The principle of neutrality emerged from the battlefield. A neutral (noncombatant) humanitarian worker could operate as a nonthreatening third party—with confidence from all sides. Since an aid worker was not engaging in combat, they were allowed access to the people and places where lifesaving assistance was most desperately needed.
Neutrality means that a humanitarian worker does not participate in hostilities. This is critical for maintaining the trust of all sides, and it also protects the humanitarian worker from hostilities themselves. So what does neutrality look like away from the battlefield and in our own lives as we work to serve and help our neighbors?
In our own communities, we can navigate conflict and earn the trust of those who need our help when we:
- Build bridges of understanding.
- Choose neutrality by not engaging in contentious behavior.
- Allow our actions to speak of God’s love.
Build Bridges of Understanding
When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Christ taught the story of the Good Samaritan. In it, a Jewish man is robbed and left injured on the side of the road. Christ makes a point to say that the person who stops to help is a Samaritan. At the time, the Jews and the Samaritans were in conflict around both religious doctrine and political leadership. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the willingness of both the Samaritan to give and the Jewish man to receive help built a bridge between the two parties.
Sometimes, we need to build a bridge before we can adequately help someone in need. We can build bridges despite disagreements when we:
- Prioritize relationships over any differences in perspective.
- Set aside our prejudices and join with others to accomplish the most good.
Setting aside our differences and focusing on our common goal to help those in need frees us to be God’s hands in caring for His children. It enables us to work side by side with those who live differently from us but share our desire to make our communities stronger.
Staying out of conflict in a difficult situation is a choice and takes effort and self-restraint. When we are meek in the face of contention, we remain able to focus on those who need our help. Meekness keeps our minds at peace and open to inspiration.
Many times those in need are experiencing conflict in their own lives—perhaps with family members, employers, or neighbors. When helping those in need, we can avoid participating in an argument and practice meekness when we:
- Do not engage in negative talk about either party.
- Remember that sometimes it is more important to be kind than to be right.
Exercising meekness is important whenever helping those in need in a situation where there is conflict. However, if you feel someone you are assisting is in physical danger, contact the proper authorities and do what you can to help the person to safety.
Our Actions Demonstrate God’s Love
Many of us have made a covenant to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). Like the Good Samaritan, we often have opportunities to serve people who hold beliefs that are different than ours. Those experiencing need or distress should not be made to feel that our help depends on their willingness to listen to or adopt our beliefs. In those moments when we do not share our faith through our words, our actions can testify of God and His love when we:
- Avoid pushing personal beliefs on others and let good actions do the talking.
- Provide help when it is convenient to the person in need, how they would like to be helped, and where they need to receive your help.
People in crisis are especially vulnerable; their rights may have been trampled, they may be unpopular or too weak to defend themselves, or they may have been through trying and emotional experiences. While we love to share our faith, the most principle-based way to do so in humanitarian settings is to live our faith boldly and to vigorously protect the rights and freedoms of others to do the same.
Personal belief is the motivator for huge amounts of good, productive action. In order for humanitarians inspired by this kind of religious passion to work side by side with peers in a credible way, they must act on their specific religious beliefs and also embrace universal principles that protect the freedom and religious beliefs of others. We can do both as we create understanding, choose to avoid contention, and allow our actions to speak of God’s love.