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Devotionals

Be Compassionate, Be Understanding


Bula Vinaka, and Aloha!

Thank you, Taufa, for the introduction. It's always comforting to have Taufa by my side, especially today when I am both happy and a little terrified to be standing here. (I’m almost open to have the power get cut on me.)

I want to first thank President Kauwe and the President's Council for the opportunity to speak to you today. Vinaka Vakalevu. I have to admit that on receiving the invitation to speak, there was some hesitance and self-doubt. One of the first things that came to my mind was the Kris Kristofferson song “Why Me Lord.” (Some of our more seasoned members of the audience may remember this old number). In my questioning, I felt that I had sufficiently kept my head down and been low-key while paddling within our faculty wa‘a.1 But I know the Lord works in mysterious ways, and we know not when the master of the house cometh. So, I repented of my childish ways and accepted the invitation to speak, and I can truly echo the sentiments of many of my colleagues that have stood at this pulpit– that it’s a pleasure and a blessing to be here.

As a child of Oceania, it is only proper to start with family and genealogy. I was born of good parents, Michael and Caroline Whippy. I have paternal links to Wainunu in Bua, Vanua Levu, and maternal links to Laucala in Rewa and Leone in Samoa. My mother is a devout Christian, and though not part of our religion – I have fond memories of her helping me with primary assignments, writing talks for me, and supporting me on my mission. My family and I have been blessed to have many of my mother’s family here in Hawaii with us in the Uperesa’s, the Lolotai’s, and the Saaga’s. Thank you for always looking out for us.

Whippy isn’t the most traditional Fijian last name. The family name was introduced to Fiji in 1824 by my ancestor, conveniently named David Whippy. From Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, he sailed to Fiji to procure sandalwood, tortoise shells, and Beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) for the Chinese markets. Left in Fiji, he became proficient in the Fijian language and trusted by the indigenous chiefs. He was given the traditional title, Mata Ki Bau, which translates to "Herald of the (kingdom of) Bau." In 1846, David became the first United States vice-consul to Fiji, serving as a mediator, intermediary, and translator between the incoming sailors and the local Fijians.2 He was characterized as being trustworthy, well-behaved, responsible, and intelligent – attributes that I try to live up to daily.

One neat bit of history before I move on. On many occasions, my ancestor David would have crossed paths with a sailor by the name of William Augustus Rowan, owing to historical records showing them being in the same place around the same time. Rowan was also involved in the Beche-de-mer trade and made many voyages between New England, Fiji, and China. William Augustus Rowan is the ancestor of current BYU–Hawaii faculty member and psychologist Dr. Eric Orr. Dr. Orr and I cross paths regularly now as neighbors at Laie Point.

My father, and my Uncle Paul, joined the church in 1977. They were introduced to the Church through basketball, where they played with members like Hiagi Wesley, Alex Lobendahn, and Jone Sokia. Rian Nelson, serving as a missionary then in Suva Fiji was instrumental in my father and uncle joining the church. My uncles William, Jesse, and David joined later. My cousins Marj, Leonard, and Marques have attended BYU–Hawaii and continue to epitomize the motto seen every day on entering our school "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve".

I can’t not talk about Taufa when talking about my family. Taufa is from Saioko, Nakorotubu in Ra, with maternal links to Udu, Cakaudrove. Taufa and I met in Fiji at the University of the South Pacific. She is a scholar in her own right, gaining degrees in Political Science and Law while balancing motherhood, work, and life. We have built a wonderful life together, with three energetic girls that fill our home with song and dance. Taufa is my rock, my constant supporter, my heart—and I look forward to the eternities with her.

I want to acknowledge my family, my teachers, my mentors, colleagues, and students that are here with me today. You can’t see them on stage, but they are present in my mind through the many hundreds of talanoa sessions, lessons, and exchanges in my life. They have been influential in molding me into the person that I am today.

Finding a topic to speak on was difficult. There have been so many great talks given over the years that every topic seems to have been touched on. The added pressure of following an Apostle of the Lord wasn’t lost on me either. Elder Andersen’s counsel on gospel-centered New Year’s resolutions, repentance, faith and honesty, and the importance of making good choices was exactly what I needed to hear. The topic, however, was still elusive, until I remembered the counsel from Elder Andersen to learn from our children. So, looking for some inspiration and wanting to include them in the process, I turned to my daughters. I sat them down, explained the situation, and felt like I had impressed on them the significance of being a devotional speaker before asking, “What should we talk about?” Isa, my five-year-old, answered almost immediately, “Anything except Bruno- because we don’t talk about Bruno.” Song, dance, and a fiesta quickly followed.

Brothers and sisters, my talk today is not about Bruno, but I do hope it can give you some insights into your future interactions with others. My talk is titled “Be Compassionate, Be Understanding.” The phrase is taken from President Nelson’s second suggestion on New Year’s resolutions, as posted on his social media accounts. In its entirety, it reads,

“Second, resolve to be kind to others. 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.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. As mentioned earlier, Elder Andersen touched on this last week. I pray that the Lord allows me in some small way to make impressions on your heart and mind that lead to a firm resolve to be kind to others.

As an academic, it’s a requirement to define your key terms, and I start with this knowing my Dean is in attendance and reviews are coming up soon. To be kind is defined as:

Behaving in a benevolent, friendly, or warm-hearted manner towards a particular person, group, or animal; considerate or helpful to.3

Many of us are already doing this in our lives, and I commend you for this. But why is it important? Is it ok to be kind for the sake of being kind? Yes. Definitely.

And what are the gospel-related learnings that are related to being kind or exhibiting kindness?

Ephesians 4 asks us to be kind to each other, tenderhearted and forgiving.4 Colossians 3 classifies kindness as a characteristic of the elect of God.5 Doctrine and Covenants Section 4 identifies brotherly kindness as a requisite to qualifying us to preach the gospel. The scriptures have many instances referring to the Lord’s loving-kindness and everlasting kindness on various occasions.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, in an April 2005 General Conference talk, "The Virtue of Kindness" stated:

“Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes…

Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes."6

With this context as background, allow me to now focus on President Nelson’s invitation to "be compassionate, be understanding." I hope it’s not too forward of me to look at this phrase in two separate ways; interculturally and interpersonally. I invite you to reflect and to follow the promptings of the Spirit as you listen today.

Intercultural Compassion and Understanding

In 1972, at the dedication of the Aloha Center on campus, Elder Marion G. Romney remarked on a campus trait that still rings true today, our cultural diversity. He said,

“Because the student body here is such a marvelous and representative group, this college is a living laboratory in which individuals who share the teachings of the Master Teacher have an opportunity to develop appreciation, tolerance, and esteem for one another. For what can be done here interculturally in a small way is what mankind must do on a larger scale if we are to ever have real brotherhood on this earth.”

Within our living laboratory, we are being led and mentored by some of the most chosen of God's children. In their callings, they are teaching you, future leaders, as Alma did Helaman “that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”7

We are an intercultural school and have been envisioned to be this way since our conception. President McKay spoke emotionally of this in his groundbreaking speech in 1955, noting the Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipinos, and all races in attendance.8 This semester, our university’s cultural diversity mirrors President McKay’s words and more. We have students from close to 60 different countries, with our total international student numbers over 2500. The Hawaiians, Japanese, Portuguese, Filipinos are represented. Students from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Aotearoa, and Tahiti fill our campus. We have students from Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, and the Russian Federation. We also have students from Molokai, Seattle, California, and Utah. It's important to recognize that our domestic students also bring their own cultural lens to our academic ecosystem here at BYU–Hawaii. Our intercultural legacy truly lives on today.

But the intricacies of a single culture, different from our own, can be difficult to navigate at times. How many of you have met the hard glare from Aunty for not taking off your slippers at the door, or being shushed by a Hawaiian friend when we start whistling at night? Some of you may have been scolded for your behavior around kupuna, or reprimanded when you unknowingly disrespect Fa’a Samoa (the Samoa Way)?

Compound this with the plethora of cultural individuals that we interact with every day at school, at work, at church – and even in our immediate living spaces. Cultural mishaps are bound to occur. In these moments, I invite you to be compassionate and understanding. To have compassion on the young adult that is now far from the comfort and security of family. To try and understand what they are going through. To be compassionate to the student who is now in a new educational space, and maybe learning a new language. Try to put yourselves in their shoes.

Compassion embodies sympathy, empathy, mercy, and means “to suffer with” as listed by the Later Gospel Bible Dictionary.9 Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles talked on compassion in the October 2021 General Conference stating,

“Compassion is a fundamental characteristic of those who strive for sanctification, and this divine quality intertwines with other Christian traits such as mourning with those who mourn and having empathy, mercy, and kindness. The expression of compassion for others is, in fact, the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ and a marked evidence of our spiritual and emotional closeness to the Savior.”10

We strengthen our relationship with the Savior by choosing to show compassion and understanding for others. In a secular world, this can be termed as cultural fluency. Cultural fluency entails familiarity with cultures; the language and their communication, their relationships, their natures, and their ways of being in the world.11 And good news! As a university ohana, we have been exposed to this cultural education formally and informally for over 65 years.

Many intercultural spaces have not had the longevity that we have enjoyed, the cultural sustainability that has been a part of our legacy. This maintaining of cultural beliefs, practice, and identity has been strengthened in an environment that is built on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In an address titled Bridging Cultural Differences, Eric B. Shumway in his infinite cultural wisdom said,

"At the outset, then, let me say generally that we make no bones about the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of our students, that it supersedes all cultural considerations. The gospel is the point of supreme reference that bridges ethnic chasms in ways the principles of other international organizations cannot.

Of course, the gospel does not eliminate the preferential differences in dress, music, and the arts. In fact, it even seeks to preserve and promote the vast stores of cultural wisdom and beauty which reinforce gospel ideals and give infinite variety and flavor to a people."12

We are indeed a flavorful and vibrant people here at BYU–Hawaii. Our living laboratory has molded noble women and men that have transcended cultural differences to influence the world for good. Your compassion and understanding when witnessing cultural missteps, allows individuals to grow into leaders that are empathetic, tolerant, and people-centered.

Interpersonal Compassion and Understanding

With the gospel as the common ground for many that come to our school, the scriptures serve as a consistent reminder of how the Lord wants us to be in a relationship with others.

John 13: 34-35 reads,

"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another."

Doctrine and Covenants 88:123 and 124 reads,

"See that you love one another; cease to be covetous; learn to impart one to another as the gospel requires."

In Mosiah 18:21, the Prophet Alma commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.

We have been commanded clearly to love one another. And furthermore, love others as the Lord loves us. This love is charity, the pure love of Christ. We are given in commandment “that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing.”13 Charity is the love that Christ has for the children of men and that the children of men should have for one another. In the Greco New Testament, charity is termed agape.

Studying Martin Luther King in his book Strength to Love this past week, my students and I happened on this higher form of love,

"The word is agape, understanding and creative redemptive goodwill for all men. An overflowing love that seeks nothing in return, agape is the love of God operating in the human heart. At this level, we love men not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some type of divine spark; we love every man because God loves him."14

With compassion and understanding as offshoots of charity, of Agape—our interactions with others on campus should be, referring to the President Nelson's new year’s resolution suggestions— done in kindness and without contention. Dare I say, it should be done without frustration and anger, too, for being compassionate and understanding means we would see others as the Lord sees them, and engage with them in this way. It means we would recognize others as children of God, and they would reciprocate this sense, and our interactions would be built on this understanding.

Additionally, recognizing that the Lord knows my strengths, weaknesses, and shortcomings and still loves me, means that I must exhibit this type of love for others as well. This means that knowing the strengths and weaknesses of others, I must put off the natural man and love them as the Savior would love them. It means looking beyond the outward appearance and looking on the heart.15

As I frequently say in my classes, this is easy to say—easy to talk about. The hard part is putting it into action. And I must confess that I have failed many times. I have been compassionate and understanding not from a place of charity, but from a place of courtesy, of being liked, of keeping my reputation. But my testimony has been strengthened by witnessing acts of compassion and understanding every day around me. The administration, the faculty, the staff exemplify this. The students do too. And if you feel you fall short in some way, know that you (and I) can do better.

Before I conclude, I want to share a story of compassion and understanding that was shown to me when I was a student here at BYUH.

In 2012, Taufa and I were living in TVA. We were two months away from our oldest daughter, Avagail, being born. At dinner time, Taufa had a craving for lamb curry. Knowing that I was better at eating curry than cooking it, I put in a call to the now closed—Fiji Market in Kahuku. I gave them my order and was told to come by in twenty minutes. Without a car, twenty minutes was enough time for me to bike to Kahuku. On arriving in Kahuku and riding up to the store, I could see some of my student peers eating on the tables outside. I quickly turned my bike to the service station and locked it up there. I was madua (Fijian meaning embarrassed) to be showing up on a bike. I casually walked up, said hello to my classmates, and went inside the store. On paying for the plate, I asked for a couple of extra bags to better hold the food on my way back. Maybe this was a tell-tale sign for the store owner, Mr. Singh.

He asked how I had traveled and I told him I was alright and that I had transport back. I was still a little madua. I think Mr. Singh saw through this and while unlocking my bike, he pulled up with his van. Before I could insist I was ok, he had carried my bike into the van, put my curry in the front seat, and shortly after we were on our way back to TVA. I thanked him on arrival, tried to pay him for fuel which he wouldn’t take, unloaded my bike, and took the curry triumphantly into the house to Taufa to find her over the craving and not wanting to eat curry. Thanking her for the exercise to Kahuku, I dug into the food and then realized I had left the drinks I had bought back at the Fiji Market. A little frustrated with myself, I started to go about my evening when I heard a knock on the door. Opening it, I found Mr. Singh outside holding up my bag of drinks.

We all have our own Mr. Singh’s in our lives that have shown compassion and understanding when we either don’t expect it or don’t deserve it. These sorts of individuals populate our campus and community. Look for them, learn from them, and go and do. In all of your interpersonal interactions, I invite you to be compassionate and understanding. This builds unity, oneness, and a Zion-like atmosphere of learning. Let’s work together to look beyond the outward appearance of others, beyond their shortcomings and weakness, to recognize their divinity as children of God.

Action

Now being compassionate and understanding towards another, whether interculturally or interpersonally, does not excuse the individual receiving compassion and understating from their own responsibilities and missteps. Showing someone compassion and understanding should not mean consistently being taken advantage of. On the contrary, psychological studies find that showing compassion and understanding, leads to individuals taking more responsibility for their actions.16

The challenge to "Be Compassionate, Be Understanding" is a timely one in a world where many have only seen anger, upheaval, and contention. Experimenting with intercultural and interpersonal compassion and understanding in our living laboratory allows us the continued opportunity to live, lead and build a diverse and united space on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In one of his first talks as President of the university, President Kauwe stated;

"This university is and will continue to be a place where people from across the world gather to be one in Christ and educate and uplift each other. Diversity of culture, experience, and thought is one of our greatest strengths. So too is our striving for unity as children of God bathed in the light of the restored gospel. Diversity and unity work together here at BYU–Hawaii in remarkable ways."17

Brother and Sisters, from this school many of our predecessors have gone on to be influences of good towards the establishment of peace internationally. They have taken with them the learnings from BYU–Hawaii and have made positive contributions to many a field. We truly do stand on the shoulders of giants, and your time is now.

I am grateful to be a part of the faculty and for the small part I play in influencing and empowering young minds. I’m grateful for students who are committed to the marriage of secular and religious learning and have come to BYU–Hawaii for this unique approach to education. I’m grateful for faculty that are world-renowned but have chosen BYU–Hawaii to practice their craft. The school as a whole is blessed because of you. I testify that our leaders are called of God. And that the Lord watches over his work here.

I started this talk hoping that you would get some insights on how to better interact with others. I hope that I have made some small impressions on your heart and mind on how you can be compassionate and understanding to others.

I end my remarks today with one last invitation. Compassion and understanding invite action, or to be acted on. I invite you to follow the promptings of the spirit that you have received today and to act on it.

And I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Notes

1. Waka, canoe

2. David Whippy’s long journey home, Dulcie Stewart, Fiji Times, September 19, 2010

https://fragmentedidentities.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/fiji-times-david-whippy/

3. Oxford English Online Dictionary, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/103445?rskey=KGB5UP&result=2#eid

4. Ephesians 4:32

5. Colossians 3:12

6. The Virtue of Kindness by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, April 2005 General Conference.

7. Alma 37:6

8. Groundbreaking & Dedication, Church College of Hawaii – President David O. Mckay, 12 February 1995

9. Compassion, Bible Dictionary. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/gs/compassion?lang=eng

10. The Saviors Abiding Compassion, Elder Ulisses Soares, October 2021 General Conference

11. What is Cultural Fluency? Urusula Thomas in Disposition and Early Childhood Education Preservice Teachers: A Social Justice Stance, 2017.

12. Bridging Cultural Difference – Eric B Shumway, Ensign, July 1979, 67-71.

13. 2 Nephi 26:30

14. Strength to Love, Martin Luther King, 2010, p.46

15. 1 Samuel 16:7

16. Breines, J. G. & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. DOI: 10.1177/0146167212445599

17. BYU–Hawaii: A Legacy of Remarkable Diversity and Unity, John S. K. Kauwe III, May 12, 2020
https://speeches.byuh.edu/byu-hawaii-a-legacy-of-remarkable-diversity-and-unity