Open the Circle

“Open the Circle,” New Era, Aug. 2003, 33

Open the Circle

A circle can include or exclude. We decide which.

As a Young Women leader, I had been to several New Beginnings programs. But when I went to New Beginnings with my own first daughter, I saw it through new eyes.

As we waited for the program to begin, I couldn’t help wondering what the coming years would hold for my daughter: Would the young women in our ward accept her? Would they be her friends? Would her leaders love her? Would they be her mentors in the challenging times ahead?

After the opening prayer, the older young women and their leaders joined hands in the middle of the room and started singing a beautiful song:

Ours is a circle, a circle of friendship,

and just like a circle, it goes on and on

endless, eternal, this circle of friendship;

enter our circle, for here you belong.1

Then each 16- or 17-year-old young woman took a younger girl by the hand and drew her into the circle too. Again they sang the song, repeating the process until every girl was included.

In the weeks to come, I saw that this song was not an idle promise. It was a symbol for something real and wonderful. The young women in that ward didn’t just accept my daughter; they welcomed her with open hearts. She was treated by the girls her age as an instant new friend, by the older classes as a treasured younger sister, by the leaders as a cherished daughter. How grateful I was—and still am—for those girls and leaders who opened their circle and made my daughter feel wanted, valued, and loved.

I wonder if our Heavenly Father watches us with similar parental concern: Will we open our circles to include each of His children?

Of course, we all know that circles can just as easily work to keep people out. Maybe you have moved into a new ward or school or class where the established members of the circle communicated the message of a children’s rhyme: “Tick-tock, the game is locked, and nobody else can play.” Most of us have known the painful experience of being kept on the outside fringe of a circle.

“It’s Better to Be Nice”

How can we make sure that our circles include, rather than exclude? It starts with a very simple realization: kindness is one of the main characteristics we are here on earth to learn. I know a family of extremely talented children. Academics, music—you name it; they do it well. Once when I was complimenting them, their mother said something I’ve never forgotten: “I’ve always taught my kids that it’s fine to be smart, but it’s better to be nice.”

Thinking about it, I realized she was right. I admire her children’s talents. But the real reason I value these children is that I can’t imagine any of them putting down someone else to gain social advantage. They are as kind as anyone I know.

Maybe this is what the Lord values most too. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul’s famous talk on charity: Though I am at the top of my class and know all my scripture mastery verses and am the star of my soccer team and organize a major service project and play several musical instruments, if I don’t treat others kindly, all my accomplishments don’t count for much (see 1 Cor. 13:1–3).

Keeping Competition in Its Place

One young woman had worked hard for years to excel in basketball, and she is the sort of person people love for her kindness. But when she was named to the all-state basketball team as a sophomore, something strange happened. Suddenly her teammates on her high school team stopped passing the ball to her.

Why? Possibly because it can be hard to include those we think of as rivals. Competition—vying for something that is in short supply—is an enemy of inclusiveness. And, face it, life can be competitive. So when someone else wins an honor that you would have liked, it may be hard to be happy for him or her.

On the other hand, it may be tempting to exclude those we view as less competent and successful than we are. But no one belongs outside the circle of our Father’s love—or ours.

Heavenly Father doesn’t see life as a big competition between His children, with winners and losers—and neither should we. In fact, He has told us that He has intentionally given us each different gifts and abilities so we can share them with each other (see D&C 46:11–26).

When we feel secure in the Lord’s love for us, we can see others as brothers and sisters, not as rivals who either challenge our success or don’t measure up to it.

Taking the Lead

Circles have a natural resistance to change. The familiarity of a known group of friends can feel comfortable and comforting. It’s nice when you know pretty much what to expect from the group and from each member of it. So accepting someone else into your circle can shake things up.

That’s why it sometimes takes a leader to overcome a group’s natural reluctance to include someone new. This kind of leadership doesn’t require a calling from the bishop. Actually, it’s a calling we all have, and it comes directly from the Lord: “Let every man esteem his brother as himself” (D&C 38:25; emphasis added).

This verse also contains the key to how to include others. Think about how you would like to be treated at church or at school and treat others the same way. Would you like to be left sitting on a row by yourself in your priesthood quorum? If not, take the lead and sit by the new deacon for as many weeks as it takes for him to know that you’re glad he’s there. Would you like to be invited to join a group that plays sports together? If so, invite someone new to join you.

In Our Hands

One brave little girl showed me how powerful one person who takes the lead in including others can be. It was her second week of third grade at a new school, and she saw another girl about her age crying during recess. This girl was going to be repeating a grade, and her last year’s classmates were now her tormentors.

Immediately, my little friend walked over to the girl who had been teased. But even though she had no friends herself, she did not walk into that cruel circle empty-handed. From deep within her own kind heart, she had comfort to offer the crying girl. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ve missed a whole year of school, so my parents are holding me back too.” Needless to say, those two will be friends forever.

A circle can be a terrible or a wonderful thing. Which it turns out to be is in our hands.

A True Friend

Elder Marlin K. Jensen

“Our Savior, shortly before His Crucifixion, said to His disciples: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends’ (John 15:13–14). Having been so richly blessed by Christ’s friendship, I pray that we will now be to others what He is to us: a true friend. At no time will we be more Christlike than when we are a friend. … I know that when we offer ourselves in friendship, we make a most significant contribution to God’s work and to the happiness and progress of His children” (“Friendship: A Gospel Principle,” Ensign, May 1999, 65).
—Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy

Photography by Steve Bunderson, posed by models