5 Highlights for “Hearts Knit Together” by Elder Stevenson

by | May 21, 2021

Gary E. Stevenson

5 Quotes Plus Discussion-Promoting Questions

See also Teaching Helps

Gary E. Stevenson is the apostle I’m least familiar with. It may be his quiet demeanor; nonetheless, his latest General Conference talk left quite an impression on me. I would describe his recent address as “stellar.” Even better, the way it is structured will make a great class discussion.

You might be tempted to play the talk or parts of it; please remember most people do not absorb audio material well in a class setting. People seem to do better when they can focus on smaller sections and talk about it a piece at a time. Also, as good as the bunny visuals are, when you play a video, you miss out on the opportunity to ask someone to read (valuable participation).

His complete talk can be found here. Unless you opt to spend a lot of time on a particular quote, try to pick around 2 questions per quote. Choose the questions which resonate the most with you and which you feel will make a meaningful discussion for your group of personalities. These highlights and questions fit right in with Lesson Template 1 or Template 2. You can also check out several other General Conference Talks with 5 Highlights.

All quotes by Gary E. Stevenson and in blue (unless otherwise noted).

Quote #1 (bunnies)

Elder Stevenson starts with an endearing introductory story about a lab experiment with rabbits. His account sets a solid tone for the whole lesson. I would assign someone ahead of time to read this quote, if possible. (Or tell it in their own words if you prefer.) Even if you ask them at Sacrament meeting or a few minutes before class starts, it improves the experience for everyone. In general, have others read the quotes whenever possible. It helps warm people up for discussion.

In the 1970s, researchers set up an experiment to examine the effects of diet on heart health. Over several months, they fed a control group of rabbits a high-fat diet and monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.

As expected, many of the rabbits showed a buildup of fatty deposits on the inside of their arteries. Yet this was not all! Researchers had discovered something that made little sense. Although all of the rabbits had a buildup, one group surprisingly had as much as 60 percent less than the others. It appeared as though they were looking at two different groups of rabbits.

To scientists, results like this can cause lost sleep. How could this be? The rabbits were all the same breed from New Zealand, from a virtually identical gene pool. They each received equal amounts of the same food.

What could this mean?

Did the results invalidate the study? Were there flaws in the experiment design?

The scientists struggled to understand this unexpected outcome!

Eventually, they turned their attention to the research staff. Was it possible that researchers had done something to influence the results? As they pursued this, they discovered that every rabbit with fewer fatty deposits had been under the care of one researcher. She fed the rabbits the same food as everyone else. But, as one scientist reported, “she was an unusually kind and caring individual.” When she fed the rabbits, “she talked to them, cuddled and petted them. … ‘She couldn’t help it. It’s just how she was.’”

She did more than simply give the rabbits food. She gave them love!

At first glance, it seemed unlikely that this could be the reason for the dramatic difference, but the research team could see no other possibility.

So they repeated the experiment—this time tightly controlling for every other variable. When they analyzed the results, the same thing happened! The rabbits under the care of the loving researcher had significantly higher health outcomes.

The scientists published the results of this study in the prestigious journal Science.

Years later the findings of this experiment still seem influential in the medical community. In recent years, Dr. Kelli Harding published a book titled The Rabbit Effect that takes its name from the experiment. Her conclusion: “Take a rabbit with an unhealthy lifestyle. Talk to it. Hold it. Give it affection. … The relationship made a difference. … Ultimately,” she concludes, “what affects our health in the most meaningful ways has as much to do with how we treat one another, how we live, and how we think about what it means to be human.”

For me, this lays another brick in the foundation of kindness as a fundamental, healing gospel principle—one that can heal hearts emotionally, spiritually, and, as demonstrated here, even physically.

My soul immediately measures the dynamics of my marriage, my family relations and other people to this account.

Possible Questions: How can this story about the rabbits apply to people? (families, marriages, and other relationships) Do we have the capacity to increase the quality of life for each other? What could you do more of (or less of)? What are some specific ways we can show love and affection on a daily basis?

Quote #2 (setting the tone)

Elder Stevenson addresses the Primary children and older youth about being kind to their peers. He specifically mentions teasing and bullying and uses school-age examples. He then turns his attention to us, the adults, and says:

We have a primary responsibility to set a tone and be role models of kindness, inclusion, and civility—to teach Christlike behavior to the rising generation in what we say and how we act. It is especially important as we observe a marked societal shift toward division in politics, social class, and nearly every other man-made distinction.

The Lord expects us to teach that inclusion is a positive means toward unity and that exclusion leads to division.

He also quotes Elder Uchtdorf. This is a great message:

“When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:

“Stop it!”

“Did you hear that? Stop it! As you extend yourself with kindness, care, and compassion, even digitally, I promise that you will lift up arms that hang down and will heal hearts.”

Possible questions: What kinds of situations make it hard to keep a tone of kindness and civility? (Keep a list of the responses.) How can we solve those challenges? Today, we often run into or even find ourselves in the middle of unpleasant discussions regarding gossip, politics, or any modern social issue. What are some non-preachy, peacemaking responses that have worked for you (or others)? What might you do when someone wants to engage in negativity or a verbal scuffle? (Extra reading: The Powerful Response of Silence – includes 4 peacemaking responses in difficult situations – scroll to the end.)

Part #3 (role play)

Possible activity: Do a quick role play. Ask for volunteers to come to the front, give them a tough situation from the list you kept earlier (maybe make up a couple of details, ad lib) have them act it out and see what creative responses they come up with. Ask for more ideas of how to respond to that situation after each role play. Should make for a great discussion. (Ex: Rachel wants to be a vegetarian, but her mom won’t take her seriously. When her mom serves chicken again, Rachel screams at her.) Watch the time and only do as many scenarios as will reasonably fit and still let you close with another quote or two.

Quote #4 (Quincy)

As this world gets darker and more troubled, we will undoubtedly find situations happen around us like the residents of Quincy, Illinois. In what ways can we be more like the residents of Quincy? I love this story Gary E. Stevenson shares.

During the winter of 1838, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were detained in Liberty Jail when the Latter-day Saints were forcibly driven from their homes in the state of Missouri. The Saints were destitute, friendless, and suffering greatly from the cold and lack of resources. The residents of Quincy, Illinois, saw their desperate plight and reached out in compassion and friendship.

Wandle Mace, a resident of Quincy, later recalled when he first saw the Saints along the Mississippi River in makeshift tents: “Some had sheets stretched, to make a little shelter from the wind, … the children were shivering around a fire which the wind blew about so it done them very little good. The poor Saints were suffering terribly.”

Seeing the plight of the Saints, Quincy residents rallied together to provide aid, some even assisting in transporting their new friends across the river. Mace continued: “[They] donated liberally; the merchants vying with each other as to which could be the most liberal … with … pork, … sugar, … shoes and clothing, everything these poor outcasts so much needed.” Before long, the refugees outnumbered the Quincy residents, who opened their homes and shared their meager resources at great personal sacrifice.

Many Saints survived the harsh winter only because of the compassion and generosity of the residents of Quincy. These earthly angels opened their hearts and homes, bringing lifesaving nourishment, warmth, and—perhaps most importantly—a hand of friendship to the suffering Saints. Although their stay in Quincy was relatively short, the Saints never forgot their debt of gratitude toward their beloved neighbors, and Quincy became known as the “city of refuge.”

Possible questions: Have you ever given aid or received aid during a natural disaster? What was that like? How do kind acts, both given and received make us feel? What effect does tenderness and compassion have on us? What opportunities are there to serve in your area? As we prepare ourselves with food storage and supplies, should we plan to share?

Quote #5 (conclusion)

If you still have time left, this is a sweet closing statement by Elder Stevenson. Be sure to follow up with a personal story or observation and testimony of your own.

Let us conclude where we began: a compassionate caregiver, extending herself in kindness with a nurturing spirit, and an unexpected outcome—healing the hearts of animals over whom she had stewardship. Why? Because it was just how she was!

As we look through a gospel lens, we recognize that we too are under the watchcare of a compassionate caregiver, who extends Himself in kindness and a nurturing spirit. The Good Shepherd knows each one of us by name and has a personal interest in us. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep. … And I [will] lay down my life for the sheep.”

Possible Visual: Display your favorite picture of the Savior as you end this lesson.

Final Comment

Remember, the Universe wants you to deeply absorb this lesson for a reason. Have faith in what you feel drawn to teach. Thank you for taking the time to prepare yourself! Your efforts will inspire more love and kinder vibes throughout your group of saints. That’s how Zion starts to happen.

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  1. Jill

    I am so glad I found this! I am teaching on this talk this week and feel like your question ideas will promote great discussion. Keep these coming :)

    • Shawnie Cannon

      I hope you have an amazing discussion! Good luck with your prep and lots of blessings.

  2. Gaye Willis

    Thank you for sharing your insights. They gave me food for thought.

    • Shawnie Cannon

      Gaye, it works the same for me – when someone shares their insights, it gets my own going.

  3. Kristy

    I am truly so greatful for these lesson helps that you have provided I feel like I can really share these lessons better with our sisters .Thank you again so much

    • Shawnie Cannon

      Kristy, I’m so glad you found some helpful resources here on this site. Your sisters are truly blest by your willingness to prep yourself. Hope you keep having some great discussions!

  4. katie

    What a wonderful resource you have provided for me. I really appreciate all your hard work to pull these lessons together. You saved me this week. Keep it up please!

    • Shawnie Cannon

      Katie, you happened to leave this comment on my birthday and it made my day! Thank you for visiting here and thank you for taking the time to prep yourself for lessons. We need so much more of that everywhere.

  5. Kareen Christen

    Shawnee, thank you for taking the time and effort to do the 5 highlights of the talks given in conference. I have used your suggestions in several of my lessons and find that they do help in stimulating conversation. I always check with you to see what you have to say.
    Kareen Christen

    • Shawnie Cannon

      Kareen – i love you name! Thank you so much for your encouragement and kindness. Your sisters are lucky to have a teacher that puts some time into prep and seeks things out. It makes such a big difference. Bless your heart!


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