This third “big picture” problem of Laman and Lemuel’s isn’t as readily apparent as the other two. After all, there isn’t a scripture in the 1 Nephi account where Laman and Lemuel directly say, “We’re the real victims here, and it’s all Nephi’s fault.” There are hints of this victim mentality, however. Laman and Lemuel certainly think Nephi has been lying to them all this time (see 1 Nephi 16:37–38), and they believe that Lehi and Nephi were being too judgmental about the people of Jerusalem, who really weren’t all that bad (see 1 Nephi 17:22).
Following the death of Lehi, Laman and Lemuel remark that they believe “our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words” (2 Nephi 5:3; emphasis added). Clearly Laman and Lemuel’s victim mentality contributed to the split between the Nephites and the Lamanites.
It’s not until much later in the Book of Mormon that we see the full legacy of Laman and Lemuel’s actions and attitudes. In Mosiah 10, Zeniff lays out the reasons why the Lamanites hated the Nephites so much:
They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;
And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea. (Mosiah 10:12–13; emphasis added)
Three times Zeniff points out that Laman and Lemuel felt like they were the victims and that Nephi was the real bad guy!
Years later still, the traditions that Laman and Lemuel believed continued to live on in the hearts of their descendants. When Ammon and King Lamoni met with Lamoni’s father, one of the first things he asked Lamoni was, “Whither art thou going with this Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar?” (Alma 20:10). Shortly thereafter he says, “Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property” (Alma 20:13). Generations later, the idea of the Nephites being “children of a liar” was almost part of Lamanite DNA. They couldn’t see their own brethren as real people anymore, but had reduced them to stereotypes and cartoon caricatures. In their way of thinking, it was simply, “Laman and Lemuel good. Nephi bad.”
Having a victim mentality is another way that Satan can trap us. If we believe that every bad thing that happens to us is someone else’s fault, we never have to take responsibility for our own actions. Of course there are some bad things that happen to us as a direct result of someone else’s actions, but even in those cases, we still have the choice as to how we will react. Laman and Lemuel’s victim mentality is all around us, too. We think that someone has wronged us in some way, so we seek revenge. We feel that someone has offended us at church, so we decide never to go back—that’ll show ’em!
Elder David A. Bednar said these powerful words about having a victim mentality: “It ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else. . . . To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon.”