And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.
Not everyone is going to get along. No matter how righteous the leader. Speaking of contentions King Benjamin himself had this to say: "But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah."
We all know the familiar scripture about contention being of the Devil (3 Nephi 11:29).
What I think is not of the devil is a healthy exchange of ideas, perspectives, and thoughts that two people differ on. If we label too many things contention we may suppress differing ideas that would be very beneficial to consider. When I read the scriptures no one gets condemned for believing too much, or for being open to new ideas and perspectives. It's the unwillingness to consider things, it's the false beliefs and traditions that lead to the devilish contention that get folks in trouble. I think it stems from fear.
I wonder what the people of King Benjamin were contending over. Was it differing views on religious principles? Was it their politics? Was it money? Relationships? Interesting to see how different, yet how alike we and they may be. I bet they contended over similar things as we do.
Have you ever experienced an interaction where either you agreed with the other person(s), or else you would unavoidably be labeled as contending against them? You had two options, either agree, or else be labeled contentious. I hate it when I encounter this. It's as if you intended to have a discussion and they were unwilling, so you get labeled as contentious simply because you do not agree. Whether or not you acted in an unkind and disrespectful way, or had any anger, or were at all insecure, it didn't matter.
I think we all know contention, it's angry and will never produce anything that looks like a convert or inspiration. Disputes lead to contention, contention goes right down anger's path, and after that happens learning is unlikely as the mind shuts off.
While thinking about this verse today I came to this conclusion. When insecurity is low, willingness to learn is high, and humility is present, I think the spirit of contention will need to go elsewhere as this environment is contrary to that spirit. Two people can then have extremely different views, discuss them, all while maintaining a friendship and mutual respect throughout. I hope for a culture in which this can happen. I've had many interactions like this so I know it's possible. As part of trying to do what the Book of Mormon teaches I'm going to do this as much as I can.
Too often I think we apply the source of our feelings to someone or something else. We want the problem to be external, that way we don't have to address the part of us that may be wrong, the part that may be hiding insecurity, anger, be uninformed, or emotionally immature. If "they" are the cause of our anger, then that convinces the brain we are not responsible for the reaction.
But what if the trigger is actually within us? Within our heart? If someone else pushes our buttons....it's our own buttons, our own reactions that overtake our mind and heart that we are responsible for. Others are going to do what they are going to do, and some cases it could be malicious. But if we are not insecure and are not fighting to uphold some image, it's far more likely we can respond with charity even when we are greeted with bad.
Counterproductive ways to remove contention I think is to create or require uniformity of idea, opinion, and belief. I see that as a pseudo form of "peace". Our article of faith 11 states "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." Our faith article offers the space for a free system of belief, or spirituality for anyone, and hopefully allows for some diversity, yet unity among ourselves. If we truly believed and lived that, I think we would be doing well at applying King Benjamin's words to beware least contention arises and we list to obey the evil spirit.