Sarah Jane Weaver: Why in a world of contention, thick skin does not exist

‘First and foremost, we should always be kind’

Earlier this month I was able to listen to a most insightful conversation.

As part of a Voices Utah event at the David Eccles School of Business on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, Utah first lady Abby Cox and Sheri Dew, executive vice president and chief content officer for Deseret Management Corp., spoke about their childhoods, their goals and life’s hard moments.

The Voices conversation was an event presented by Deseret News — the parent company of the Church News — and Utah Business magazine.

Both Cox and Dew grew up on farms in rural communities — Dew in Ulysses, Kansas, and Cox in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. Both spoke of overcoming early shyness and lack of self-confidence. Both talked about the need to “show up” and be kind.

I have been thinking about the Thursday, April 13, conversation all week.

Dew wrote the biography of four Latter-day Saint Presidents — President Ezra Taft Benson, President Howard W. Hunter, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Russell M. Nelson — and is a former member of the Relief Society general presidency. Cox’s initiative in Utah, called “Show Up,” promotes community involvement. She has championed emotional self-reliance, service, foster care and sporting opportunities for children who live with intellectual disabilities. 

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It would be hard to argue that both Latter-day Saint women do not have considerable influence.

Still, when the Voices Utah moderator, KSL news anchor Debbie Worthen, turned the conversation to life’s pivotal moments, Cox spoke about Utah Gov. Spencer Cox’s election campaign, which included negative campaign ads, and of hearing hurtful things said about her family. The hardest part was knowing her children were also hearing negative and untrue things being said about their dad.

It hurt.

Friends encouraged her to have “thick skin,” Abby Cox added.

But Cox, Dew and Worthen agreed: Thick skin does not exist.

Dew noted that whenever someone becomes visible, “people let you know what they think.”

Sheri Dew, executive vice president and chief content officer of Deseret Management Corp., and Utah first lady Abby Cox have a conversation at a Voices Utah event at the University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 13, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
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Worthen quipped that in her role as a news anchor, someone has emailed and confirmed anything bad she ever thought about herself.

Sometimes, the women added, it hurts — a lot.

My job as a reporter and editor has afforded me a unique view of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through what I often refer to as the Church News window.

From this perspective, I have written about and watched senior Church leaders. They come to their service with unique strengths and abilities, each walking away from careers as leaders in medicine, law, education or business.

But they all have something in common.

They are kind. They are very, very kind. 

That kindness compels them to have conversations with strangers in airports or on planes when they are tired. It drives them to shake one more hand or smile at one more child. On a few occasions, it has guided their reactions when I have fallen short in my responsibilities to document their ministries as part of a living record of the Restoration.

My job has also afforded me the opportunity to receive the feedback of others — mostly Latter-day Saints.

Not too long ago, hundreds of Church News readers wrote to me with strong opinions about an article I had published. But when the conversation moved to Twitter, some mocked obvious details of my physical appearance.

Like Worthen pointed out in the Voices conversation, I was already aware of these details. Reading the tweets was difficult. Imagining my children reading them was more difficult. I was grateful my mother was not on Twitter.

It hurt.

During April 2021 general conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said conflict, contention and general incivility abound in the world today.

“We are ... facing a kind of third world war that is not a fight to crush our enemies, but a conscription marshaling the children of God to care more about each other and to help heal the wounds we find in a conflicted world,” he said.

In the same general conference, Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said kindness is a fundamental, healing gospel principle that can repair broken hearts emotionally, spiritually and even physically.

We should remember the words of the Primary song “I’m Trying To Be Like Jesus”: “Love one another as Jesus loves you. Try to show kindness in all that you do,” said Elder Stevenson.

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In January 2022, as remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic were still marching forward, President Russell M. Nelson gave Latter-day Saints a beautiful charge.

“Resolve to be kind to others,” he wrote on his social media pages. “When the Savior Jesus Christ visited the Americas, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, one of the first things He taught was the need to eliminate contention in our lives. So, please be compassionate, be understanding, be slow to judge and be quick to forgive.”

It is the same lesson I learned from Cox, Dew and Worthen. In a world where we can say much on social media and in other ways — maybe we should say less. First and foremost, we should always be kind.

Surrounded by conflict, contention and incivility, the way we interact matters. The things we say about one another have great power — power to hurt or to heal.

We can say that words just bounce off us. But the reality is different.

Thick skin does not exist. 

— Sarah Jane Weaver is editor of the Church News

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