Episode 58: The positive power of President Nelson’s #GiveThanks invitation one year later

One year ago on Nov. 20, 2020, amid the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extended a global invitation of hope, healing and unity. He invited people everywhere, regardless of faith and circumstance, to share their gratitude on social media with the hashtag #GiveThanks. Within the first hour of the video release, it was viewed more than a million times; the #GiveThanks hashtag was trending on Twitter in the United States at No. 1 and by the end of the day was No. 2 worldwide.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Deseret News’ Director of Content Promotion Stevi Ginolfi, who reviews the impact of the #GiveThanks movement and shares how she accepted the Prophet’s challenge to cultivate the healing power of gratitude.

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Transcript

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: I don’t remember another campaign like President Nelson’s, in just the immediacy of it catching on, you know? It was like, he released that video, and then everyone was giving thanks.

Stevi Ginolfi: And what’s really interesting is: President Nelson broke the algorithms, which was so fun and cool to see. You see somebody who has the power to make a movement, that was him in that time. It opened connection again.

0:47  

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One year ago, on Nov. 20, 2020, amid the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, extended a global invitation of hope, healing and unity. He invited people everywhere, regardless of faith or circumstance, to #GiveThanks. He asked them to do that through prayer and through posting on social media. Within the first hour of the video release, it had been viewed more than a million times. On Twitter, within hours, #GiveThanks was trending in the United States at No. 1; and by the end of the day, it was trending at No. 2 worldwide. 

This episode of the Church News podcast features Deseret News Director of Content Promotion Stevi Ginolfi. Stevi has responsibility for Church News social media accounts, including Church News Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Today, she joins us to talk about social media as a powerful communications tool and how President Nelson’s historic #GiveThanks message actually broke the social media mold. Welcome to the Church News podcast, Stevi.

Read more: One year after #GiveThanks, Church members express gratitude again for a prophetic invitation

Stevi Ginolfi: Thank you.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Why don’t we just start and have you tell us a little bit about your job, so we know how you came to analyze and understand this very unique message.

Stevi Ginolfi: Yep. So I am the director of content promotion for Deseret News and Church News, and that sounds like a whole lot of “what?” But basically, what that means is, it’s a whole bunch of throwing stuff at a board and seeing what hits and seeing what people resonate with. And you do learn your audience and you know what they’re gonna like, and I don’t know if you’re gonna like this podcast, guys, but that’s OK. I’m here. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Tell us how you prepare for such a unique role.

2:52  

Stevi Ginolfi: A business social media is a lot different than a personal social media, and those are good and bad things. There’s — with the business social media, there’s a lot of not-fun stuff. It’s not just like, “Hey, look at this fun video.” There’s articles that are really serious, and they have to be dealt with in a way that is respectful. And then there’s really fun articles. With the Deseret News, I, in the matter of two minutes, I can have an article about a Bones or No Bones Day of a dog, of whether he’s feeling good that day; and then the next minute I have some sort of accident where somebody has passed away. And so being able to deal with those both in the respectful manner that they deserve and reach the audiences that want that content in the way that it should be seen.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Stevi, before we go into this in too much detail, I want to remind our listeners of President Nelson’s prophetic and historical invitation and take just a few minutes and listen to an excerpt of that in his own words.

3:58  

President Russell M. Nelson: There is no medication or operation that can fix the many spiritual woes and maladies that we face.

There is, however, a remedy — one that may seem surprising — because it flies in the face of our natural intuitions. Nevertheless, its effects have been validated by scientists as well as men and women of faith.

I am referring to the healing power of gratitude.

As a doctor, I know the value of good therapy. So, dear friends, may I prescribe two activities to help us experience the healing power of gratitude?

First, I invite you — just for the next seven days — to turn social media into your own personal gratitude journal. Post every day about what you are grateful for, who you are grateful for and why you are grateful. 

At the end of seven days, see if you feel happier and more at peace. Use the hashtag #GiveThanks. Working together, we can flood social media with a wave of gratitude that reaches the four corners of the earth. Perhaps this will fulfill, in part, the promise God gave to Father Abraham, that through his descendants, “all families of the earth [shall] be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Second, let us unite in thanking God through daily prayer. Jesus Christ taught His disciples to pray by first expressing gratitude to God, and then petitioning Him for the things we need. Prayer brings forth miracles.

As I pray, I hope you will feel inspired to do the same, pouring out your heart in gratitude for the countless blessings God has given you, and petitioning Him to heal our hearts, our families, our societies and the world at large.

President Nelson invites us to #GiveThanks. Read his full message on the ‘healing power of gratitude’

Sarah Jane Weaver: And that was President Nelson’s historic #GiveThanks invitation that was shared Nov. 20, 2020, just before Thanksgiving last year. And Stevi, I’m so glad that you were willing to come on the Church News podcast and talk about this message, as we again approach Thanksgiving in the United States.

6:54  

Stevi Ginolfi: And what’s really interesting is President Nelson broke the algorithms, which was so fun and cool to see. You see somebody who has the power to make a movement, that was him in that time. I specifically remember seeing posts from people that I knew I was friends with, but I hadn’t seen a post from them in years. The sheer mass push of these #GiveThanks posts from everybody overwhelmed Facebook and Twitter and all these things, and they had to show it. It was there, it was what the people were giving them, and it was really powerful and cool to see all of these things come through, and really, him giving people the power to share their actual true self rather than their, “Here’s my social media presence, I have to be very hands-off, I have to look perfect. My sister-in-law’s way better than me, so I never post, because the pumpkins she did were so much prettier than mine. So I can’t post mine.” He kind of gave everybody the OK to, “Hey, you can post right now, and you can be grateful for these things, and that’s a good thing.”

President Russell M. Nelson records a video message on the healing power of gratitude, which was shared on social media on Nov. 20, 2020.
President Russell M. Nelson records a video message on the healing power of gratitude, which was shared on social media on Nov. 20, 2020. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I was so intrigued by the timing of this message. You know, we’re coming up — it was released before Thanksgiving in the United States, but the pandemic had been going on so much longer at this time than anyone had anticipated. We still did not have word of vaccines available to the general public. We were starting to glimpse that maybe healthcare workers and teachers would be able to get vaccinated, but I think most of us didn’t really see an immediate end of the pandemic for us. I think people had been isolated. I think they’d spent a year where they were fearful, and suddenly now they’re turning their thoughts to something that was so different than those thoughts.

8:56  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yes. 100%. It opened connection again, because I think when we’re looking at social media, a lot of the times we think of it as a bulletin board or something where you’re like, “Hey, here’s what I did.” But it really opened it up to be a communication tool and a connection tool of people who you haven’t been able to see for so long, and you have been stuck in your house, and you are finally able to talk to those people. Like I said, I saw people on my feed that I hadn’t seen forever, and I was able to reconnect with those people, and it was really powerful. The thing, though, that I think was the most powerful is that the Brethren themselves were really genuine with what they were grateful about, which really, I think, broke the mold of social media. When we listen to President Nelson’s address and his invitation, he spoke of his wife passing away and his daughters passing away, and that was powerful. I vividly remember just sobbing through that because he was so genuine and open about these terrible events and his gratitude towards them and what came from them, and that opened the door for us to be open about those things that we don’t tell people all the time. But those things are what connect you to other people. Those shared experiences — they are how you connect with somebody, and they’re the reason that you’re not going to fight with them on Facebook, but those are the reasons that you build those connections where you’re OK if you have differences, because those shared experiences are stronger and more powerful than any differences you have. 

So, all of these #GiveThanks messages of people being open and vulnerable and really sharing the parts of their life that they may be hiding, allowed them to connect with other people in a way that they hadn’t been able to for the entire year because they’ve been stuck in their house. So I think not only was it powerful just to see how fast it spread, but it was powerful for the connections that people were able to make.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I’m always intrigued by the contradictions of social media, because, you know, on one side, you have this very, very powerful tool, like Facebook, where people can actually stay in touch with those that they don’t see on a regular basis, that they haven’t seen in a while; and yet, research shows that, oftentimes, especially with teenagers, the more time they spend on social, the more isolated they feel.

In a video on Nov. 20, 2020, President Russell M. Nelson invited people everywhere, regardless of faith and circumstance, to share their gratitude on social media with the hashtag #GiveThanks.
In a video on Nov. 20, 2020, President Russell M. Nelson invited people everywhere, regardless of faith and circumstance, to share their gratitude on social media with the hashtag #GiveThanks. Credit: Shutterstock

11:33  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, and that’s the thing, is I just feel like most of it is because people aren’t being open and honest on there, and these teenagers aren’t able to decipher that. They’re looking at this post and saying, “Oh, this influencer is gorgeous,” or me, as a young mother, I’m looking at these people’s houses and going, “How in the heck is your house clean?” I work full time, I have a toddler, there’s not a second that my house is clean. I cleaned my house on Saturday, and I looked at my husband and I said, “I love the three minutes when our house is clean,” and it doesn’t even last three minutes. So I think with teens are not able to decipher the difference between what somebody is posting on there and what actually happened. So you may post this really cute video of your toddler on the day you had, and you’re not going to include the video of them when they ran away from you or when they were screaming at you or those things. And so, that’s the part that you’re talking about with just social media being a juxtaposition of craziness, of perfect lives, and then when somebody does open up and is showing the real them, that’s where the power is. That’s what I think came out of the #GiveThanks movement.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well and you know, in 2017, at BYU Women’s Conference, Elder Gary E. Stevenson gave a talk about social media, and he actually warned people against debilitating comparisons on social media. And so, I thought that President Nelson’s message was so important because it seemed to transcend all comparisons. It seemed like whatever anyone said was OK at the time.

13:12  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, and that was the thing, is it wasn’t: “Tell everybody that you are grateful for the Church or the gospel or this specific thing.” It was, “It could be for your pains, for your sorrows, for your joys, for whatever it is, tell us what you’re grateful for; and in return, you’ll be opened with realizing how much more there is for you to be grateful for.” I think the power of positivity and gratitude is the most underutilized and under-understood thing that we have in this world. It really can turn your day around.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’m so glad that you talked about the healing power of gratitude, because there’s a professor at the University of California, Davis — he’s dedicated his career to studying gratitude. His name is Robert A. Emmons, and he actually has several conclusions that happen as we focus on gratitude, and he found that those who keep a gratitude journal on a weekly basis feel better about their lives as a whole than those who don’t; and, you know, isn’t it interesting that that was one of the things that President Nelson asked us to do, to make social media our gratitude journals? Emmons says that those who are grateful are more likely to make progress towards important goals, so it actually impacts your ability to move forward in life. He says young adults who are intentionally grateful every day report alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy. So it’s got to make us feel better about ourselves. I think being negative is an energy draw. It just takes so much energy to be negative all the time. And then he says, “Those who are grateful are more likely to help someone with a personal problem or to offer emotional support.” And this last one you’ll appreciate because you have little kids, but he says, “Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes towards school and towards their own family.”

15:09  

Stevi Ginolfi: So, if you realize that in your own life and the interactions you have, you hold that same power. You get to do that to other people, you get to lift them up with gratitude towards them, and let them learn that they can do that to themselves as well. I think that’s the thing that is the hardest is, yeah, it’s really easy to show gratitude to somebody else; but looking inward, and having gratitude for yourself in your situation is a lot harder than looking at somebody else and giving gratitude towards them.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and the word gratitude comes from the Latin root word “gracia,” and it actually means grace and mercy and thankfulness. When you talk about gratitude with the idea of grace: We need to show grace for other people, we need to actually extend some mercy and some understanding. What President Nelson was saying, and what the research out of California suggests, is that we really need to be intentional when we’re grateful.

President Russell M. Nelson invited listeners to use social media to #GiveThanks, with the digital expressions to double as one’s personal journal of gratitude.
President Russell M. Nelson invited listeners to use social media to #GiveThanks, with the digital expressions to double as one’s personal journal of gratitude. Credit: Shutterstock

16:09  

Stevi Ginolfi: And you’re giving yourself that grace and that mercy, and you’re letting yourself know it’s OK. It’s OK to be grateful for part of a situation, even if you totally messed up. But if you learned from it, that’s all you can ask from yourself, is to get better. And so, being grateful for that situation because you learned something from it is huge. And I think that it holds such a power for you to not only give gratitude to others, but to give it to yourself.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I started my career in 1995. When I started working as a reporter and editor for the Church News that year, we would write stories and we would publish them in a print product. That was it. That was how we connected with our reader. We got very little feedback. When we did get feedback, it was in the form of printed letters that people mailed to us. You think about that now, and it’s so interesting that social media allows us almost instant feedback, because suddenly, the internet comes on, and people who are consuming content have a choice. They don’t just have to take what journalists think is important and put in a print product. They actually get to choose what they read; they get to choose how they connect with other people and with the content they want to view. And so, let’s just talk a little bit about how social media changed so much of how all of us view the world.

17:36  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, you’re totally right. Instead of, “Here’s your news, read it,” it is now: “Here’s the library of news, pick what you want to consume.” And you can also then conversate about that with your friends and your family or random people on the internet and add to that article or news that you are reading. It’s interesting because, I think, it gives everybody more power. You, as the commenters, do have a lot of power for us to see things, or we’ll see that there’s a hole that if people are interested in the story and we’ll say, “Hey, we need to write about that, because the same question is coming up, and obviously people aren’t finding that answer anywhere, we should do a story on that.” So you, as the writer, haspower to have a connection with your readers; and you, as the reader, has power because you get to give instant feedback, which was not a thing back in the day unless you wrote a letter and mailed it a couple days later — and by that point, they’re like, “I can do a correction, but that’s about it.” Now it’s a lot more give and take between everybody within the social media universe.

Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

Sarah Jane Weaver: And those who are reading an article, if there’s something that they don’t like about it, have a voice to make a comment and say, “Hey, have you thought about this?” or “Maybe this isn’t quite right,” or often they’ll even correct our spelling errors.

19:00  

Stevi Ginolfi: And that happens a lot with Spanish and Portuguese, where the translation that we did is technically correct, but we see that the people from a certain area take it a different way because of the slang that they have. And then we need to go in and say, “This is technically correct, but do we need to change it?” It gives us a lot to learn and helps us grow to become better at our jobs.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I started my career, and I thought in order to be an effective communicator, I need to write at least 800 words on a topic. I actually have a sweet spot for articles: It’s somewhere between 800 and 1,200 (words), I feel like that’s the amount of words it takes for me to really effectively communicate something. And so I was a late adapter to Twitter, because you have one sentence; you have one thought that may or may not resonate, and it feels like such a different medium to communicate.

19:56  

Stevi Ginolfi: No, that’s so true, and that’s funny because to me, I love short sentences. One of the things I get to do in my job is help with headlines to make sure that a headline is getting across the point of the story, but is also interesting to people. But that’s the joy of social media — is there is a social media for each different type of person. If you are just photography-based and you just want to let your images speak, Instagram is there for you, and you don’t have to use a caption there. If you have never taken a photo in your life and you’re like my husband, who — I look at his phone, and he has three photos in there, and they’re ones I sent him and he saved — there’s completely different people, like Twitter’s probably more in his game where it’s just words. And then you have Facebook, which is kind of a little bit of everything. But yeah, you find that place and that’s the thing with us for Deseret News and Church News is we’re in all of those places, hoping to reach those different people with the different attitudes towards social media and life, and trying to get to them the stories from the Church News and the gospel and different things like that. And that’s what was something that was really fun about #GiveThanks is it wasn’t just members of the Church who were doing it. I vividly remember seeing people that I grew up with that are Catholic that started to participate in it. And it was so fun to see that, that we didn’t own this message, we were just trying to make the world have a better week, and to be grateful and to feel the positivity that comes from that. And it caught on and people all over the world did it, and it was fun, and it was powerful, and I was a little sad when it stopped.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And it did seem to transcend race, gender, religion, all the things that seem to often superficially divide us. Suddenly, there seemed to be this unity everywhere. On my own feed, I was seeing tons of #GiveThanks messages from my teenagers. And I have daughters that were at BYU, and they were participating, all the way to President M. Russell Ballard, who is Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and 92 last year, at this time — he just celebrated his 93rd birthday — but he also weighed in and shared a #GiveThanks message. 

22:14  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, it was so fun to see the different types of things that people were grateful for because they were in different stages of their lives, or just completely different people. But to see those connections that happened — and that was the thing is, you’re like, you looked at any of these people’s messages and they’re all so different, but you could take something from each of those #GiveThanks that resonated with you in your personal life and made you spark a moment of: “Oh, I’m grateful for that too in my life,” which I think was superpowerful. It opened your eyes to all of these things that you can and should be grateful for in your own life. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, I do remember Sister [Reyna Isabel] Aburto. She wrote about how grateful she is for the Savior Jesus Christ, and that she’s constantly reminded that she receives His love in return; and I thought, “That was such a sweet message.” President Ballard talked about families, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong talked about gratitude for his health. And then we saw so many people jumping on the bandwagon outside of traditional Latter-day Saints circle. So this was a message that seemed to resonate worldwide.

23:23  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah. And it was much needed, especially in the United States, because it was coming right off the heels of a very contentious presidential election that I, literally every day, would tell my interns: “Don’t take these comments too seriously. This is not the world. This is a very tiny, tiny aspect within the world.” And if you were to have a conversation with one of those individuals who seems very upset there’s a lot more to that person than this upset moment that they’re having in this comment thread. You can connect with that person in a vast amount of ways that you have no idea from that one comment. So, that’s the part that you have to be very careful about with social. So, that is why I’m so happy when I see people be open and honest and real on social media, because you’re breaking that wall of the perfect or the trolling or being perfect on social media, and you’re getting to a place of realness. And that’s the place where you can have those connections and you can then understand people more than just the one aspect. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And, you know, a year later, things are a lot different. There’s a lot of hope. There’s a lot of optimism. There’s so much going on in the world that we’re grateful for. We’re starting to gather again. Latter-day Saints are going back to church and able to participate in very meaningful ways; and yet, our social media feeds are still full of contention and talk about masks and talk about vaccines and talk about politics. How do we transcend all of that?

25:05  

Stevi Ginolfi: That is a great question, and one that I wish I had the answer for, because me and my team read lots of lots of comments and there are some very mean comments out there, and there are people who are fighting and things like that. And really, I think what it is, is everybody is putting intention in the other person’s mind and the other person’s comment, and we’re missing the fundamentals of understanding and empathy within these conversations. People are yelling into the void, and they are not listening to what’s coming back to them — and I’m not saying that anybody is right or wrong — what I’m saying is it’s really great to listen to the other person, and to try to at least understand their point of view, and if at the end of the day, you say, “I absolutely disagree with you, and I think that that’s the wrong decision, but I’m still going to love you and I’m still going to respect you.” That’s the part that’s missing. There’s just so many comments of, “My way is the only way,” and that’s not the case. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: So when you use the term listening, we need to listen better on social media — part of that is realizing that as human beings, we’re made up of so many more things than we may see on a social media profile or on a social media post.

26:36  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, I think some of my favorite interactions are ones where I go, “Oh boy, here we go,” because people are yelling at each other, and by the end of their little thread, they’ve apologized to each other, and they’ve been like, “Hey, thanks so much, it was great to talk to you.” And those are the most powerful, because sometimes I’m like, “I do not know how we got from this point A to this point B, but I’m glad we got there.” So I think those — that’s what I’m talking about is listening, is if somebody says something and you say something back, you guys then have committed to each other that you’re going to actually listen to each other, and you’re not just gonna yell at each other, because if you just continue to comment-yell at each other, there is no end.

Sarah Jane Weaver: That’s one of my favorite things that I see on Church News, especially on Church News Facebook and Twitter, where there are times when actually someone says something that could be taken one way or another, and the times I love it the most is when other Latter-day Saints jump in and share context or share their testimony or provide additional information and insight, and move the conversation to a better place, and we see that happening. We also see the reverse of that, where people tear down other people; but so often, if people are able to comment and conversations are able to go on long enough, there is a beautiful resolution, where enough people comment that it sort of changes the holistic view.

28:03  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, and I think that — we get a lot of people who say, “Why don’t you just turn the comments off?” That’s one of the reasons, is we love when we’re able to see people form those connections and understand each other and have empathy. And you see people who, the person who commented something that was taken the wrong way, and they respond back and go: “Oh, that’s not what I meant at all. I’m so sorry.” For us, it’s really empowering for us to be able to be a space where people can connect and learn from each other and hopefully form good connections. Does that happen every time? Absolutely not. But it is our hope that we’re letting people learn from each other and have empathy and have understanding. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’m so glad you brought that up, because people do wonder that question a lot: Why does Church News, an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, allow comments? And it’s because it gives people a place to have meaningful conversations. It gives them a place to ask questions and to have people respond to those questions; and hopefully, it gives them a place to do that where their faith isn’t questioned, their commitment isn’t questioned, where they feel safe being vulnerable. And also it takes them out of the place where their friend group may all think the way they do, or where they’re in a chat for advocacy for a certain cause where everyone thinks the same, and if we can provide a safe place where all opinions can live together within a realm where we do not criticize The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its leaders, its policies or its doctrine, then we totally support that. My producer, KellieAnn, she pulled some quotes that were actually reported on medium.com right after this invitation was extended, but one that stood out to me was so sweet. It was from a person who says: “I’m not a member of this church. I was raised Lutheran, but I couldn’t love this message more, especially this year.” And then she said some of her friends who were not members of the Church, also, “expressed gratitude for this message of peace and Thanksgiving in stressful and trying times.” And she goes on to say she’s grateful for food and shelter and warmth and safety. And you think about all of those things, people turning to those directions after such a dark and long, kind of dreary year.

An image of the Church News app.
An image of the Church News app. Credit: Church News

30:40  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, and I think this is outside of #GiveThanks — it was a couple of years prior — but I vividly remember one day I had had endometriosis, and I had had surgery, and then I kind of recovered up in Park City, and I was looking to post on Instagram, and I was picking all these cute pictures from us up in Park City, and then there was this picture of me in a hospital gown. And I just went: “Why don’t I post that? Why am I going to post all of this pretty Park City stuff that happened after my surgery, but I’m leaving out that that’s a huge aspect of my life?” And so I did it. I wrote a big long comment about having endometriosis, and praying that the surgery would work, because it was an exploratory surgery. And I was like, “I don’t want to pay for the surgery and find out that there’s nothing wrong, but I had the faith to go through with it, and then I did end up having endometriosis.”

And the thing that was amazing is there was so many girls that I know, that I grew up with, that have that same issue. And I think that was a really powerful turning point in my life to be open and honest, because there are people who are too scared to do that, and so I’m fine being open and honest about my life, and I’m fine with that. So I felt like, for me, it showed me that I should do that, because it lets other people do it. And so because of that, I’ve had multiple miscarriages, and I’ve been open about that. And so being able to be open and honest, will give you the experiences to learn from people that are in your inner circle and realize that they go through the same things. And they may not have the strength to be able to be open about it, but if you give them that open door, they are so grateful to be able to talk about it. And I’ve had so many conversations with people who have never talked about it, but I have long conversations with them about their miscarriages and things that they’ve gone through. And it’s really strengthened these relationships with people that I didn’t think I had much in common with.

And so, that’s something that I have seen over and over again in my life is just if you allow yourself to be open with others, it gives them the ability to be open, and in return, and you’re able to be grateful for the experiences you had and also learn from the experiences that other people had. And the gratitude then brings more positivity into your life and more connection, and it just grows. And so, I’ve just seen that time and time again, and I am grateful for it, that I’ve been able to realize that genuine realness holds a power and especially a power on social media.

Sarah Jane Weaver writes about an experience she had when she was a 9-year-old student in Mrs. Bonnie Oettli's third grade class.
Sarah Jane Weaver writes about an experience she had when she was a 9-year-old student in Mrs. Bonnie Oettli’s third grade class. Credit: Courtesy Sarah Jane Weaver

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and certainly this vulnerability that we’re talking about does foster empathy and understanding. You know, I responded to the #GiveThanks message. I wrote an article about a third grade teacher that I had. Third grade was a hard year for me. My mother spent a lot of time in the classroom that year, and one day, my third grade teacher actually made me rewrite an essay over and over and over again. And it was on a thought for the week, and the thought was “Today’s the first day of the rest of your life.” And I couldn’t understand it, and I missed recess and I went home that night, and I put something together. And when I took it back to my teacher the next day, she looked at me, and she said, “You know, Sarah, someday you’re gonna see me on an elevator, and you’re gonna thank me for teaching you how to write.” Now, if anyone has ever personified ingratitude, it was me at that moment, because I told her: “I won’t do that. I will never thank you.” And yet, as I reflected on that moment, so many years later, I realized it was a hinge point in my life. Someone had told me that I respected that I could write, and I believed her, and then I went forward with the idea that maybe I should do that as a career. Now the thing that was so cool is after that article ran, I started hearing from other people that were in that third grade classroom, and they had seen the year a little different. They used words like “magical” and “charming,” and they had connected with this teacher in a way that I had not. And then a woman reached out to me and said: “I know your teacher that you’re talking about. She’s a good friend of mine,” and I was able to message my teacher, and thank her in person. And we communicated back and forth. I sent her a Christmas gift. I was able to put her in touch with other people who reached out to me about how charming the year was. And suddenly, my year ended with a new friend, a new connection to a former teacher, and a lot of connections to former students that had been classmates of mine. And we suddenly had something in common, we each wanted to talk about what third grade was like.

35:50  

Stevi Ginolfi: Oh, my gosh, that’s adorable. And I also love that you were like, “No, I’m not gonna do that.” And she was right, you did do it. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: I did do it, and I actually did it in print. I said: “Look, I want you to know that I have never seen you on an elevator, but thank you for teaching me how to write. It has defined everything that means a lot to me in my life.” I think all of us, if we look back, we’ll see those moments where we totally understand that somebody did something for us that changed our lives. And if we have gratitude and the ability to see it and to appreciate it, it actually will change our future. You know, I remember thinking about that quote: “Today’s the first day of the rest of your life.” Well, it has new meaning in context of #GiveThanks, because it means every single day, we get to choose to be intentionally grateful.

Read more: The revelatory process behind President Nelson’s #GiveThanks video

36:48  

Stevi Ginolfi: It’s very true. Yeah. You’re just able to really connect with people on social media in a way that we weren’t able to in the past. Like in the past, how would you have found that third grade teacher, unless they were able to see it? So it really opens doors that weren’t there before. Are there also scary doors and trolls and mean things out there, too? Yes. Not saying that social media is this perfect place, because we all know it’s not. We had President Nelson say to get on social media for seven days, and you’ve also had him say to get off social media. So there’s obviously a balance within that. But I think if you’re able to really take it with your eyes wide open there, it is a powerful, powerful tool that can really leave you with more and more experiences, more connections and to enlighten yourself a little bit.

Sarah Jane Weaver: This wasn’t the first time a Church leader has asked us to be very intentional with a campaign on social media. Elder David A. Bednar spoke one year at BYU Education Week and unveiled the term “share goodness.” He said, “Let’s flood social media with goodness, let’s see if we can shift the undertones that make people feel depressed or anxious or contentious.” And so, for so long, we were using that hashtag #ShareGoodness. And yet, I don’t remember another campaign like President Nelson’s, both in its reach and in just the immediacy of it catching on. It was like: He released that video, and then everyone was giving thanks.

38:36  

Stevi Ginolfi: Yeah, and the fun thing was it wasn’t just seven days, because there were people that saw that video the day it went up and started that day, and there were people who caught on four or five days later. So it lasted for a couple weeks, and it was beautiful, really, is the best way to describe it, to see these people share things, and they were big things, from “I’m cancer-free” to little things, to “my newborn slept through the night” — which is not a little thing — but it was so fun to see the differences of these grateful posts and just realize that there is so much in this world to be grateful for.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Do you think we’re gonna see a resurgence of that campaign this November as people start thinking about Thanksgiving and turning their thoughts towards that traditional holiday season?

39:31  

Stevi Ginolfi: I don’t think it could ever be what it was last year, but I do think it could happen again in small little spurts, which — small spurts of happiness are just as great — so I wholeheartedly hope that it does.

Sarah Jane Weaver: What’s your advice for anyone who has their own social media feed? How do you hope that they would use that feed to connect and share and strengthen people?

39:53  

Stevi Ginolfi: One of the keys is to do it and not to have things in your draft, because, like you said, Twitter’s kind of scary, but just put it out there and try it, and if nobody responds, guess what? That’s actually pretty normal. Twitter tweeted one day, and I’m not gonna remember the exact number, but they said something like, “Hey, just so you guys know, five likes is a lot,“ and it was some small number, and I remember going, “Oh, that makes me feel better,” because I’m over here in the train on my personal page of, if I got 10 likes, I was thrilled, and I was justifiably thrilled, because that is a lot of likes. So I loved that — one, Twitter did that, that they let their users know that you don’t have to have hundreds of likes for it to be a powerful or meaningful tweet. And so I would just say to try it and try new things and be open and be honest and ask questions. And even if somebody doesn’t respond to you, that doesn’t mean they didn’t read it and it didn’t mean anything to them.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I remember we had Richard E. Turley — he’s a former Church historian — on the Church News podcast last year right after this invitation was extended, and he talked about what made the invitation historically significant.

41:15  

Richard E. Turley Jr.: One of the things that struck me about this recent invitation that he gave is his statement that he wants us to turn social media into a journal of gratitude. In the past, he’s asked us to take time off, to fast, from social media, so this is interesting to me because in the past, he’s basically said, “Sometimes we overdo the technology.” He’s an early adopter, but he recognizes that we can allow technology to consume our lives. So he’s asked us in the past to fast from technology. Now, he’s told us to take technology and turn it to a good use by making it a journal of gratitude. A lot of times, we have a tendency to look at the negative things in life: Something bad happens to us, we focus on that. But he points out to us that we need to count our blessings and not recount our difficulties, and I think that’s a very powerful statement. And right now, when so many people are turned inward, and focused on the negative, I think an invitation like this to turn outward, and focus on the positive will be very well-received.

Episode 6: Sarah Jane Weaver interviews historian Richard E. Turley Jr. on President Nelson’s #GiveThanks invitation

Sarah Jane Weaver: He also talked about invitations in the past of prophets that had actually stepped up and asked the Church to do something. The thing that was so interesting here is that President Nelson was asking the world to do something, and the world responded, and so I’m so grateful that we had the opportunity to talk about that today. 

We have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we like to give our guests the last word, and ask them to answer the exact same question. And so, Stevi, as we close today, I’m hoping that you can tell us what you know now, after spending so much of your career analyzing and working with social media, and the content that’s published on that, and what you may have observed and learned from the #GiveThanks campaign.

43:02  

Stevi Ginolfi: One post, one comment, one interaction is not a whole human being, and they are so much more than that. And you giving people the benefit of the doubt and empathy is huge, and not letting one comment, one interaction, one social media post ruin a relationship is really important, because, like we talked about, when people started being open and honest, you were able to see how much you had in common with these people. There may be one huge thing that you disagree with, but there’s 800 tiny things that you do agree with. So being open to more than one tiny interaction will open your world to incredible relationships that you didn’t think you’d be able to have. And on top of that, being able to share gratitude within those interactions and giving thanks is huge, because it gives you the power to have positivity in your life and give positivity to others.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halverson, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.