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The Supremacy of the Personal

By Rex Goode

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One of my current callings is High Priest Instructor. I have driven home one point about my teaching and about what I expect from classes. I expect responses to the questions I ask to be personal responses. I don’t want someone to expound doctrine, tell history, or talk about their neighbor. I want those who comment in class to share something from their personal perspective.

To me, the personal is the ultimate form of communication. Sharing from the heart in a gospel class is the fastest route to strengthening your own personal testimony and the testimonies of others. Consider this example:

Teacher: How does the atonement affect you?

Student 1: The atonement is the process whereby we can become reconciled to God. We all sin and are in need of a Savior. Because Jesus suffered, bled, and died for our sins, we can, through repentance, return to our Heavenly Father.

Student 2: I am so grateful that my Savior suffered, bled, and died for my sins. I am not perfect. I make a lot of mistakes. I need the atonement so that I can repent and return to my Heavenly Father.

The second answer was personal. The first answer, though undoubtedly true, is not. There really is nothing wrong about giving the first answer, except that it doesn’t evoke the same kind of emotion in people that the second does. It doesn’t testify. It merely explains.

I think that for teachers to encourage personal answers to questions, rather than inviting knowledgeable people to pontificate, invites the Spirit into a class in unique ways that motivate members to strive to do better in their own lives.

Anyone who has been in the Church a long time has heard the old sacrament meeting talk device about the men who went to heaven and were ushered into be interviewed by an important looking personage. The first ones that went in answered all of the questions correctly, but it was the last one who fell to his knees and worshipped when he recognized that the interviewer was the Savior himself.

This principle has application in more than just classes. It is vital to the effective use of a support system for people struggling with difficult problems like sexual addiction. Next to not showing up at all, the least effective use of a support system is to go and philosophize through the duration of the meeting. Listen in whatever group you are in when someone shares. Especially, listen to yourself when you share. Are you being philosophical or truly personal?

If the former, then the resource isn’t going to help you. To derive the benefit from a support system, you have to reach deep inside and pull out the personal answers that apply to the principles you are learning. You have to share from that perspective. You have to say the words out loud and have them be intimately about you and your struggle.

This is not to say that there isn’t room for being philosophical, or if you prefer, doctrinal. Indeed, what we share should be based on sound principles as we learn them. What I’m talking about is the focus of our sharing. To me, the best kind of resource like a support group meeting, begins by the presentation of a true principle, in as personal a way as possible. There then follows the personal sharing of group members about how that principle works in their lives.

I have some suggestions about how to focus on the personal in your sharing:

  • Focus on the first great commandment, that being to love God with all of your heart, might, mind, and strength. Love is the best emotion. I believe that with this love in my heart and focusing on it, what comes out of my mouth will be true and personal.
  • Focus on the second great commandment, that being to love your neighbor as yourself. I believe that pontification, or avoidance of the personal in sharing, is a matter of selfishness. It stems from a desire to look knowledgeable while avoiding truly sharing yourself with other people.
  • Ask yourself, before speaking, “What emotion am I feeling?” Notice that in the example of the question about the atonement, that the personal answer included the word, “grateful.” Gratitude ranks right up there with love as one of the great emotions. If you can’t think of anything else that is personal, begin with gratitude. Don’t neglect the other emotions. When you ask yourself what emotion you are feeling, be honest about it when you open your mouth to share.
  • Keep it about you. Don’t confuse speaking directly to or for the benefit of another person with being personal about yourself. The moment the motive to fix, rescue, or advise another person figures into your choice of what to share, you’ve stopped being personal. In one support group I facilitate, it’s become a joke that some people will try to disguise advice by prefacing it with the phrase, “In my experience…” Advice, veiled or not, is not personal.
  • Be just a little tiny bit judgmental. Pay attention to how others share. Ask yourself if they are being personal or philosophical. Learn how to be personal by emulating others who know how to do it.
  • Don’t ask for advice. It makes the meeting about you. While that may seem personal, it’s really avoidance on your part, and encourages avoidance on everyone’s part. You don’t really need advice. I’d bet that the majority of the time, you really do know what to do. Honestly assess your reason for asking for advice and you’ll probably have to admit that you know what to do, but don’t want any feedback that might stir up an emotion in you that you don’t want to feel.

If you are going to a support group or posting on a place like The Daily Journal or the Clean lists, and it isn’t seeming to help, do an honest inventory of your level of participation. Ask yourself what you are holding back and see in what ways you are focusing too much on the philosophical, and not enough on the personal.

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5 Responses to “The Supremacy of the Personal”

  1. Northern Lights » Blog Archive » The Supremacy of the Personal said:

    […] following is a reprint of sorts from my Latter-day Sexual Recovery blog. I say “of sorts” because I wrote that one from the standpoint of sexual […]

  2. Northern Lights » Blog Archive » The Supremacy of the Internal said:

    […] best and most helpful. Not all of the choices are equal, even when they all share the same goal. In The Supremacy of the Personal, I spelled out why I think that sharing in the personal sense is superior to sharing the […]

  3. Latter-Day Sexual Recovery » The Supremacy of the Internal said:

    […] « The Supremacy of the Personal […]

  4. Springs Of Water » How to Sink a Meeting said:

    […] If you can get people talking about the situation and not about how they feel, then you don’t have to feel anything either. You can soothe your own feelings by crosstalking. Crosstalking is selfish. It represents an unwillingness to be present and empathetic with a person who is experiencing feelings. I often see whole meetings become thoroughly philosophical and in no way personal by crosstalk. The Personal is far superior to the Philosophical. (See The Supremacy of the Personal.) […]

  5. Springs Of Water » Not Ashamed said:

    […] political person. Though I style myself a political conservative, I’m more interested in the personal than the political or philosophical. I’m interested in what makes people happy and productive. I want to hear people’s […]

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