When Sister Monson Made the Choice to Take a Stand

sister monson paperboy

Years ago, President Monson recounted the story of a young paperboy who didn’t always deliver the paper in the manner intended. Instead of getting the paper on the porch, he sometimes accidentally threw it into the bushes or to close to the street. Some on his paper route decided to start a petition of complaint.

One day a delegation came to the Monson’s house asking Sister Monson to sign the petition. She declined, saying, “Why, he’s just a little boy, and the papers are so heavy for him. I would never be critical of him, for he tries his best.” The petition, however, was signed by many of the others on the paper route and sent to the boy’s supervisors.

sister monson

Not many days afterward, President Monson came home from work and found his wife in tears. When she was finally able to talk, she told him that she had just learned that the body of the little paperboy had been found in his garage, where he had taken his own life. Apparently the criticism heaped upon him had been too much for him to bear.

sister monson paperboy

How easy it would have been for Sister Monson to sign that petition. How easy it would have been to find fault when it was deserved. Yet she chose mercy and understanding instead of accusation.

Are there similar circumstances in your life where someone is at fault, and blame is just?

If so, consider the option of exercising mercy instead. We are all dealing with many burdens and concerns that others around us can’t fathom. There are always opportunities to lash out at other drivers, unfriendly tellers, or unruly children. Let’s take a step back this week, give people the benefit of the doubt, and reach out with kindness.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said so eloquently, and as Sister Monson so gracefully exhibited, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Who is the paperboy in your life that could benefit from a little mercy?

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  • i feel that the conclusion misses the point. it’s not about how sister monson did nothing and, therefore, was blameless in the outcome. it’s more about her doing NOTHING and ending up with a boy who killed himself. the real lesson to learn here is if we see someone being treated unjustly, we shouldn’t just abstain from partaking in the “bullying” (or enter any other unjust action here), but our role should be to do everything we can to stop it from happening. and if we can’t stop it, to make sure the person or people being attacked know that we love them and give them strength in the harsh times.

    im not saying we should judge her, since we are all human and make mistakes by doing or not doing things, but the fact is that if sr. monson had done SOMETHING and tried to stop the neighborhood from pursuing this action, and/or had reached out to the boy or his parents so he was given strength, he might not have killed himself. but she did NOTHING.

  • That’s definitely one way to look at it. To be honest, from the story we aren’t told if she had done anything more to stop it. Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. A great lesson can be learned from what you said though, there are opportunities for us to speak up and proactively reach out to people who are in need. Thanks for the comment Tiberius.

  • I don’t want to be critical, but I’ve never seen Sr. as a shortened version of Sister. It’s a great story but I found myself staring at the Sr. trying to figure out what that meant. The only uses I’ve known for Sr. are senior and señor. I always thought it was Sis. How do you shorten Brother?

  • I didn’t even think of that, but you’re right. I made the adjustment. Thanks for pointing that out! I think Brother would be Br. – but then again I’m not too sure of myself now! 🙂

  • Love this reminder of the wonderful examples around us such as Sis Monson’s. Sometimes I’m quick to sign or post or whatever but this is a great reminder to stop and think and remember..will it help or hurt?

  • Georgie, that is such a great way to think about it. I love your question, “Will it help or hurt?” That would lead to lots of better decisions by all of us. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment and share your thought.

  • Thank you for that reminder to stand up for what is right and not “follow the crowd,” that is sometimes a very hard thing to do.

  • This reminds me of a incident a few years back. I was working in my yard and a young neighbor girl walked by, she was in tears. Three girls from our Ward were walking just behind her and telling her she was dirty and smelled bad. I could have said nothing, but that’s not me, I knew the girls and asked them if that was truly what they had learned in Primary? I don’t know if that gave them food for thought but it stopped their meanness that day. The neighbor girl became friends with me and would talk to me often. I’m glad I stepped in.

  • Gwen, thank you so much for sharing! Things like that make the world of difference. It breaks my heart to hear the way other ward members were treating her, BUT, it makes me so happy that you made the difference and put a happy ending on that story! Thank you so much for 1) taking the time to read this post and 2) leaving a comment and 3) doing what you learned it Primary!

  • While I feel like this is an emotional story I don’t really see an amazing example here. Don’t get me wrong, Sis. Monson was an AMAZING EXAMPLE. I just felt like this was a story about a bunch of shortsighted neighbors and Sis. Monson recognized the stupidity of mobbing against a child. How could she have had any idea the boy would take it so badly? You’d think that adults, especially people in our wards or community would have more common sense and heart but in the end people make their choices. So, I thought this was an odd portrayal of Sis. Monson’s goodness but I also don’t think she could have really done anything different.

  • Ben Arkell, you have a gift, some may call it a skill, however your positivity is uplifting and amazing. So few of us can turn around criticism the way you do. Thank you for sharing the story. My favorite part is your statement “She chose mercy and understanding” …Thank you and Merry Christmas ♥

  • Erica, thanks for the comment. I think the fact that Sis. Monson didn’t follow the crowd and sign the petition is a very courageous thing to do. It’s easy to think that it’s a small act, but it’s a lot harder if we were put in a similar situation. She could have acted differently by signing it. At the same time, I think we need to understand that every thing we say and do, no matter how insignificant we think it might be, can be the one thing that pushes someone over the edge or brings the make to a safe and stable place. Thanks for taking the time to respond!

  • Wow! Thanks for the nice comment. This story is definitely heart-wrenching but it’s also close to my heart because I feel at times that I’m very easily swayed by the crowd and I’m not sure I have the courage to stand up when I need to. Merry Christmas to you as well!

  • This is the first Sister Monson story I’ve heard as as lifelong member, and it is very, very sad that it is a story of doing nothing.

    Nothing. I wish very badly that we could have sisters in the church brave and who know “in the moment” what is right, who is very much in the wrong (neighbors, ward friends sometimes, our own family) and be willing to stand “in that moment” and set others straight. Sometimes saying something like, “You believe in Christ. So act like it!” would do wonders.

    Also, to call the boy himself, or talk to him in person, would be the right thing to do. Give his family a heads up about what was coming down the pipeline…don’t let the big talkers run people over in your community!

    I guess I’m feeling frustrated that this is our big example. To do nothing. To be passive. To hope it blows over. We are KNOWN for passive aggressive behavior (like the petitioners showed) and we need examples of how to stop THAT.

  • In my view, she DID do something. She told the petitioner, “Why, he’s just a little boy, and the papers are so heavy for him. I would never be critical of him, for he tries his best.” She kindly tried to point out the unfairness of the petition. Who would have predicted a youngster would take his life over something like this?

  • Kathryn, we actually don’t have too many details on the story. Chances are she did try and speak to the family or have some other interactions with them – to give them a heads up. Thanks for your recommendation – that we go the extra mile and try to reach out and not be “passive”.

  • maybe her connection to the boy was only that he was the paperboy, I was a paperboy and did not have any other relationship with 99% of the people I delivered to even when at that time paperboys had to collect payment from each subscriber on a monthly basis. Sis. Monson could not be privy to every prompting from God nor could it be her only position to receive that from God. She may have wondered if she could have done something more, but that’s human nature, it doesn’t mean we shoulda or coulda done something.
    Your comment sounds like you think sis M. was “heaven forbid” out of tune with the promptings of the Lord She’s not the Prophet. Nobody is perfect. and nobody follows every prompting because of mortal doubts, lack of confidence in this area. If that is so your judgements are harsh and unjust. After all Hind sight is 2020. even though you say “I’m not judging her”( you included we/us) you end your comment ” But she did nothing” sounds like you are judging. Or maybe you just didn’t consider all you said and are just imperfect like the rest of us.

  • I was toning the same thing actually. Her nothing was just that, nothing. I don’t know, I hate to be critical but I bet even she wishes she had done more. Not that she can be blamed at all, this little boy obviously suffered more than we’ll know, and that’s not her fault. I wonder how those who signed the petition felt. I would have loved that somebody helped him, either taught him how to fold them better or gave him living corrective instruction. This is a terribly sad story.

  • Dan, thanks for the input. I like your thought about the promptings we have – and the reasons why perhaps we don’t follow through on them. It’s hard to develop confidence that we are hearing the Spirit – it’s one of my biggest weaknesses. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Agreed, it’s definitely tragic and when bad things happen it’s natural to wonder what more could have been done. My wife mentioned the same thought to me, she wonders how those who signed the petition felt. It surely must have haunted them for a long time.

  • i agree that we are all imperfect, and im not expecting her to receive promptings from the holy ghost all the time or receive prophetic revelation of the future. not even pres. monson has that ability. my last comment (“but she did NOTHING”) was more of a criticism at the emphasis of the article – doing nothing. but i can see how it can be taken as a criticism of sis. monson (which was not).

    im sure she was a nice lady. but that shouldnt retract from pointing out where she probably could have done more and the lesson learned from there.

    yes, it was good to point out that she did right by not signing the petition (some may say that was courageous, but in my opinion, if youve already decided to be an “example of the believers” then it wasnt courageous, just second nature). but the article would also do good to point out how we could learn from her not doing much else and to not be passive or worried that we are being impolite when we stand up for whats right. like a commenter said below, if she had just told them straight out to stop the petition because its not christlike (not just abstain from it), the results might have been different. and if not, at least she tried to stop it.

    many times we are faced with that decision – to do something bad, to not do something bad, and to do something good. the lesson here, i think, is that we need to get out of our neutral “lets just avoid doing bad thibgs” thinking and start thinking more like “i will go and i will do” whats right, even if we may be seen as impolite or unkind. dont get me wrong, we should aim to have a kind demeanor, but be willing to not be kind when the greater good is at stake.

    p.s.: again, not judging her, just taking a different lesson from her actions in the story.

    p.s.s.: you may assume she did go and talk with the kids parents and did more. but since that would be a point of great importance to the story, and its not included, we can assume she didnt do more then the story tells. not a criticism of her – it actually fits the context well, since the story takes place in a time when women were expected to be gentle and mild mannered and not create any fuss, especially in the lds culture.

  • I love President Monson. His wife was a wonderful, beautiful woman. My story: I was a paper girl when I was 11 for a few months. I delivered 50 papers on my route, six days a week, and got 2 cents per paper I delivered. I collected money too, on my own time. Sometimes, on my own time, I would go out and knock on doors to drum up some business. The last mile of the route had only 5 customers, and some of it was uphill. A couple of times I needed to be away and had to get someone to deliver the papers for me. All this said, it’s preposterous to me that a group of adults would gang up on a paper boy.

  • Janine, I feel the same way. It’s sad that adults would react over such a small thing. I had a paper route for about 10 years, and the worst part was delivering in the rain and snow, and the dogs were annoying too. 🙂

  • I agree very much with the sad part of this story ( besides the outcome) is that it is praising someone for doing nothing, and we can only hope that there was more good done than is let on in the story. However, being an avid reader of forums and comments, just wanted to say thanks for the positive discussion. It have me some food for thought, and didn’t need a profanity filter, even if we didn’t all hold the exact same opinions.

  • Nobody would have known that the boy was going to take his his own life. She didn’t know the young boy. It’s like somebody complaining about an employee, not bullying a child. She was patient with him. It would be like a horrible waiter or cashier. People are always looking at the negative.

  • Bonnie, thanks for reading and commenting. I wish that I would have had the strength to stand up for the boy – and in my mind I like to think that Sr. Monson did even more than we are told. 🙂 Merry Christmas!

  • Sam, thanks for reading. The sad thing is we never really know what’s in the heart of someone, that’s why it’s so important to treat everyone with as much love as possible. Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.

  • Excuse me for being blunt, but it’s irresponsible to say something like “chances are…” and then claim she probably actually did do something. With a real story about real people, we simply do not get to assume things like that. It sounds like backtracking because that version of the story would in direct opposition to what this version of the story claims as the whole point: that sometimes doing nothing is the best thing.

    I agree with Kathryn that praising “doing nothing” feels awfully hollow. Yes, I definitely agree that there are times when it looks like the choice is between doing harm and doing nothing, but is there really any one of those times when doing nothing couldn’t be replaced with doing good?

    What’s much more troubling to me, though, is seeing this child’s suicide being used as a story to make people feel good about Sister Monson. It just feels wrong.

  • Charisse, I’m not certain that the point of the article was understood based on your comment. What I was trying to portray was that she could have signed that petition and mounted on the criticism of that boy, but she decided to NOT do that. I wasn’t claiming that doing NOTHING was her not reaching out to the boy. If you are understanding what I was trying to portray, then I apologize. I think Sr. Monson deserves praise for not following the crowd and for sticking up for that boy and letting the ring leader know that she wasn’t going to tolerate it. Thank you for adding your comments, because it’s helpful for all of use to understand different perspectives.

  • I have a hard time believing that one incident would cause someone to end their life. I’m assuming this was a very sad and lonely boy and this was the final straw. We never know when we can make a real difference and that is why we always need to do the kind thing.

  • What bullying are you talking about? You don’t know much of the details. Newspapers may becoming irrelevant but they were much more important back then. Maybe some ones paper was constantly thrown in a puddle maybe they got skipped maybe an elderly couldn’t get it easily out of the bush. Some could have legitimate problems they would like resolved. We obviously don’t know what the child’s real problem was. There was something else going on there. However, I would like to know what your problem is? You come off like basket case. You don’t think that boy was asked nicely many times but continued to do it over and. He probably didn’t care about it. No that wasn’t the boy’s problem. Should no one ever have their problems resolved because it might push someone over the edge? What recourse should someone take if they have a legitimate grievance they would like resolved? This story seems to be more of a coincidence in this boy’s sad suicide. Should we never resolve issues because some one may commit suicide? Please answer the first question, What Bullying are talking about?

  • “Yet she chose mercy and understanding instead of accusation. Are there similar circumstances in your life where someone is at fault, and blame is just? If so, consider the option of exercising mercy instead.” To me this is the most important part. In reality the exact details of the story aren’t that critical. The message portrayed at the end is what touched me. Mercy and understanding. We would want others to exhibit that for us.

  • I have not read every single comment here, so maybe someone has already suggested what I am going to say: When we have an issue with someone, how is it *not* Christlike to approach them in a loving manner that won’t put them on the defense and ask them what you would like them to change and also giving them the opportunity to express why they are doing things the way they are? One thing I struggle with LDS culture is the fact that saying or doing nothing when another member behaves badly or inappropriately is often lauded as Christlike or exemplary. What about the scripture by Christ that says: Matthew 18:15 “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”? This is a powerful way to connect with someone in my own experience. Plus, the downside of saying nothing at all is that it allows those who bully to continue doing what they do and never gives them a chance to repent and change their ways (since silence is often mistaken as approval or acceptance).

  • Robyn, great point. In this case, having a petition signed was not the best way to go about it. They could have talked to the paperboy and encouraged him to improve. As for Sister Monson’s response, we don’t know the whole story of her interactions with the paperboy and the neighbor – but there are definitely things to learn from this story. Thanks for reading and leaving such a thoughtful comment.

  • Tiberius, I don’t think you read the article correctly . It did not say she did nothing as you wrongly implied. In fact it says that she did do something. She did not sign the Petition, that in and of itself is something, but she also was very vocal about why she didn’t sign it! I don’t know if she talked to the little boy or his parents, or not, but either way, to say she did nothing is extremely judgmental when from what President Monson said, she most certainly did do something.

  • I agree Kathy. I am not sure how anyone would think she did nothing. She did “2 somethings.” First she refused to sign the petition. which IS doing something, and second she made sure that others knew why she refused to sign it!

  • My son took his life at 15 1/2. Sis. Monson did all she could. Noone expects someone to take their life. I think this story is a good reminder to be kind to everyone.

  • I was a paper girl when I was 11. It wasn’t necessarily an easy job. It was quite a bit of responsibility. The first day on the job, when getting home I burst into tears, because the Saturday papers were so heavy. I could write a long story. Anyway, it’s hard to imagine a group of adults being so cruel as to start a neighborhood petition against a child.

  • I agree with Bonnie, Tiberius and Kathryn. Sister Monson did not go along with the wrong thing but did not do anything to help this young man’s situation either. It is sometimes hard to identify sins of omission in our lives. I think this is a good example of that kind of situation. Sometimes we look too hard for reasons to make heroes out of just plain good people. Our leaders are not leaders because they are without mistakes.

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Years ago, President Monson recounted the story of a young paperboy who didn’t always deliver the paper in the manner intended. Instead of getting...
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