot of work in the Book of Mormon this year, and we know that that scripture invites us all to experiment with good things. We can and should try out different states of being, testing them to see what kind of fruits they bear in our lives. And we believe that our way forward as a nation and as a people is going to have an awful lot to do with our collective ability to choose and retain hope. This is a muscle that we can all exercise. And we are inviting you all to experiment with us this summer with getting close to people, reminding yourselves about what is good in them and adding hope to your lives. And what better way to do that than sitting in a room together tonight.

(01:58-02:52) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I'm excited about the summer hope experiment, although when you first told me about it, Jen, I was thinking, okay, like, I'm all about hope. In fact, that is the middle name of my youngest daughter. Yes, not just my youngest daughter, our youngest daughter, because I think it's so important. You know, when we think about the cardinal Christian virtues, when we think about faith, hope, and love or charity, right? To me, like hope sometimes is the classic middle child there. Like, so faith, like we talk a lot about faith, faith gets a lot of attention, right? And then like love, charity is the youngest child. So the youngest child gets a lot of attention, but I can say this as a middle child, you know, I got plenty of attention. too, frankly. But sometimes the middle child doesn't. And sometimes people are like, what's the difference between faith and hope, right? They seem kind of the same. And then for us, what does it have to do with peace?

(02:52-02:56) Jennifer Thomas: And that is the big question. You're probably all wondering, what's the connection?

(02:56-03:38) Patrick Mason: Yeah, so I was thinking about this. And I thought of a couple of things from some of my inspirations. One, of course, from Martin Luther King. And I think about one of his great quotes that people have probably heard, where he says, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. The sense that sometimes results don't happen immediately. Sometimes it's more of, my kids were just on Pioneer Trek last week. So sometimes it's as we walk and walk and walk and walk. And sometimes it feels like a marathon. And hope is that thing I think that Martin Luther King is talking about that has a sense that there is a bigger story here. I'm part of a bigger story.

(03:38-03:51) Jennifer Thomas: Well, and I think that is probably a virtue that we've lost quite a lot in our society right now we're used to immediate gratification in many ways, and hope is always playing a long game. Hope is requiring us to look beyond what we have immediately.

(03:51-03:52) Patrick Mason: Yeah, totally.

(03:52-03:53) Jennifer Thomas: We're not predisposed to do that.

(03:53-05:22) Patrick Mason: Yep, yeah so so can we actually think that the world that are small efforts, right, can are contributing to something bigger than that, and can have a result that redounds more than just in this moment. And then I was thinking about. So another one of my great teachers and influences was a guy named John Paul Lederach. He was a longtime professor at the University of Notre Dame and some other places he developed a theory or a paradigm called conflict transformation, and really kind of one of the giants in the, in the field of peace studies, and he wrote this, he wrote several books but one of my favorites of his is this amazing book called the moral imagination, the art and soul of building peace and it looks like some people know this book. But there's so much great, I highly recommend this book to you. But one of his quotes from it, I thought about it as I was thinking about hope. And he talks, so he says the peace building, yes, it's about skills, right? You have to have some skills, you gotta have particular things that you've learned how to do. But he says, it's gotta have character, it's gotta have soul. It's not just a technical toolkit. But actually, there's there's some some some character to it. And this is this is a great quote that he has about peace builders. He says they embrace the possibility that there exist untold possibilities capable at any moment to move beyond the narrow parameters of what is commonly accepted and perceived as the narrow and rigidly defined range of choices.

(05:23-05:23) Jennifer Thomas: Oh, I love that.

(05:23-06:02) Patrick Mason: Yeah, and I think this is about hope, right? And this is what peace builders do. That sometimes we think there's only so many options, right? Oftentimes in binaries, right? It's A or B. And what peace builders do- Winners and losers, right? Absolutely, winners and losers, right? Right and wrong. And what peace builders do, what hope does is break that open and say that I think there's a bigger range of possibilities that I can draw from, that I can create, that I can contribute to. And I think if you don't have that, as a peace builder, if you're only stuck in these binaries, that is kind of a hopeless position to be in. So hope is, I think, generates creativity, generates innovation, and gives you the strength for the long haul.

(06:02-07:15) Jennifer Thomas: So all of these things you've just mentioned to me are so important if you're thinking about building democracies, right, because by nature they're collaborative systems, and they require us to be able to see something in the future that we can't touch now and that is beyond our individual control. We're agreeing to work collectively with the people around us. to chase some dream that's on the horizon that will be better for our children and for other people. I think one of the reasons that we are so committed to talking about hope this summer is because, as we thought long and hard about it, you can always tell when someone is seeking to undermine a peaceful democracy, because what they do is they sow seeds of cynicism, so the absence of hope, the opposite of hope, and mistrust in the people that you're doing that experiment with. But again, turning to the metaphor of Scripture, I think it's completely within our choice how those seeds fall on our ground. There are going to be people always seeking to sow seeds of cynicism and mistrust, but we can choose hope. We can make a different kind of choice and predicate our decisions on that. And so with that framing, We're going to jump into our conversation with our guests.

(07:15-08:27) Patrick Mason: Yeah, so I'm excited about tonight's conversation excited about our guests, there is a third person on the stage it's not just going to be the two of us all night, and and especially thinking about kind of the big picture of how we can be hopeful through engaging and learning more about peacemaking peace building. And so I want to introduce our special guests tonight. who's Eva Witesman. So let me introduce her a bit and then we'll dive in. So Eva is a professor in the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, where she teaches students pursuing master's degrees in public and business administration. She also serves as the director of the Ballard Center for Social Impact, which invites students to do good, better, and we're going to hear more about that tonight. A part of all of her work is the work of peace, which is teaching teaching tomorrow's leaders, how they can use organizations and institutions to elevate human potential and solve social problems. Ava is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints loves to use her talents as a teacher, not only for academic ends but also within church settings as well. And when she isn't reimagining how nonprofits can work better she loves painting. painting and writing so you probably right at home in a creative space like this. And we're just thrilled to have you here tonight so welcome Eva.

(08:27-08:34) Eva Witesman: Thank you so much, it is great to be here with both of you, and all of the rest of you. It's a whole adventure today.

(08:34-09:04) Jennifer Thomas: Yeah, I just want to also add that Ava from the very beginning you've just heard that she has an expertise in nonprofit, she was very pivotal to us as a faith based organization. When we were trying to figure out what it would look like to be something beyond a Facebook discussion group. And there were lots of patterns and models of how to do that but none of them really applied to us and Eva as a faithful competent intelligent bright woman with expertise in not nonprofits was just pivotal to us and in helping us kind of chart our course in those early days so it's very generous.

(09:06-09:19) Patrick Mason: So, Ava, if you've listened to the show, you know that we always start with the same question. It sounds simple, but oftentimes people kind of struggle with how to answer it. So how do you define peace?

(09:20-09:22) Eva Witesman: So here's the problem, you've asked an academic.

(09:22-09:24) Patrick Mason: Yes, exactly. We could be here all night.

(09:24-12:14) Eva Witesman: So buckle up. Knowing that that question was coming, I gave that a lot of thought. It actually created kind of a framework that I used to study the Book of Mormon in preparation for this conversation. And so I really think about peace at four different levels. I told you, buckle up, right, academic. So we talked about international peace right which includes the work of diplomacy and peacemaking and peacebuilding and we're going to talk about that quite a bit tonight. We also I think especially in an MWIC setting talk a lot about interpersonal peace, where, where we're connecting with one another so at the international level, we're looking for things that reduce human suffering and increase human flourishing. ways of being interdependent as nations that maintain our national sovereignty but allow us to use our resources in a way that really benefits all of humankind. That's what I envision as that level of peace. When we move to an interpersonal level of peace, that's where I see us building something that is beautiful because of our differences. So it's not just the absence of conflict but it's better because we're different. So, in my marriage with my husband, it, we've built something together that is more than the sum of him and me and I think that's true of my colleagues at work, my relationships with my friends right that's how I think about interpersonal peace. Then we also talk about like what I'm going to refer to as like intra personal peace so peace within myself. That's my opportunity to experience joy, even when the world is chaos, even if there's war or I'm experiencing trials and tribulations as we might talk about. So there's that level of peace. And I told you there were four. The last one that I gave a lot of thought to is what I'm calling interfactional peace. Because I think sometimes when we think about big picture peace, we jump immediately to discussions between nations, right? And then when we zoom back a little bit, we jump immediately to our interpersonal relationships. But there's this intermediate space where our groups disagree and our identities disagree. And I think there's a lot of space there to do the same thing as we do in the, in the other areas of peace, where we get to build something that's better because we have different perspectives, even if those perspectives disagree wholeheartedly. And I think that's the space that that interfactional space where our interpersonal peacemaking skills allow us to interact with the national and international levels because we practice, and we engage in peacemaking with those who have strong differences of opinion so that was not one simple definition it was for, but that's, that was pretty good for getting for. I'm trying to talk for like an hour and 15 minutes at a time so I feel like we're doing all right I feel your pain.

(12:15-12:16) Patrick Mason: I've got this.

(12:16-13:19) Jennifer Thomas: So I think one of the things you've just done a really good job of introducing is this idea that we've talked about a lot on the podcast, is that conflict is a feature, not a bug. It's a feature of our human experience. We tend to react to it negatively, and we probably shouldn't. But that peacemaking isn't the elimination of conflict, but it's being able to move towards it in respectful ways. And I think this interfactional, is that what you called it, peace, is where that is really tested. And I like that you put that space in there because that is the space in which we build the peaceful communities that matter to us, right? That's where we build a peaceful community, not just, I can control my family, and to some degree, I cannot control international affairs, but I actually can have a fair amount of impact on my local community. So that being said, I would love to hear from you about your own journey to that. How did you get to a place where you were, okay with conflict, you were willing to move towards it, and what has kind of been your personal journey as a peacemaker?

(13:19-16:46) Eva Witesman: My real journey, my study of peacemaking started in 2017. Auspicious year. Wonder why. With one of these interfactional conflicts, actually, and I would describe myself prior to this experience as someone who avoided conflict. The way that I kept peace was by not talking about things that I knew I disagreed with someone else about, unless I knew I was in a safe space for that dialogue, which for most of the time was not where I was. And so I would keep the peace by choosing not to discuss things that were tricky. In 2017, I was invited to write an opinion editorial about why I, as a strong woman, would remain a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so I wrote that, and it was very dear to me. It was precious to me. It was a challenge to write, but a joy to write. And the Deseret News published it. And before long, another organization, a representative from another organization, wrote essentially a counter to this, right? And I found, I don't even remember how I found it, but I remember how I felt when I read it. And when I say I literally saw red, I mean literally. Like, I couldn't see the words on the page because I was so emotional and I was so upset and angry. And my first inclination was definitely to write something angry, right? Respond in kind, right? I mean, that's just what came naturally because I felt so tender about the things that I had shared and I had shared them in a specific venue with the intent of a specific audience and I just felt so attacked. And so I kept setting sitting down to write this response. And I think I sat down three or four different times, and no words would come. And every time I was at the computer, again, I would see red, I was so livid. And at some point, I had this thought come to me, I can only claim it as inspiration, because I don't think I had the skills in myself at that time to think this way. But the invitation was, how would Jesus Christ have you respond? In this moment, and that completely flip the switch into a place of humility and love, and the email that I ended up writing and I wrote it through the organization because I didn't have this person's email address I own this was an inter organizational sort of interaction right so through their web interface, I sent a note saying. I would love the opportunities to sit down with the person who authored this, because I think I might have something to learn. And that again, this was learning by doing what the spirit told me to do right that's, that's how this came about. Indeed, that message got forwarded, I was invited to lunch we, we went and shared a lunch, the author of this piece and I. And we laughed, we cried. At the end of this experience, we hugged. I had a deep understanding of where she was coming from by the end. And she, of me, she offered to read any of my future work in case I wanted an outside perspective on it. And we left friends. And at that moment, as I was walking away, I remember like walking away, I remember the asphalt under my feet thinking, that's what peacemaking is. I turned toward the conflict, and it was brave, and we made something beautiful that didn't exist before. And from that moment, I was hooked. From that moment, that's all I wanted.

(16:46-17:05) Jennifer Thomas: Well, and you didn't turn toward it to amplify it, right, to turn it into contention. I just thinking about that story, how different, how differently it could have gone if you had said, I just have something to share, or I have something to tell you. That's a very different thing, right? But you walked into it from a position of learning curiosity and empathy.

(17:05-17:11) Eva Witesman: So thank you to the spirit for allowing me to learn that lesson, because it has changed me.

(17:12-18:54) Patrick Mason: I love that. And it gives us a sense of that interpersonal level that you talked about, which probably is the building block. I've increasingly come to believe that. I came into peace studies through formal academic training in this field of peace studies. In fact, my degree was in international peace studies. So it was all big picture stuff. And it's actually been over time that I've realized that that interpersonal part is essential. If you don't get that right, then all the peace treaties in the world don't matter, right? And that's been one of the fun things that we've done on the podcast so far all season as we've talked to various people is look at the different particular elements of peace and peace building. I think sometimes when we told people at the beginning about the idea for the podcast, they're like, Well, like, what are you gonna have to talk about after like two or three episodes right there's there's not much there right and and actually piece, there's all these dimensions to it, as, as you've talked about, and that's what we've tried to do, you know, using some of these passages from from scripture but but today we want to think about, you know, a little bit more macro. And without forgetting the interpersonal, sort of think about the big picture and the way that the Book of Mormon helps orient us around some of that as well. And so I think the Book of Mormon, that's part of the brilliance of it. It operates at every single one of these four levels that you've talked about, right? So if we zoom out and think about a framework for peace, you know, that's big picture, that's a little bit more macro and inclusive of all these different things, what kind of frameworks might we have, you know, from some of your expertise and what you've learned over the years to think about peace in these different ways.

(18:54-19:22) Eva Witesman: Well, there are a lot that I found that are really valuable and a lot of them operate at the interpersonal level that's so important and I just want to mention like when, when we get the opportunity to talk to senators or diplomats or people who come through at work. They're not worried about the peace treaties that they're engaged in or the legislation that there were I mean they're worried about that too. But that's not their focus. What they talk about with us, what their concern is, is the way we're treating each other and how it's undermining the work that they're doing.

(19:22-19:29) Patrick Mason: Yeah, because that's the thing. You can have the best peace treaty in the world, right? But if people can't do it at the ground level, it will fall apart.

(19:29-20:39) Eva Witesman: Exactly. But again, I think a lot of that interpersonal stuff, you guys have done such a beautiful job talking about a lot of that on the podcast. And so the framework that I want to highlight today is some of the way that the United Nations actually talks about and thinks about peacemaking. And they are operating at that very large international diplomatic level. But the framework that they have also works at all three of the other levels. And so there are a couple of pieces of this that I think are useful to highlight. The first is that when they talk about peace, they talk about it much like we did at the beginning, that there are sort of two ways of thinking about it. There's positive peace and negative peace. Negative peace is the absence of conflict or war. And you can have that. and not have positive peace, which is actually building toward human flourishing and collaboration and that sort of thing. So I think that's a useful set of language, and I think that's a useful framework. They also talk about the differences between peacemaking, which is the act of diplomacy that leads to things like treaties, and peacekeeping, which is where you maintain and enforce the elements of those treaties. to sort of maintain those lines that have been drawn.

(20:39-20:40) Patrick Mason: Like the blue helmets, literally the UN peacekeepers.

(20:40-21:50) Eva Witesman: Literally you have peacekeepers. And if you think about the role of many militaries, national militaries, even without the UN's engagement, right, that's much of the work of a military is peacekeeping. And then they also talk about peace building. So peace building is where you are creating within a nation the capacity to help the human flourishing of its citizens in a way that diminishes their need for conflict or war so building that internal capacity, and it's within that peace building space that that the UN is sort of the keeper of the sustainable development goals which talk about things like alleviating reducing hunger, creating sustainable communities. So that's kind of a framework that I have taken to the Book of Mormon to sort of explore what does this look like in the pages of the Book of Mormon? And can we see all three of these elements? And can we see them operating both within people and interpersonally, as well as between warring nations like the Nephites and the Lamanites? And I found a lot of that.

(21:51-22:01) Patrick Mason: Can you give us some examples of that? So, you know, so if these concepts are new to people, but they might know the Book of Mormon pretty well. So, so how do these map on to the Book of Mormon in particular ways?

(22:01-25:32) Eva Witesman: Yeah. So if you're, if you're, and I'm just going to do some of these very quickly, because I know we have a lot to talk about. But if you look at peacemaking, that's actually creating the treaties. So you might, there are actually several of these that you could turn toward, but one of them is in Omni. And you see a treaty that essentially allows two people that don't have the same religious belief and they don't even have the same language to be able to come together and live together peacefully so that's an example and they yeah exactly and they you know they create They create a treaty, they live together peacefully, and that's peacemaking. When we want to talk about peacekeeping, I actually think John, by the way, has done a beautiful job of talking about all the different ways that fortifications show up in the Book of Mormon, where you have, especially under Captain Moroni, you've got all kinds of fortifications where it's defensive. It's, you know, we're going to put a day's worth of distance between our military that's protecting our boundaries, and the cities that we're protecting. And so we're going to maintain peace by, you know, keeping this, this border in this boundary, that sort of thing is, is peacekeeping. Peacebuilding is what you actually see in times of peace. So when we see in Fourth Nephi, or in Helaman, or after the waters of Mormon and Mosiah, And, and we see people talk about trade. We see people talk about like the creation of the judges the system the judges so we see government systems that are instituted, we see people engaging in in work. There are a lot of things that people are doing to maintain peace that don't actually have anything to do with. diplomacy or war or military action, right? This is all about building a community that can thrive and flourish. So that's the idea behind peace building. And I think this might be a nice moment to say, as a disciple scholar, one of my responsibilities is to be kind of bilingual. So I need to be able to speak the language of the world, which is kind of this UN framework, but also understand the language of the spirit. And when there are differences, It's important to mark those. That's part of my job. It's what I'm hired to do at BYU, right? So as I was doing the study, I found these beautiful examples, but I also noticed that there were two additional patterns that happened throughout the Book of Mormon that are not something that the UN talks about, nor really could they, because these are unique to a covenant people. But the first one, and I'm going to just name these because that's fun to do. But the first one I call peace praising. So peace praising is where you understand that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are the authors of peace. And anytime that peace exists at any level, praise needs to be given for their authorship of that peace. And that happens throughout the Book of Mormon. And then the second one is peace covenanting. The best example of this is the anti-Nephi-Lehi's who covenant that they will not take up their arms again. And that covenant, though, shows up many times throughout the Book of Mormon as a means for achieving peace. And so those are two pieces that obviously the United Nations would not bring up. But when we study the Book of Mormon, those are some additional components that really matter. And I think Elder Christofferson did a beautiful job of talking about that in his recent general conference talk on sustainable societies. So that's a little bit.

(25:32-27:16) Jennifer Thomas: I think that's beautiful. And the thing that I would add to that, maybe the third thing is that you know, Christ and Heavenly Father are the authors of that piece because they set forth laws that people are willing to obey in order to live harmoniously with one another, like they're willing to treat one another with equality, they're willing to care for the poor, they're willing to covenant to mourn with those that mourn. I love the way you've talked about this as being sort of a worldly framework, and then maybe more for lack of a better word, sort of a celestial or, you know, a framework that is beyond this world. But I think that one of the things that I think we run the risk of the people is saying, well, if we can't get there, we're not going, right? Like, if we can't get now while we're here on this earth to this celestial space, right, where, where everyone's covenant together, where they're all sharing the same faith, where they're all living harmoniously together, well, then we're just kind of gather in, fortify, put a day's worth of space between us and the other people and hunker down, right? And peace building, I think true peace building demands that a covenant people do the opposite of that, right? Even absent the possibility of creating this true celestial space now. So for us, we all know that's the concept of Zion, right? And maybe we won't obtain it, but I believe there is deep virtue in doing everything we can to try. So I would love to have you kind of share some thoughts with us about how peace building from this like both temporal and spiritual framework is worth it and important to us as an expression of hope, even when we know we might not get there, right? We might not see the other side of the mountain.

(27:16-27:30) Eva Witesman: Yeah. And I think, I think one of the premises that you're talking about is like, we envision this, this idea of Zion, where the reason that we have peace and flourishing is because, you know, every knee has bowed and every tongue confessed.

(27:30-27:31) Jennifer Thomas: Almost been imposed on us as there's no other alternative.

(27:32-29:25) Eva Witesman: Yeah, yeah. And one of the things that I loved about my recent study of the Book of Mormon with this with this framework was that there are many cases where we do see conversion of a people as the means to peace. But there are also many situations where peace comes before the conversion. And sometimes both happen sort of simultaneously. An example of that is Ammon and King Lamoni. So Ammon, of course, comes, teaches King Lamoni. There's this tremendous conversion. Many people get to witness this thanks to the servant woman who invites people to come witness what has just happened. And so there is a lot of conversion, but not everyone among the Lamanites converted. And so there actually was a period of time where you had these converts now, Among the Lamanites including King Lamoni who are making covenants and this is an important part of their piece, ultimately with the Nephites but but also there are Lamanites who don't convert or haven't converted at this point, including the king of all the Lamanites. King Lamoni's dad, who they run into later on. And so I think we can see in the Book of Mormon examples of this pluralist peace, where it is possible to not be at the state of Zion where everyone is keeping the same commandments and has the same belief system, but there is beauty in it and there is peace in it. And that peace leads in many cases to conversion to the opportunity to build that Zion. And so I find a lot of hope in the building of peace through pluralism of finding people who don't believe like I do but building on the things that we have in common, and then building from there.

(29:26-30:06) Jennifer Thomas: I'm just going to add there's a need to also have a significant level of humility because I think in that story, it's like, okay, there were some not awesome people, there were the converts, there were some that stayed behind. But in that same scenario of the groups of people that were doing the converting, some of the most toxic personalities in that period of the Book of Mormon were also, in theory, the good guys. They came from the culture that was promoted as the good culture. So I love the way you frame that because I don't think we can ever assume there's gonna be a very clear binary of good guys and bad guys, right? There are gonna be people in all spaces who are open to peace and people who obstruct peace and we just need to find them and work together with them.

(30:06-31:08) Eva Witesman: Most of the factions, if not all, if you go all the way back to, you know, Nephi and Laman and Lemuel, but even later when you've got separate societies that have sort of evolved and grown, Most of the conflicts in the book form to begin inside the church right not all of them, but most of them begin inside the church with factions that begin to say I'm better than you for any number of reasons they begin to believe differently. And that's actually fine for a while, right, that we believe differently. What ends up then happening is when people lose their ability to treat each other as human beings, and they lose the ability to use kindness and love in their interactions and they start oppressing one another and exerting power over one another. And that's the point at which peace breaks. It's not actually the differences of opinion. It's not actually the breaking into different belief systems. It's the, it's the, my belief system is superior to yours. And I am going to now subjugate you in as much as that's possible.

(31:08-31:13) Jennifer Thomas: And I'm going to dehumanize the out group. The real bad guys are over there. It's not us. Nothing to see here. Right.

(31:13-31:14) Eva Witesman: Exactly. Exactly.

(31:15-32:22) Patrick Mason: So, okay, so let's talk about the ways that you bring some of this into your work at the Ballard Center. One of the things I love about what you just talked about is that I think within Latter-day Saint theology, we have two overlapping strands on this, and in terms of the way that we think about our religion and spirituality in relationship to peace, and a lot of it revolves around our relationship to the second coming of Jesus. So there's this long-standing belief that the world's going to suck. It's going to be terrible. It's going to get worse and worse and worse. Be done. Then nothing we can do about it. Then Jesus is going to come and then we'll have peace, mostly because all the bad guys are dead. That's one model. That's there. That appears in our scriptures. But there's this other model too that says, build Zion. right? Until Jesus gets here, it's your job to go out and address all of these problems, the poverty, the division, the factionalism, all these kinds of things. So you got to build this thing so that the earth is ready to receive Jesus when he comes.

(32:22-32:23) Jennifer Thomas: giant field of dreams, right?

(32:23-33:14) Patrick Mason: Exactly. If you build it, he will come, right? Both of these things are happening at the same time in Latter-day Saint theology. And so I love that we don't choose one or the other. It's that paradox that I actually think creates a kind of creative tension for us. But, but I really appreciate what you're trying to do at the Ballard Center for Ballard Center for social impact right to think about social, political, economic problems, and the ways that these brilliant students at BYU, working with faculty and other kinds of people can be trained to address these kinds of issues so it's not just go to BYU and sit back and wait for Jesus to come right where your halo and wait for him to come. It's like, no, go and get trained so you can go out and make a difference in the world. So can you talk a little bit about how that works and how some of the work that you do and how you think it contributes to building a generation of peace builders?

(33:14-36:32) Eva Witesman: Absolutely. So there are two ways I'm going to answer that question. The first one, so our mission is to develop the faith and skills to solve social problems. So that's what we do. That idea of hope is one of the elements of the faith that we're working on building in the students. so that they can envision a society, a Zion society and work toward it. We teach pluralism, we teach understanding people who are different from ourselves. We focus entirely, everything is focused entirely on loving the one first and ministering to the one, which is just exactly what Jesus taught us to do, right? We're trying to be good disciples and work on that. And we're absolutely in that sort of peace building space. We're trying to help people, groups, even nations to build the capacity to address their own problems, to build systems that are sustainable, that help them to reduce suffering and increase flourishing. So we have a set of skills that we teach in that space, and I'm very proud of that. But the other piece of what we do, and the way that we teach what we do is actually more in how we do it. And that is that we do our best to break down some of the factions that might exist, even in an academic setting even one as righteous as BYU. You still have, for example, differences traditionally between faculty and staff and students, right? These are potentially factions. So one of the ways that we try to teach peace intentionally in the way that we do our work, in addition to the actual work that we're doing, is that we work in council. And when we work in council, there is tremendous equality between each of these different factions. So our Council of Directors, we meet in Council every week, these are the non-student leaders of the Ballard Center, and the staff, whether they're adjunct, whether they're part-time staff or full-time staff, whether they're full-time, you know, tenured faculty like me, we all sit around the same table and we have an equal voice in the work that we do. And I forget sometimes that that is a unique way of operating until someone comes and visits one of our meetings and they're like, wait, who's who, what's the hierarchy here? And it's like, no, that's not how we operate. We choose to operate in this peacemaking way where we are valuing each of these contributions. And the students also have a leadership council and that leadership council has voice in how we manage the work that we do. The primary, Leaders of each of our programs are actually students, so we have directors who mentor them and guide them. But that's their job is to mentor and guide to the students are the actual leaders and so in addition to the actual piece building work that we do we try to be peacemakers and how we do the work. There's a lot of like language for how an organization like that is. I've, I really like the language about like teal organizations. I don't know if you've heard this, you can, you can sort of explore that language, but it's sort of this really agile organization that sort of is fluid and where we sort of eschew hierarchies. And so both of those things I think are ways that we engage in the work of peacemaking at the Ballard Center.

(36:33-37:06) Jennifer Thomas: So this might be, I don't know, maybe the answers are all intuitive, but I'm just wondering as you're working with your students, what are some of the ingrained beliefs I mean you've talked about hierarchy that get in the way of them like truths that they've just accepted as objective fact which are really not that are the ways they framed their engagement or their learning or This is in the Marriott School of Business, so their framework for business. What are some of the obstacles that you find that you have to work past to help students think about their life's work?

(37:07-38:04) Eva Witesman: Yeah, we're very big on paradigm shifts. So there are a few of them, love the one comes very intuitively to people because of our gospel framing. But a lot of times students come in wanting to change the world and they don't understand immediately that changing the world literally means figuring out how to minister to one person, and then create more capacity to serve more people so you can increase your reach. And that if you're working at the global scale, you're actually replicating that over and over again, community by community, you're not scaling some, you know, perfect program everywhere. And so that's one paradigm shift. Another one is people get really excited about the solutions that they've come up with to social problems. And what we teach them to do is to be less excited about the solution they've come up with. And what we say is love the problem, not the solution, which sounds super counterintuitive because it's like, well, I don't love poverty. Right.

(38:04-38:05) Jennifer Thomas: I don't want to fix it.

(38:05-40:01) Eva Witesman: Right. This is terrible. But what that reorientation does is says we want to love this problem out of existence. We want to keep our eye on that problem. We want to know everything about it. We want to be intimately acquainted with how poverty works. We're not going to be as excited about our solution because if we get really excited about our solution and it doesn't work, if our eye isn't on the problem, we'll keep doing a solution that doesn't work, it doesn't help anyone, and there is a huge opportunity cost to that. If you're spending time, energy, and money on something that doesn't work, you are making the world worse, not better. And so rather than focusing on the solution we say let go of that. The solution is about you, the solution is about you wanting to be a hero. And we're glad that you're here and we invite you into this work. But we need to focus on the problem, and we need to focus on the people who are experiencing the problem. And so that's another one and that leads naturally into to having a human centered framework where rather than beneficiaries we have customers and we have partners. And so we're working with people to address their challenges and their problems, it leads naturally into a focus on evaluation so you can learn. So you can find out what's not working and rather than being, you know, grieved about the fact that the solution you were excited about doesn't work, you can learn from it and you can talk to your customer partners and understand well why doesn't this work and let's build something better. And when you have something that works effectively, then you can try it out in other communities and, and inevitably you have to adapt because Each group is different, each culture is different. I had one student I was, I was teaching that idea about needing to culturally adapt and she raised her hand and she said, and I wish I could remember what the program was but she said there was a program that we were running. in Orem, Utah, and it worked beautifully. And so we decided to expand to Provo, Utah. Now, for those of you who are not from the Utah area, these are two adjacent, very, one would expect, culturally similar. Graphically similar.

(40:01-40:03) Patrick Mason: People call it Provo Orem, right?

(40:03-40:20) Eva Witesman: Exactly. Think of it as one thing. She said when we tried to implement this same exact program in Provo, it didn't work because they were too culturally different from Orem. Right. So imagine what it looks like when you're trying to implement a solution halfway across the world.

(40:20-40:20) Jennifer Thomas: Right.

(40:20-40:26) Eva Witesman: So that's where we come back. We loop back to loving the one and understanding the dynamics of what's happening there.

(40:27-40:51) Patrick Mason: That's fantastic. I really like that framework because we can be so infatuated with our own solutions, right, that we forget what they're in the service of. And we can think of lots of examples through history where the solution has then created its own problems. But you can't address that because you're so wedded to the beautiful idea that you had.

(40:51-40:52) Eva Witesman: It happens a lot. Yeah.

(40:52-41:28) Jennifer Thomas: Well, and I think we're all probably familiar with someone who says, I'm going to get out into the world. I'm going to make money. I'm going to build a career or something so that 40 years from now, I'm in a position to really help people, right? Without realizing that in that process, they're getting further and further away from the actual people that they want to help and then plan to do it from this position of height. And I really like this demand that you're making this disciples demand that says no, you can never separate yourself from the problem. And if you do, by definition, you're not going to offer a good solution, you have to be willing to get dirty, right?

(41:29-42:02) Eva Witesman: And we are always a part of what's happening. Right. So so the idea of making money, well, how how are you going to engage that process of amassing wealth? Right. In in many cases, you can do that in a way that actually causes more harm along the way. So we need to be careful not to be making wealth by any means necessary. And then, you know, turning around and again, making ourselves the hero, you know, by being philanthropic. This is this is a discipleship. This is a lifelong journey and can and should be engaged. at any stage and at any wealth level.

(42:02-43:12) Patrick Mason: Okay, so let's talk about our current moment as we kind of move towards wrapping up. And you may have noticed that the social fabric of our society may be fraying just a little bit. There's a little roughness around the edges that we're seeing right now. Of course, this is not the first time in history we've seen this. We've seen it in lots of examples, and this is another strength of the Book of Mormon. is that over and over and over, it tells us over 500 plus pages, right? We see multiple societies, multiple civilizations also fray at the edges. And then sometimes that turns out very, very bad. Sometimes they pull it back, right? And are able to reweave the fabric of society. In two examples, the Jaredites and the Nephites, it leads to the ultimate conclusion. So the Book of Mormon has a lot of these kind of very specific stories and specific, lessons to teach us, but it also has big picture lessons for us across these 500 pages. So what, if you were to think about the Book of Mormon as a whole, what big lessons do you see coming out of the Book of Mormon? And then how do we take those big picture ideas and then bring them down into our own personal lives?

(43:13-45:46) Eva Witesman: One of the most striking examples of a fraying society in the Book of Mormon is when we have an account of the Lamanites teaching their children to hate the Nephites. And they talk about how this was generation upon generation, they would recount the harms done to Laman and Lemuel by Nephi and how their birthright was stolen and they were angry and therefore they taught the children to hate them and to despise them and to kill them, right? And so they're actually teaching this. And you see that throughout any time there's any beginning of division, they can be class divisions, they can be education divisions, they can be religious divisions, they can be national divisions, any of those divisions, what we learn from the Book of Mormon is that the moment you start to teach that kind of hate, It's the beginning of the end. Right. So your question was how do we apply that to ourselves now, and I think it's easy to be, you know, next door neighbors with a person that you go to church with and know that you're on opposite sides of the political aisle and still love them. to minister to them, to bring them casseroles, to chat across the fence, right? These are not difficult things. What's difficult is when you start talking about the things that you differ on. And all of a sudden, you start seeing the identity with these factions, right? Well, I'm a Republican and I'm a Democrat, or I believe in this policy or that policy, and people who disagree with me are, and then the language begins. And it happens with everyone on every side. And it is so easy and so tempting to say they are ruining our democracy. They are ruining our ability to have peace. And immediately they become an object that's in your way because they're a part of this other group rather than that person that you were so good at bringing casseroles to, right? And those two things can co-exist and do co-exist. I know they co-exist in my ward, right? They co-exist in my neighborhood. And so I think recognizing when we switch into that tendency to dehumanize, and you might say, well, I'm not dehumanizing so-and-so, I just served them. I helped them mow their lawn or whatever, right? Like clearly this doesn't apply to me because I'm a peacemaker. And yet the way we talk about the group that they're a part of, we dehumanize and objectify.

(45:47-45:58) Patrick Mason: And there's a way that maybe we can only serve them if we set aside that part of their life, right? It's like, I'm going to forget that they're that thing. Right. Bless their heart.

(45:58-46:02) Eva Witesman: They like that policy. And I'm just going to, you know, love them anyway.

(46:02-46:10) Patrick Mason: But man, those people- Which may be a certain kind of negative piece, right? I mean, that's better than open hostility. Maybe. Maybe, right? But it's not Zion.

(46:10-46:10) Jennifer Thomas: But it is not.

(46:10-46:13) Patrick Mason: And it's not closer to his life. It's not. Yeah.

(46:13-48:39) Eva Witesman: Exactly. So I haven't been involved on social media for some time. It's been years since I've posted. But once I got really into the idea of peacemaking and the idea of positive peace, and the idea that peacemaking was brave, like a firefighter, right, like these are people who instead of running out of the burning building are running into the burning building. And so I really embrace that idea for a while. And so one of my one of my favorite things to do for a while I don't run into burning buildings. I would go, I would think to myself, who online do I disagree with the most? There would be factions where I would find myself objectifying. And I would say, those are the people who are ruining this, that, or the other, right? It's, they're all bad. And I discovered that about myself. And I was like, I need to run into that burning building. And so for a period, I don't even know if any of this stuff is up anymore. I've cleaned out my social media at various points. So I'm not sure if any of this is still there, but I would go and engage people who deeply, very clearly disagreed with me and had posted things online that normally I would just, you know, I would just be like, this is everything that I am against. And I would engage with them and my commitment to myself was that I would engage with them until we found something on that topic to agree on. It wasn't about convincing them that I was right. It wasn't about giving in and saying they were right. It was a practice and online was such a fun place to do it because it was not, it's not how people normally engage, right? Like the snarkier, the better, the, the meaner and pithier and briefer, the more citable, you know, that's how you get likes and stuff. I wasn't in it for likes. I was in it to practice peacemaking. And so that's how I take that idea from the book of Mormon of like, I need to, I need to not be breaking to factions that I dehumanize. and I need to run toward that and build a piece where it didn't exist. And I don't know that I did any good whatsoever between the factional differences, right? But it built bridges that I could walk on. And it mattered to me, and it became a practice for me. And it taught me how I now think about peace. And so that's one of the very practical ways. It took a lot of time, I will admit, it took a lot of time to do that, but it was also great fun because I discovered that it is possible.

(48:40-49:13) Patrick Mason: I like the way that the use the word practice. Right. Again, peace building it is a set of skills as a set of character traits as well but it is a set of skills that you do have to practice over and over that you were exercising your peace muscles. Right. And just like any kind of exercise it take it does take time, it does take effort it takes commitment. right? It doesn't just happen overnight and so and you're not going to do it perfect and you'll be sore the next morning, all those kinds of things, right? But it is, it is a practice that you can intentionally engage in and get better at as you do it.

(49:14-50:37) Eva Witesman: And through that practice, I also got even more courageous and started doing it in like real life with real people face to face, right? Remember this is someone who was conflict avoidant when this all started. So this was a safe place for me to begin practicing. And now the test that I have for myself with the people around me is whether or not we are prayer circle clear. Is this someone that I could engage in an ordinance with in the temple? and feel free of any negative feelings or animosity. And so one of my current practices rooted in these other practices that I've been working on over many years is the practice of sort of scanning the relationships in my life and thinking about situations where I'm not prayer circle clear, and then walking toward those problems and building bridges of peace. And as an interpersonal practice, it has opened, when I talk about like building something that's more beautiful than the sum of its parts, it has opened my heart to depths of friendship that I did not know were possible. And I am so grateful for peacemaking, not just in kind of the big sense and our hope for our democracy and for the world and for ultimately Zion, but also for my own day-to-day life. I am just so grateful for it.

(50:37-51:42) Jennifer Thomas: I'm gonna tell you all, I'm sneaking in a question here we didn't prepare it all for, so give grace. One of the things that Patrick and I hope comes out of this podcast is a different way of looking at reading and engaging with scripture. Sometimes we have a tendency to, particularly as Latter-day Saints, we tend to like, here's the money scripture in this chapter, right? Like, I'm gonna memorize this money, I will go, I will do, you know, whatever it is. Like, we've got them all, the phrases. You're a systems person. And a lot of the insights I think you've shared with us tonight have been because you do systems readings of scripture, which is what we want everyone in this room to do. We want you to read scripture for patterns, for systems. How would you give some clues to people who are trained to go hoppity scotch verse to verse to start to see patterns and to read differently in a way that will open up a new way of engaging and building with communities and systems. people and factions, etc.

(51:42-53:50) Eva Witesman: I think it was Elder Bednar who described the process of getting hard copies of the Book of Mormon, and then choosing one thing that you were going to read Book of Mormon for, like looking for that one thing, and then he would like label the spines and put them in a little library of copies of the Book of Mormon. I think I have the right apostle. I may be wrong, correct me if I've If I've got it wrong. But that's, that's one way that I think that we can engage these is, even if you're doing come follow me study which I do do that. But most of my personal scripture study is actually not come follow me it's what I do with my family it's what I do to prepare so that I can be a part of my church community. Um, but most of the time I'll identify a problem or a challenge or a question or an idea, and then I will read as much as I can on that topic. I obviously use the topical guides. I love. Um, studying the scriptures online because I can search terms and I can go through the entire book of Mormon without reading every word in my print copy, right? I can find, for example, every example of a reference to a woman. I recently looked through the entire book of Mormon for that, and I was aided by right. Electronic searches to do that. And I learned a lot that way. So those are a couple of things. The other thing that I would both advocate and caution is that AI is actually really helpful in scripture study. So chat GPT knows the Book of Mormon pretty dang well. And if you have questions and you want to find examples of something or you want to learn something, it can usually pull up examples from the Book of Mormon with references. Sometimes it hallucinates you need to double check like read the actual scriptures, not just the chat GPT version but it's getting better over time and I found fewer and fewer errors errors, the more that I do this. especially in sort of our low time world, that's a really great way to just kind of quick shift the way that you're looking at things and get a big picture scan of patterns across the Book of Mormon. I use it. I love it. It's not enough. It's not sufficient. Um, and it'll pattern itself after like the searches you've done in the past. So you have to kind of train it a little bit, but those are some of the things that, that I've found fun and useful.

(53:51-55:09) Jennifer Thomas: I have to say this reading of the Book of Mormon has been transformative to me because I'm looking for patterns of peace or where peace breaks down. It has changed completely how I've engaged with even some of those really specific scriptures, right? And I'll give a really key example. Just recently, we were all in Alma and Alma 5, one of the most familiar chapters, right? We all know it. I'm asking myself the questions I've always asked, have I been born of God again you know what is my where kind of it's the benchmark scripture and first time in my life, because I'm reading through a peacemaking lens, I realized, Alma has included, actually, I've always treated that as a theoretical thing and Alma has actually included the sin list. He's been like, here are the actual things that prove to you that you are right or not right with God. And they were so many of them obstacles to peace. So it was just, I guess I just would advocate. I love these tools you've shared to everyone listening to this, that there are different ways to read that will just expand this book and make it really live. for peacemakers. If peacemakers are wanted and needed, reading the scriptures differently is going to be required to build them. Because the same way we've been reading them, if that worked, we would have gotten there. Absolutely.

(55:09-55:23) Patrick Mason: We'd be there already. Yep. Okay, last question for you, Eva. You've shared a little bit with us about your practice of doing some of these things. But as we ask all of our guests, where and how do you find peace personally?

(55:23-55:58) Eva Witesman: So I, I love the question where I find peace personally is in prayer communion with my God through the spirit. That is absolutely where I find peace, but how I build and make peace is absolutely like, look, I'm like a storm chaser, right? Like, Twister, bring it on. I look for the challenges and that's where I go to make peace and build peace. So I find peace in communion with God through the spirit, but I make it by chasing storms of conflict.

(55:58-56:04) Patrick Mason: Awesome. And it's not only blessed are the peace finders, but blessed are the peacemakers, right?

(56:04-56:14) Jennifer Thomas: Okay. Well, Ava, you're wonderful. You're wonderful too, both of you. Thank you so much. Glad to have you with us, and thank you for joining us here on Proclaimed Peace.

(56:14-56:40) Patrick Mason: Yeah, thank you. Thanks to all of you for being here. Thank you. 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.

(56:45-57:01) 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.


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