Antagonism and the Warehouse Store…

“Throughout life agency provides us with never-ending choices between peace and hostility. There are in abundance opportunities to choose one or the other. I have learned that as we see one another as children of God, the choice to choose good over evil, peace over war, is much more easily made.”

Daniel Joseph Malcolm, 19 August 2023

It is so easy to get annoyed in the world in which we live. While there are many opportunities at happiness, there are also an abundance of opportunities for annoyance. At times we believe that we are given just cause by our fellow man to be angry, or annoyed, to have our hearts stirred up. There are also moments when we are the ones that cause others to feel the same way. It is especially easy to feel antagonistic when we are driving down the road or even in the line at Costco to fill up with gasoline.

I remember some years ago feeling exactly that way. I with my pickup engine idling on a hot summer day, was observing a number of people taking their sweet time to fill up their tanks while I waited. It was as if nobody else had anything to do that day but sit in their cars, talking on the phone, before even getting out to start the pumps. I was feeling that angry, unChristian, feeling toward my fellow Costco member, asking myself in my head, and maybe even mumbling the words, “Just get out of your car and start filling up your tank so that I can fill up mine and get on my way.” I suddenly was struck with a feeling from the Holy Ghost, “Is that how you should be thinking?” I got my head straight, and mustered up all the Christian feeling I could, and opening my eyes to what the Lord would have me see, I saw all of the people in line in front of me and all around, as if they were dressed in white, getting ready to enter the waters of baptism. I saw them as children of our Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters. My annoyed impatience melted away, my heart lifted to a better place.

How oft have I cried out in like fashion as the Apostle Paul, “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24)? Have you felt to cry out the same?

There is a constant battle raging within us all between our earthly nature and the child of God we desire to be. The fact that we hear the call to do good and desire to respond to it is part of the battle. It shows that at least we have a sensitivity and desire to do good. The key is to place that desire to do good above those temptations to do evil, thus we may overcome the evil with good, first in concept and then in action.

As Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, the mind indeed is like a stage where there is a constant performance. That stage may be filled with any number of thoughts and ideas, and not all will be good. We cannot always control the acts and performances that appear on that stage, but we can actively replace those negative things with good things by taking responsibility for setting the stage. If during a completely innocent thought, or even by our own intent, bad actors creep their way onto the stage of our minds, we can actively drive those bad actors away by changing the setting of our minds, and permitting the light of goodness to overcome darkness and evil. While temptations will come and even rage in our hearts and minds, what ultimately possesses our thoughts and our desires is in our control. What we choose to act upon is definitely in our control in spite of any temptation that is placed before us, even if our nature calls upon us to do evil.

King Benjamin of old recognized that it is in man’s nature to seek to do evil, but he invited us to overcome the natural man. In Mosiah 3:19 we read, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

“King Benjamin Addresses His People” by Gary L. Kapp

There is a path created for us to overcome the natural man and to follow Jesus Christ. Just as there are temptations to do evil, there are enticings to do good, and the power of God is greater than the power that would call upon us to do evil. The Savior provided us with the Holy Spirit, that if we yield to the Still Small Voice of love and goodness we may not only overcome nature, but our nature can fundamentally change that we might put off the natural man and become saints through Christ’s atonement, even become as little children, submissive, meek, humble, patient and full of love. We may yet come to the point in this fundamental change where as King Benjamin’s people declared, “…the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent,… has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5:2).

The ancient Prophet Nephi declared, “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (2 Nephi 4:28). Nephi cried out for aid in giving no place for darkness in his mind and heart, as we too can do by seeking aid from the Lord, and then following the enticings of the Holy Spirit. We can overcome evil with good. Light can replace darkness, but we must provide fuel for that light, oil in our lanterns, a setting on the stage of our minds that will encourage good to overcome evil, otherwise, just as good can overcome evil, evil will overcome good without our following the Still Small Voice.

If we place our faith in the Savior Jesus Christ we can overcome evil, as Nephi continued, “Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation” (2 Nephi 4:30). We have reason to rejoice, for we have His Spirit and His divine light to brighten our minds and feed our hungry hearts.

Some of the best counsel I have ever read for providing place in us for the Holy Ghost and blocking out evil was given by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45-46).

“Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail” by Greg K. Olsen

Our hearts need to be filled with charity for our fellow man, for as Paul taught, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). If we are children of God, then our fellow beings are as well, even fellow Costco members, heirs with us and Christ our Savior brother, to God’s kingdom.

A few weeks ago, on our way home from the wedding of some dear friends in San Diego, we stopped at a Costco in Burbank for gasoline and a bathroom break. I also picked up some sandwiches for Monica, the girls, and I to munch on in the car. I was alone nearing the exit of the building. I was in an extremely good mood. One of those times when I am singing to myself and just smiling at everybody I see. As I approached the exit door, my countenance bright, still in my slacks and white shirt from the temple, I walked up behind a woman showing her receipt to a Costco employee. I stopped behind her in line, probably a couple of feet, just minding my business, but smiling, when she turned around with an angry look on her face.

Honestly, this totally caught me off guard. She was suddenly in a raised voice accusing me of getting too close to her. She was, I would say, maybe in her mid-30s. I replied in a calm, but I think, surprised voice, “Excuse me? Did I get too close to you? I sure didn’t mean to.” To that she replied that I should watch myself, to which again I excused myself and apologized. Remember, I was in a very good mood, and really did not know what to think of what was going on, but I remained courteous.

All of a sudden, the man in front of her turned around. He was about my height, but very stocky and probably in his 30s, with the demeanor and look of a gangster ready for a fight. Accusingly, he then said to me, “You back off Fool! You just better watch yourself!” Just now realizing that these two are together, and that store staff did not seem to want to have anything to do with this, I continued to kindly apologize as I handed my receipt to the staff person at the door who checks me out, but does not get involved at all.

The pair continued to threaten and accuse me, and I maintained my demeanor of kind respect and apologetic for any misunderstanding. With each respectful apology I offered, it was returned with a threat and disparaging remark from both of them.

Now I have to say that at this point it would be natural to enter a fight or flight mode. I could at that point demand respect and fight for my right to stand where I stand, or hightail it out of there with my tail between my knees. I felt caught in between. I could almost see myself in what was happening around me from another perspective, almost out of body. There was no way I was going to cut and run or show fear. I was not feeling sentiments of hurt pride, but there was no way I was going to cave to their behavior as acceptable. I also knew it would be stupid of me to fight.

It just then came to my mind how very alone I was. Although there were crowds all around me, and I was dressed nice and acting respectable, it was clear that no one was going to fight on my side if I were to choose to fight. Inside of me I did not feel fear or anger, but a realism of the precarious position, and a need to show that we can all get along, that there is no reason for this kind of behavior.

As we left the building, they with their carts and me with just two boxes of sandwiches under my arm, I continued to engage them in a respectful tone, my head and neck upright, but not in a threatening way, my eyes looking straight into theirs. The woman got in front of the man, and he stood between the two of us with his cart. He and I just inches away from each other, I said, “Hey seriously, I did not mean to come so close and I want apologize for any misunderstanding here.” At that point, I extended my open hand in friendship and understanding.

He looked at my hand, his eyes lowered, his countenance changing, then back to my eyes, and I could tell he was about to lift his hand, and perhaps even say something of understanding in return. The woman then exclaimed, as her anger was turning toward him, “Uh uh, no way!” He glanced at her, then glanced at me, his head lowering again, I think realizing I was not his enemy, my hand still extended, I lowered it, and said, “Try to have a good night.” He replied under his breath, “You too,” and followed her away.

I felt bad for the guy. I do not think he wanted to be hostile, but he felt the need to be hostile because of her desire to be hostile. That was a person hell-bent on making people’s lives miserable, including the life of her companion.

At any time, my encounter with these two children of God could have gone south in a very bad way. Perhaps the flight mechanism should have kicked in, and I just remove myself, but that just did not sit right. It is not pride, but a need to show people there is a better way. If we run away from brutish behavior, we only encourage it. Had I decided to insist on respect, and stand my ground for the error never committed, who knows what might have happened? I certainly would not have set an example as the child of God that I need to be. Instead of demanding respect, as I probably would have done in my earlier years, I think my respectful demeanor, inspired only by the Prince of Peace, commanded it instead. I am happy for the Spirit of God to instill the peace necessary for me to choose the right path in this circumstance. Oh, that I will do that always. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance:… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25-26).

“Apostle Paul Writing” by Robert T. Barrett

Through the atonement of Christ and with the companionship of the Holy Ghost we can overcome evil with good. As Paul taught, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). We can experience a fundamental change that suppresses the natural man in us and makes us true children of God. As Elder Packer counseled, we can set the stage of our minds with heavenly song and goodness.

We have been given the tools and the gifts for good to triumph. As children of God we can choose to enjoy peace together in this life. Our royal birthright and brotherhood together demands that we at least try. May we light our lamps, fueled with the Spirit, and give no more place for darkness. Let us subdue the sin that is within us, that we might no more feel compulsion to cry out “O wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24). That I, that we all, may come to a place of having no more disposition to do evil, to only promote peace, is my prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Daniel Malcolm is an entrepreneur, journalist, photographer, husband to Monica and father of twelve. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.