Why You Need to Read History

Facts or Fiction?

History books have a bad reputation for being very dry and boring. Some actually are. Most of those writing history have done extensive research and base their writing on factual accounts. It is a joy for me to find a serious history book written by an author who has not only done research, but has the ability to express historical facts in ways that make it come alive through exceptional writing.

Fiction writers who have done their homework, can give us a pretty good sense of what historical events were like or how it might have felt to live through them. I very much enjoy historical fiction written by skilled writers who have done research and put forth the effort to make it historically accurate as well as compelling. Though main characters and story details may be imagined, they allow us to experience history through their eyes.

Why Reading History Matters

I am amazed and appalled at the lack of historical knowledge, especially among young people today. I realize that many of my generation slept through history classes, but at least we took history classes. So many seem to lack knowledge of basic historical events – when and where they occurred and primary people involved – let alone any understanding of the complex issues behind them. We seem set up to repeat serious mistakes of the past. Actually history has repeated itself in horrible ways. When will we learn from history? First we must learn history.

As someone who not only lived through the Cold War, but has read about communism and socialism, I find it unbelievable that so many young people actually want socialism. Why do they not get it? Maybe because they only read or listen to what we would have termed “propaganda” – the promises of utopia, equality and prosperity. History has shown us that these are illusions. Socialism and communism (one leads to the other) have always turned out badly.

I am also concerned about the lack of knowledge of the founding principles and documents of this country. After all that the early patriots sacrificed to establish this government and to defend it, some seem ready to throw it all away. Problems in America today do not exist because of our form of government, but they have become worse because we are straying from the principles upon which it was formed. We need to return to those principles, but first must learn them.

My History List

These are some of my favorite histories and historical fiction. These are books that made an impact on me. Your reactions may be different and that is okay. Some of these are classics recommended by many. Some I just happened upon and you may not have heard of, but they impressed me. Many of these have been made into movies that you probably have seen. I always recommend reading the book. Books give more detail, often the prose is beautifully written, and frankly, too often movie makers alter books to fit their own agendas.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Some good ones may have slipped my mind for the moment and I hope to add more in time. They are kind of grouped, but in no particular order. Please feel free to mention your favorites in “Comments.”

Early American History

  • Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
    I read this after I joined the General Society of Mayflower Descendants and was interested to learn more. Not only did it cover the migration to America and the early years here, but the interactions with Natives and the wars with them were very enlightening.
  • Young Washington by Peter Stark
    This book gives a good portrait of George Washington and how events during the French and Indian War influenced his life and future. It provides good background to understanding the roots of the Revolution.
  • Strange and Obscure Stories of the Revolutionary War by Tim Rowland
    This is an easy and often humorous read about a number of incidents during the Revolutionary War. If you think history is boring, read this.
  • Miracle in Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787 Catherine Drinker Bowen
    This is an excellent book about the laborious process of writing the Constitution of the United States. It truly was a miracle that this group of strong willed and opinionated men were able to discuss and come to a workable compromise that has endured. (A process today’s lawmakers could learn from) It makes clear what the constitution was intended to do and what it intentionally did not address. The book includes the full text of the constitution and amendments for study.

Books about Slavery and the Civil War

  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe This book is a classic which should be required reading for everyone.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
  • Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero Bound for the Promised Land by Kate Clifford Larson
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
    This is an excellent book about Abraham Lincoln and the political process of the time. We could use leaders like him now.
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    Many are familiar with the Movie, but the book is well worth the read.

Native American History

  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brow
  • Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, The Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure by Julie Flynn Silver

Into the 20th Century

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    I love Steinbeck’s writing and this classic picture of human dignity in horrible circumstances. It has also been made into a movie, but I recommend the book.
  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
    This is a non-fiction work about the Dust Bowl and those who stayed and lived through it. The other side of the story presented in The Grapes of Wrath but featuring real people.

Books about World War II

  • The Hiding Place by Corrie Tenboom
  • Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally The movie was popular, but the book allows you to spend time pondering and processing.
  • The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
    This book is an enjoyable read, but it highlights serious issues of living in occupied territory and resisting a war.
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand This is the moving true story of an American prisoner of war in Japan.
  • The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
    This shares examples of character and values of those who lived through trying times.
  • Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl The classic we all read in school, but maybe not so much anymore.

Books Dealing with Other 20th Century Issues in the World

  • The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjallan
    I just happened to find and read this book as we marked the Centennial of the events portrayed. I was amazed that not only do very few people today know anything about the Armenian genocide, but at the time it occurred, news of it was essentially buried because of the larger World War I. It makes me wonder if more people were aware, would such horrors have been repeated?
  • Shanghai Girls & Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
    I discovered Lisa See with her book On Gold Mountain which is basically her family history – a very interesting family history beginning with a Chinese immigrant who married an American.
    Shanghai Girls is fiction set in China and California about two sisters who become brides to paper sons of a Chinese immigrant in California. Dreams of Joy is the next generation sequel about the 19 year old daughter. Upon encountering radicals at an American University preaching the glories of socialism, she goes to China in 1957 to become part of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” into the “New Society”. Her mother heroically saves her from being one of the millions of Chinese who starved to death during this period of “prosperity.”
  • The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
    I just happened upon this book, but found it compelling. It’s central character is a Chinese man running an English school in Saigon just prior to and during the Vietnam War. It overlaps the time period of See’s Dreams of Joy, which picture was still in my head when I read about this Headmaster sending his son to China. It gives a sense of the way Communism creeps in and takes over.
  • A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
    Set in India, this book reveals the injustice and cruelty of the caste system.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns & The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
    These books provide some insight into the history and culture of Afghanistan which is helpful in understanding more recent events there.
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi This book not only gives a glimpse of life in Tehran during trying times but also reinforces the value of books.


Why Reading Books Matters

How many books did you read this year?

Disturbing Trend Number 1:

I have been disturbed and saddened to see data about how few people actually read books any more. It almost seems that if text won’t fit onto a small screen or contain 150 characters or less, it is not worth the effort. This has been somewhat of a frustration with blogging. I wonder how many people actually take the two to five minutes to read through an entire blog post.

The media has figured this out, of course. They are expert at putting the main – and usually biased – message into explosive headlines. Then they hide critical countering facts or information way down in the article. They know that most “readers” scan the headlines, but won’t read through an entire article, especially online. I find most of the “comments” on social media do not indicate that those commenting have really read the article. They are simply reacting to the headline.

So, if very few people are reading short news or human interest articles on social media, how many are reading real books – not necessarily just the physical paper kind, but digital as well?

Disturbing Trend Number 2:

There is a growing trend toward censoring and banning books – even classics written long ago – because they offend new found social sensibilities or don’t conform to shifting standards or political correctness. This is really scary on many levels, some of which I will discuss below.

Disturbing Trend Number 3:

Many think that going to see a movie version is better than reading the book. Movies give us someone’s visual, and often subjective interpretation of a book. It is somewhat disturbing that everyone who watches, passively accepts that particular interpretation, which may actually be very different than the author’s original intent. Much of the original message often gets lost in the interpretation.

We like movies because they incorporate visual and sound along with a story. They are relatively short. We watch, then we leave and go on to some other activity. Some movies have an emotional impact which lingers with us, or might cause us to think for a while. But many movies are very forget-able. They serve their purpose as passive, short term entertainment.

The Case for Books:

There is something special about reading a book. Books take longer and involve more personal effort than watching movies. There is mental effort involved in interpreting symbols -words – on a page into thoughts, ideas and images. We need to understand the literal meaning of words for the writing to make sense, but there are deeper ideas and meanings which often require some more serious mental consideration.

Though it is possible to read some books in one setting – I have done that with a few short ones – most require taking breaks. We read for a while, then set the book down to do other things. But our mind does not always let it go. Often, especially with compelling narratives, I find myself thinking about the book while doing other activities. I mull over why characters did what they did and wonder what will they do next. I put myself in the place of characters and wonder how I might have handled situations differently. I try to figure out mysteries. I replay certain scenes in my mind trying to grasp all the details. My mind lingers in the setting of the book.

Often I look at maps in between reading to get a better idea of where the setting is and the proximity of other places mentioned. Sometimes I google to learn more about things featured in the book.

There is something magical about reading books by skilled authors. I think there are gifts in the use of words that some people have been given. These gifted people combine words in a way that can paint a visual picture in your mind of a place unfamiliar to you, yet it becomes familiar through the description. This allows us to see another place as real, even if it only exists in the imagination of the author.

Books also transport us through history. We all remember dry, boring history books simply stating facts. But a skilled author can place us in that setting, helping us feel what it might have been like to experience those events.

Good authors create or describe characters in a way that allows us to get to know them. We can visualize what they look like and how they move and interact with other. Good characters are like real people. They are complicated, basically good but flawed. Some we do not like, but can see their humanity and possibly what events and circumstances caused them to behave badly. Some characters become like friends or family. We see in them characteristics of those we know – maybe even ourselves. We become invested in their actions.

Good books are about good stories told in a compelling way. They do not simply entertain, they also teach. Through good stories we can learn things about human nature, about ourselves, about what things in life really matter. I think all good stories revolve around a basic conflict between good and evil – what life is really all about.

Why Reading Books Matters

People in our world today are increasingly living within “bubbles”. There is a growing tendency to associate only with people who are like us – who think like us, believe like us, behave like us. This reinforces our world view as THE only, or at least THE CORRECT world view. Then those who have conflicting world views or beliefs become “others”. They are not only looked down on as uninformed, unenlightened or wrong, but become seen as inherently bad, as enemies to “our truth”, or even evil.

To be socially accepted, others must accept certain views and beliefs. If they don’t, then we are free to criticize, ostracize, silence them, persecute and hate them. This is scary stuff. It leads to even scarier stuff. We we might see this coming if we have read books from and about the past which show this process.

Books can be an antidote to “bubble thinking”. When we read a novel or well written history or biography, we have an opportunity to get outside our narrow world view. We see other perspectives. We get a sense of circumstances and influences of other times and places and cultures and can see the behavior of others in that context without judging them by our current standards. We get a peek into someone else’s head, into ways of thinking that may be different than ours. We can then see different viewpoints as just different – not necessarily right or wrong.

We might even have to question and examine our own beliefs. One of the most important questions we can ever ask ourselves is “could I be wrong?”  We may eventually conclude that we are right after all, or at least feel secure in our view. But through this process, we might be able to see others as not totally wrong after all. We might see some truth in things we had not previously considered.

Reading books is a gateway to learning about things formerly foreign to us. Books allow us to experience places we might never be able to visit and return to some familiar ones. We can learn about occupations, hobbies, and activities that we have not personally experienced. We might be inspired to learn more about something because a book has peaked our interest.

I think reading good books makes us better people – more human and more compassionate. Reading can expand not only our imaginations and our intellect, but also our hearts.

A Challenge

So my challenge for 2019 is to read good books. If you have not read one for a while, just start. If you like to read, seek out some new books or re-read old favorites. Just read more. I will suggest some of my favorites in future posts – who knows, maybe even do book reviews. Let’s see where 2019 will take us.

Pick A Winner or Vote Your Conscience?

My earliest memories of anything political were in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President. After the election, I remember asking my parents who they had voted for. I was shocked to learn that they had voted for the loser. To my 5-year-old mind, what seemed important was being on the winning side – to pick the winner, not the loser.

After many years and many elections, I must admit I have voted for many losers. This is not always something I have felt bad about.

Popular Contests

In recent years, I have had much exposure to Reality TV contests. Many of these involve viewers in the process of picking a winner. I admit I am not one who actually calls in votes. But I do take some pride in being able to “predict” who will win, or who I think “should” win.

We all have constant exposure to sports contests. Some loyal fans cheer for their team no matter what, but others take pride in predicting the winner of any particular contest. We all want our team to win. No one wants to be a loser, or be mocked for supporting a loser.

Vote button

Winning and Losing in Politics

Is our political process becoming much the same as these Reality TV contests? We have become so partisan. Are we so concerned about our party winning that we are not looking at individual candidates, their character, record, and stand on issues? How many approach elections like like my 5-year-old self where being on the winning side is more important than making an informed decision and acting according to conscience?

We have people taking polls, people analyzing and predicting who will win political contests, and news commentators constantly telling us these predictions. Before any actual votes are cast, we are told who will win. As the process proceeds, we are reminded daily of who the “front-runner” is – the likely winner. Is this a self-fulfilling prophesy?

Real Consequences

When someone wins on a show there is a celebration and maybe brief talk show appearances – the 15 minutes of fame. Then the winner goes home with the prize. The next season starts over with new contestants.

With elections we are stuck with the winner, who actually has to do some work for a whole term in office.  And they have to work with others elected from the opposing party. Real consequences result from elections. The sad reality is that we can all end up losers.

Autumn Reflections

Seasonal Changes

I am fortunate to live in a place where there are seasons. I would say four, but that may not always be accurate here. Changes of seasons come with memories and feelings and expectations.

The coming of winter would be worse without the expectation of holiday celebrations. The shift from winter to spring is always welcome, especially after a long hard winter. Increased daylight and signs of renewed life bring excitement and hope. Where I live, the transition from spring to summer can vary – even from day to day. Spring often seems too short when we get hot days rather early. But with summer comes vacations, recreational activities, annual celebrations and reunions. So with this transition comes anticipation of enjoyment. Even with some dread of the end of a fun filled summer, the first signs of autumn are often welcome. Cool nights bring relief from the heat.

Autumn

Autumn

If I could choose the perfect weather it would be the “sweater weather” of autumn. I don’t enjoy sweating or freezing. I sleep much better on cool nights. We have occasional rainstorms which seem refreshing. Sometimes we have unusually warm days. Walks are much more enjoyable when not so hot.  And there is the beauty of the leaves turning colors and painting the landscape.  I find the colors of autumn very pleasant and comforting.

Autumn somehow seems an appropriate time to rest or not be so busy. For someone who was raised in a family of “do-ers” instilled with guilt feelings whenever not doing anything, that feeling has been most often suspended during lazy autumn days. Of course, there are those lazy summer vacation days of laying on the beach or sitting around a campfire. But then there is always a feeling of temporariness – a brief calm before returning to the rat race.

Autumn comes with mixed feelings. There is an overwhelming sense of impending change. Some of that may be sadness with the end of summer fun and the seeming death of nature. I have a desire to suspend time in autumn, to hang on to life as it is much as the dying leaves linger on the trees. I don’t want fall to end and with it bring the death that is winter.

Autumn Deaths

I associate Autumn quiet times with grief or loss. The change of season brings memories back to my mind. Many significant people in my life left this earth life during Autumn. At those times, everyday activities and projects seem unimportant and set aside for a time. What is left is time for memories and contemplation, accompanied by cool breezes wafting colorful leaves from trees to the ground. Somehow it seems appropriate to just sit and watch nature slowly changing. There is also a feeling of time standing still – and not wanting to move on – whether that be facing the coming snow storms, or facing life altered forever because of who or what will no longer be there with us.

My Grandmother died in October. One of my fondest memories of her was of an earlier October when I stayed with my grandparents while my parents went somewhere. It was General Conference weekend for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which always seems a little lazy sitting on the couch watching Church for hours. I remember watching Conference with Grandma while she knitted. Then we strolled around their huge yard enjoying the colorful leaves and pretty flower gardens. The family gathered and sat in that yard after her funeral.

My Grandpa died the first Saturday in November 1999. We had one of those rare, long, mild, and beautiful autumns. In September the leaves started turning beautiful colors and somehow we avoided the big winds which usually blew them all off the trees. We made it into November with plenty of red and gold leaves still clinging to branches, though many more blanketed the ground.

I remember that day started as an unusual Saturday void of plans. The soccer season was over and I faced a rare Saturday with nowhere to go. Being the do-er, I got out my scrapbooking supplies. Then I got the phone call, left everything and drove to the hospital.

The rest of the day was slow-motion. After we all left the hospital, we ended up back at Grandpa’s house. My Dad, the do-er, eventually resumed working in Grandpa’s yard, finishing up mowing and raking. I remember mostly sitting on the patio with my Uncle. We just sat quietly for some time, then started mindlessly shelling walnuts that happened to be sitting there. Memories of that yard and house drifted through my mind. It was really strange. I felt no guilt in just sitting and not doing.

Me sitting in Grandpa’s yard after his funeral

My Mom died the day before Thanksgiving in the year 2000. It didn’t snow that year until afterwards, so it still seemed to be Autumn. The shock of her sudden passing left me functioning in slow motion for some time. There was plenty to do with planning the funeral, but still many hours of sitting and remembering.

A New Autumn

So as I reflect on memories of autumns past and enjoy the beauty today, I wonder what lies ahead. This autumn comes with some excited anticipation of new life – a rare birth in our family this time of year. Maybe this will change the colors of the season for me – to associate the season with new life as well as death?

Autumn of My Life

As I have lived through many autumns, I have gained more of a sense that I am in the autumn of my own life. Behind me are many springs and summers – times of anticipation, excitement and enjoyment leaving good memories. Ahead I feel the approaching winter with some apprehension. Not that I dread death so much as the gradual diminishing of living, not just for me but for others I love. I hope I can continue to enjoy the beauty, the pleasant times, and the people in my life as long as my season lingers.

Autumn will inevitably come to an end and bring with it winter. But I have learned through the cycles of the seasons that spring will come again. So all those that I have lost in the autumns of my life will live again. That is something wonderful to anticipate.

7 Things I Learned from My Social Media Fast

Removing social media from your life for a time can bring awareness of how time is spent, personal choices and preferences and even positive aspects. It was a learning experience for me.

The Challenge

President Russell M. Nelson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints challenged the sisters of the Church to take a 10 day Social Media fast. He had issued a similar challenge to the youth of the Church earlier. The timing of this challenge was after I had spent a week on a cruise ship in somewhat of an involuntary Social Media fast. I took the challenge anyway, though I kind of justified ending it at about day 5, taking credit for time already served.

I do feel that my fast was sufficient for me to learn several important lessons and make some changes in my habits, which I think was a main goal of the challenge. You might learn very different lessons from such a fast. This is what I learned:

Lesson #1 – It is important to be aware of YOUR Social Media habits and their impact on your life.

There is great variety in the personal social media habits of different people. Things that may be an issue for one person are not for another. I think some people have genuinely addictive behaviors, while others use social media very rarely or not at all.

Personally, I don’t Tweet – I really don’t get Twitter – so Facebook is the only Social Media I use. (Even though I do have a Twitter account and auto-share Blog posts to Twitter for you Tweeters) I must admit that my use of Facebook has been not only daily, but several times some days.

Positive change does not happen without first some awareness of a problem. Removing something for a time is helpful in gaining awareness of things like how much time is spent, personal choices and preferences, negative and even positive aspects.

Lesson #2 – Social Media can provide preferred and even more balanced news.

While on the cruise I was away from all media, not just social media, for most of the time. At one point on the ship I noticed a group of people gathered around a TV screen in a lounge watching CNN or some news show. It was actually a shock to my system at that point – I didn’t realize how nice it had been without TV news. Commentators were discussing something that had been in the news for some time before I left. I listened just wanting to know if it was resolved and what was the outcome. What I heard was more of the same kinds of arguments and discussion I had left days before.

I realized that I prefer my “news” in printed form. I want to hear the facts of what happened. Then I can decide if it is a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t want reporters or commentators explaining or interpreting what happened and especially I don’t want to be told how I should feel about it. Unfortunately, that is what I get most of the time – from Mainstream media news on TV and from AP articles in the newspaper. My husband likes to watch shows like PBS News Hour. I get irritated listening to obviously biased “experts” telling us not just what happened but what we should think.

I would much rather read a reasoned and well written analysis than listen to people who seem most interested in listening to their own wisdom. What I realized while “fasting” from social media – for me Facebook – is that most news I get from TV and the newspaper is very biased. There are some non-liberal news sources which I access through Facebook, which along with the liberal media I also read, help me to be better informed and form my own opinions.

Lesson #3 – I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, which is a good thing.

When starting the Social Media Fast, one of my concerns was missing out on what is going on with friends and family. I even started the fast with a Facebook post wishing people Happy Birthday in advance. Facebook allows me to keep in touch with family members and friends who live far away. I wondered what I missed in the way of birthdays, anniversaries, or other life events. Was someone having a hard time that I could not offer some encouragement because I did not know?

I have a friend who suffers from Lupus and has periods of time she is too sick to get out and do things. I can know how she is doing through Facebook. When she is well I see a number of likes of my posts, some going back many days or even weeks. When I see nothing from her for a time, I know she is not well.

I belong to several Facebook groups, some of which are vital for me to know what is going on – either events or activities of an organization or specific needs of people. They have discussions that I feel I can contribute to in a meaningful and helpful way. I can learn from these discussions as well.

Lesson #4 – There are many things I didn’t miss during the fast.

I don’t like to have ads constantly before me, so that was a nice break. It was refreshing not to get into any contentious discussions, which tends to happen when I dare to express an opinion about something. These can get me worked up and frustrated, which doesn’t help me and probably does nothing to convince anyone else to change their mind. I didn’t miss negative or critical posts. Sometimes it is hard to avoid these, but I can still choose whether and how to respond. I found I can get along quite well without cat videos and pictures of food.

Lesson #5 – Good, uplifting and inspirational things are shared on Social Media.

Much of what is on Social Media is positive. I follow some Pages that post inspirational thoughts and articles and stories. Many of my friends share uplifting things. It is interesting/ ironic that this challenge came from the President of our Church, when many of the posts I truly enjoy and missed were ones from Latter-day Saint focused Pages and groups. I love to read articles about scriptures, Church History, or spiritual topics.

President Nelson’s intent was to help us remove negative media from our lives. However by fasting from all Social Media, we can throw out the good along with the bad. Staying away from ALL social media also deprived me of things that could have benefited me.

Lesson #6 – Social Media does waste a good deal of time that could be better spent.

The worst thing of my social media use would probably be the time wasted. It is very easy to scroll through the seemingly endless social media posts. Sometimes I see again things I already scrolled though. I am a “multi-tasker” in the sense that I can scroll through Facebook while doing other things like talking on the phone with someone. This is a bad habit for not giving them the attention they deserve.  We have old-fashioned TV and have to watch commercials, so I tune those out by looking at Facebook.

During my fast, I found I could get much more done during the day. I also read some good books – my multi-tasking during commercials and other times I probably would have been online. I learned more from those books than I would have from some of the silly posts and articles I might have read.

Lesson #7 – Social Media use does not have to be all or nothing. We can be discriminating users.

Because of this fast, I have tried to make some changes in my use of Social media. I try not to spend so much time scrolling through Facebook, though that is probably my biggest remaining temptation.

I did figure out that I could be more selective in what I see. Facebook allows you to select posts you want to see first. I went through and selected close friends and family along with some positive Pages and groups that I don’t want to miss. I also “unfollowed” some friends whose posts tend to be negative or distracting. Selecting “Hide Ads” can eliminate some of those annoying ads that keep popping up. If I were more tech savvy, there are probably other things I could do to make my use of Social Media more beneficial and less distracting. It is a process and does take some self control. Ultimately, it is my own choice whether to click on something senseless or something uplifting.

Wisdom

wisdom

This world is so badly in need of wise men and women. My study of King Solomon for a Sunday School lesson led to much pondering about wisdom – what it is, how to acquire it, and the mystery about the lack of wisdom in our world.

wisdom of Solomon

Solomon’s wisdom – see 1 Kings 4:29-34

Solomon’s wisdom was a gift from God. God’s love is unconditional, but His gifts come with conditions. To have a gift of the spirit, one must be in a position to be sensitive and receptive to the spirit. Solomon’s gift came with several “ifs”, cautioning that he would lose it if he turned from God and from following His laws.

What is Wisdom?

Dictionary definitions of wisdom include learning & knowledge, but wisdom is in the use of knowledge – the power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action. Wisdom begins with intellect, learning and knowledge, but builds on that with understanding and insight. It can come through experience as well as study, yet some may have vast experience yet still not get it.

Wisdom requires discernment – the ability to discern truth from error, for real wisdom is based on truth. It also involves the ability to know what things are of most importance and lasting value.

Solomon himself wrote many wise Proverbs (see Proverbs 1-9), but his wisdom was not purely intellectual. True wisdom is reflected in action.

Wisdom differs from being clever or cunning (see 3 Nephi 21:10), because those tend to be deceptive and self-serving. Wisdom is honest and true and benefits all.

Foolish and Vain

Frequently in the scriptures I see the terms “foolish and vain” paired together. (See Romans 1:21Titus 3:92 Nephi 28 ; Alma 39:11; Helaman 12:4Helaman 16:22;  We think of foolishness as the opposite of wisdom. Why is “vain” paired with foolish? What is foolish about vanity or vain things?

We think of vanity as being proud and self-serving. A vain person is conceited with an excessively and possibly unrealistic regard for self. There is something false or deceitful about vanity.

Definitions of vain also include things of no real value or significance, things lacking substance, anything empty, worthless, fruitless. Things that have an appearance of value or desirability, but no real substance. You might think of vain as a pretty puffed up outer shell that is hollow within.

In this sense the two definitions actually merge, as someone who is vain in the sense of being proud actually may have no real depth of character under a boastful exterior. The vain are all show with little substance.

There is vanity in thinking you are wise. Thinking one knows and understands already leads to pride and a resistance to learning, especially from the source of true wisdom. (

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28; see also Proverbs 3:5-7)

Wise Judgement

To be vain is foolish – to put undue importance on things of little significance. Scriptures point out the opposite “plain and precious” indicating that things of most value are more plain than flashy. Wisdom can discern between things of lasting value and those of little worth and make judgments and decisions based on those most worthwhile.

Just as it is foolish to choose or pursue vain things, it is also foolish to base judgement on things of no real value. What could be more foolish than spending a lifetime acquiring stuff, having fun and seeking people’s approval? Yet, such superficial and insignificant, though outwardly appearing fashionable or popular trends are what much of the world bases judgement on.

Wise judgement is based on sound principles and unchanging truth. It requires an understanding of truth. It is based on standards that have stood through time and have been tested and proven.

The Mystery/Paradox

The Apostle Paul contrasted the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: (1 Corinthians 2:4-7; see also 1 Corinthians 1:20-31)

The wisdom of the world is really foolish and vain. Those who are wise in their own eyes are really fools. Fools mock. The world mocks faith in God as foolishness, yet the wisdom of the world is based on vain things, and is really foolish.

The path to true wisdom is the plain and precious truths of the gospel and the Spirit which enlightens understanding. The simple and pure faith in Christ, which the world considers silly or foolish, is really the path to true wisdom. This is the great paradox.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a wise judge, put it this way:

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools . . . and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

Where to Find Wisdom

The greatest wisdom comes from the source of all wisdom. James advised “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5)

Gordon B. Hinckley said:

We need not look far in the world to know that “the wisdom of the wise has perished and that the understanding of the prudent has come to naught.” That wisdom for which the would should seek is the wisdom which comes from God. The only understanding that will save the world is divine understanding. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 500)

O be wise; what can I say more?

I Don’t Want to be an Adult, Either

What does it really mean to be an adult?

I read an article by a Millennial who at age 36 still didn’t feel like an adult. The main idea I got from this was that somehow – partly because of circumstances beyond their control – the trappings of “adulthood” have eluded many Millennials. The indicators of adulthood that this person was looking at were basically “things” – career, house, family – which to them define “adulthood”. Not having found all of those at an age when earlier generations had, they don’t feel like adults. They feel that “the economic and emotional benefits promised by adulthood are overrated.”

Me as an Adult

I considered myself an adult at 22 years old. I had graduated from College and got a real job. But looking at those “things” Millennials consider requirements for adulthood, I would not have qualified. I was not married. I lived in an apartment with two roommates and was certainly not successfully established in my career yet.

Adulthood is about being independent, responsible, self-reliant and making a contribution to society.

My determination of adulthood is not based on those “things”, as if they could be checked off a list and then you had arrived. To me adulthood is about being independent, responsible, self-reliant and making a contribution to society – things that have more to do with character than age or income level. These are qualities that reflect a shifting from a “what I want” and “what can everyone do for me” focus to more of an “I can take care of myself” and “what can I do to better care for others” perspective. Maybe this is what Millennials are really missing?

Its not about you

External economic circumstances may have contributed to Millennials feeling that things are working against them, but their focus still seems to be on self – the career that hasn’t worked out the way they wanted, not having the nice home and all the things their parents worked for years for. There is an attitude that somehow by reaching a particular age all of these things should have just been given to them as “promised”. Even the lack of a spouse and children seems to be focused on their lack of something, rather than the natural adult desire to turn outward to nurture and teach and guide the next generation.

Benefits or Opportunities?

No one “promised” me or my generation “benefits” of adulthood. The 22 year old adult me had to learn to solve her own problems. Mom and Dad were not far away, but I didn’t run to them to fix everything. I worked hard to support myself financially and had to learn to prioritize and budget to be able to acquire material things. I learned to serve others and find joy in that, rather than just pursuing adventures and entertainment and activities that I found to be fun.

Sadly, I have read some obituaries lately of 36-years-olds who died way too young. Some of them told about exciting adventures, many friends and good times, as if that was all that should fill 36 years of life. I can’t help but contrast this with obits of people my age which mention children and grandchildren and enjoying time spent with them. They mention professional accomplishments, but also public service and volunteer work.

Am I there yet? Do I want to be?

As an aging baby boomer, I guess I could also conclude that I have not arrived at adulthood because I failed to get all of those “benefits” that supposedly come with adulthood. I didn’t have a long prestigious career, a huge beautiful house and all kinds of luxuries. I haven’t traveled the world and associated with important people. I am not successful as some might define it.

But even with my definition of adulthood I find myself these days having thoughts like “I don’t want to be an adult anymore”. I get weary of the responsibility of taking care of all of the messy details of maintaining a home and a life, and dealing with difficult people. I want someone else to make the hard decisions. It would be really nice not to have to worry about anything and just be entertained. I would like to be taken care of for a change.

But then, I pull up my big girl pants and get to work doing something that will help someone else. Because I am an adult.

Reflections on America the Beautiful

I recently heard a very moving solo rendition of America the Beautiful. I will share some my reflections on America the Beautiful – the song and my Country.

Verse 1

Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed his grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

I have a vivid memory of a night spent in the wilderness of Wyoming. Above me was a full dome of bright stars. There were no buildings or mountains or even many trees to block the view. There were no city lights to dim the brightness of the stars. I stood in awe of the vastness of the sky and the earth.

I recall driving along a highway past fields of ripening grain as far as I could see. I have see the sun shine on oceans on both sides of our vast land. I am personally privileged to live surrounded by majestic mountains, some purple in the distance, and others so close I can enjoy them any time I go outside my house.

I am amazed by the grandeur and beauty of the landscapes throughout this vast country. I appreciate the variety of land and climate which allow for bounteous harvests of food to sustain and prosper her people.

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A Spectrum of Spiritual Disorders

Could we all be suffering from different forms of the same basic disorder – each falling somewhere along a spiritual disorders spectrum?

The Process of Change

I recently read a book about a woman’s personal story of overcoming and changing her life in a positive way. As I read, I was flashing back to another book that I read almost 30 years ago by a man sharing his story of personal change and overcoming.

Though their challenges were different, both of these people went through essentially the same process – a spiritual process of rebirth, a change of heart, a spiritual awakening, and an accompanying change of their lives. At the time I read the earlier book, I was involved with a Twelve Step program and this book was recommended as an example of that process. This man’s issues did not involve substance abuse, but his recovery process was the same as those who did. The Twelve Steps have been successful for people with a variety of addictions, including things like gambling and addictive relationships.

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To be Nice or Kind

Kindness

Kindness is more than being nice. It is an internal quality more than a set of behaviors. Is it more important to be nice or kind?

I shared with a friend some personal definitions which have helped me to better understand the quality of kindness. I told her about a a person we both knew who had used the phrase “be nice like me.” My definition of “nice” is more about socially acceptable behavior and “kind” more of a quality involving true concern and consideration of others. Somehow this “clicked” with this friend and she has shared this distinction with others. She has told me that this has become a guide for her in personal interactions.

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