We can love people even if we do not love their choices. After all, isn't it more important — though perhaps more challenging — to love a person than to love words or actions?
Editor's note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast.
During one of the earliest performances of "Peter Pan," the much-loved fantasy play for children, a small boy was invited to watch the production from the balcony. Afterwards he was asked what he liked best about the play. The pirates? The crocodile? Peter Pan flying through the air? The child's response was surprising: "What I think I liked best was tearing up the program and dropping the bits on people's heads" (see "The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes," edited by Clifton Fadiman).
The audience members who left the theater with bits of paper in their hair probably wouldn't agree with the boy on the best part of the play. Neither would the custodian in charge of cleaning the theater afterward. But when J.M. Barrie, the creator of "Peter Pan," heard the boy's comment, he was delighted. He wasn't offended that the boy hadn't paid closer attention to the play. Instead, he considered it one of his favorite reactions to his work.
All of us have to deal with decisions made by others — their words, actions and attitudes — that could be considered offensive. This can be particularly difficult when we feel that the values and traditions we hold dear are being rejected or even mocked.
But just as someone might choose whether or not to do something insulting, we can choose whether or not to be insulted. We can choose to give others the benefit of the doubt and not assume malicious intent behind their actions. We can love people even if we do not love their choices. After all, isn't it more important — though perhaps more challenging — to love a person than to love words or actions?
Accepting people does not mean approving of or condoning their decisions. It does not mean waiving our own rights to think and act differently. Nor does it mean we will never feel sad or hurt or disappointed. But at a deeper level, we can be at peace if we focus on love — for love has the power to overcome our disappointment, frustration and pain. And who knows? Our love may even soften a heart. But even if it doesn't, the best approach is still to let love, peace, patience and kindness rule the day.