Finding Hope in a Divided World

It Starts with Human Nature

We all have a very human tendency to want to feel that we are right, that what we believe is true, that our perceptions are accurate. We gravitate towards those who share our view of the world and feel our perspective validated by them. Sometimes this goes to the extent of only surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us and excluding those who don’t. We live in a bubble.

Traditions of the Fathers

Often our belief systems, political positions and general view of the world are passed down to us through our parents and our education. Many people hold firm to such beliefs and positions. It becomes part of our identity – what and who we are as a group or a people. Such positions are self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating.

The biggest hope for that to change, is an opportunity to get outside one’s bubble or even take a step inside another bubble, to begin to see another perspective. Just a peek at an opposing view, and especially having one pushed upon you to educate you as to what is correct, usually has the opposite effect. We become defensive and hold more firmly to how we see things.

Judging Individuals

There is a real problem when such firmly held beliefs extend to judgments and feelings about an individual. People are complex. I believe we all have within ourselves a good core. We all started out as pure, innocent babies. We are all children of God. Yet, we also are all human. We all have faults, weaknesses and flaws. Not all choices we make are good. We all say and do stupid, insensitive, even cruel things with the potential to do others great harm, intentionally or not.

There is real danger in judging any person as inherently or completely bad. It can also be unwise to judge someone as totally good and incapable of doing wrong. Either way, everything is viewed through a narrow filter of our own bias, reinforcing a judgment we already made.

When we view an individual human being as purely good or bad, based on a preconceived belief – one that by nature we seek to reinforce and validate – we fail to see them as the complex human beings that they are. We fail to judge or treat them as we would want to be.

The Unjust Judgment of Evil

If our judgement of someone is bad – based on tradition and the beliefs of our group, or even what we think is our personal, objective assessment – we will naturally want to have that judgment validated. We will seek out messages that reinforce that belief. We pay attention to and enlarge on anything negative and ignore or dismiss anything good, forgetting that even bad people are capable of doing good. In fact, much of what we judge as bad in others, are actually good qualities taken to an extreme, or used in a way that we don’t agree with.

We judge the intent of someone we dislike to always be negative, forgetting that we don’t have the ability to read minds. Someone judged as evil cannot be capable of good, we think. If we open our minds to the thought that they could do good, then we might have to question our own judgment of them.

Being in a group that feels the same way about this person, negative messages are constantly reinforced. Even the slightest expression of doubt about something negative or consideration of something good is met with condemnation of us, so we shrink into silence. We see how the defense of this awful person by those OTHERS, has resulted in their vilification.

The Nonobjective Judgment of Good

If our judgment of someone is good – based on tradition and the beliefs of our group, or what we think is our personal, objective assessment – we will want to have that judgment validated. We will tend to give that person the benefit of the doubt when we hear anything negative. We dismiss or ignore negative things, thinking them uncharacteristic and therefore must not be true.

Such a person may do or say things very similar to someone we hate, yet are still judged as a good person. Their intent is always judged as good, even when they might act badly. We make excuses for them and deflect blame to others. We feel offense that they have been unfairly attacked when something negative is pointed out. We will defend them fervently, because we in effect are defending our perception of them and our sense of being right, as much or more than we are defending them personally.

Polarity Problems

Is there hope for a society which is polarized to such an extreme, with such certainty from both sides that they are right? If there truly is one right and one wrong position, then for one group to be right, the other must be totally wrong. Then it follows that one half of us are being deceived by and about the other. Which is really right? Who is being deceived? None of us want to believe that we have been sucked in, fooled or deceived.

But is it really an either/or? Is one position completely right and the other totally wrong? Or are we all being deceived? The better question would be to ask ourselves how we, in particular, are being deceived or mislead. But then, this requires the need to look at things with a more open mind, and to be open to the possibility that we may be wrong.

Perhaps the deception is in seeing only a selective part of the picture, and what is needed is an expanded vision? My fear is that too many of us are past the point of open minds. Crushing the opposition seems to be more the direction.

The Real Enemy

If we can stop looking at the world as US and THEM – with US being the good guys and THEM the bad guys – and see that we are all basically good guys with a common enemy seeking to destroy us all, there might be hope.

There is one who seeks to divide and destroy. That has been his aim from the beginning. He is cunning and devious and has had lots of practice. He fights not only openly against what is right, but he uses opposing ideas of right and wrong to turn us against each other. If he can convince us all that we are right and especially that the OTHERS are wrong and even evil, then he can just sit back and enjoy watching us destroy ourselves. I am sure that the devil is laughing much these days.

Change of Mind?

As I reflect back four years, I recall trying to prepare myself for what appeared to be dark days coming. At that point, I saw only two bad options, and no real good outcome. I do recall saying when I came home on election night and got a glance at the shocked faces on my TV screen, and then the numbers displayed: “Oh, so we are in for a different kind of nightmare.”

The interesting thing is that in spite of not necessarily seeing a good result, I did accept the result. And I think because of that acceptance, through the process of time and observation, my mind changed. I guess it was open a little crack. Without clinging to the belief that the outcome was wrong – kind of like the belief of a certain people in the Book of Mormon who felt that they had been wronged and the government had been stolen from them (see Alma 54:17) – I accepted it as what it was. I had enough faith in the system that we could survive for fours years. We as a country had survived much already and we had a system that hopefully would keep things in check.

That bit of an open mind allowed me to see the good that has happened. It did not change a certain personality, but I could see good fruits from a less than perfect individual’s efforts. Being freed from the need to maintain a negative judgment also opened my eyes to the unfair process of constant negative focus reinforcing the hatred. I saw a larger picture.

What is Ahead?

As I have found myself increasingly anxious about conditions in our world today, my tendency has been to try to persuade others to share my concerns, maybe with some faint hope that things might shift in the direction I see as best. After reflecting back to my resignation four years ago, I am starting to look at the future differently.

Though I would have liked to have changed the past four years, I survived it. WE have survived it. This may be just the beginning of many unpleasant things we will have to go through before the end. Our divisions may likely increase, maybe to the point of no return.

As I read the Book of Mormon, I see that things really deteriorated in just the few years before Christ came (see 3 Nephi 6-7). The government completely fell apart. Maybe our government will collapse? It was a good experiment in self-government, but successful self-government depends upon the goodness, honesty, and virtue of the citizens, and their unity around common principles. When the voice of the people chooses that which is wrong in the sight of God, we are in trouble (see Mosiah 29:27). “A house divided against itself cannot stand“, as Abraham Lincoln said. Maybe we will lose the freedoms we take for granted? We just might have to live under socialism or communism. Maybe we will have an outright civil war? Our divisions may weaken us to the point that we are easily invaded and conquered by another nation, as was the pattern in the Book of Mormon. Things could get really ugly.

Hope

So where is our hope? Where it always has been and always will be. Our hope is in Christ. He will return as prophesied and all of this ugliness will come to an end.

What will matter at that point? I hope I can get past the point of wanting to say “I told you so.” Being “right” will not really matter. It will only matter if our hearts are right. If we are prepared to be with Christ and live in a better world, not successfully or comfortably in this imperfect, and too often unjust and cruel world. Preparation for that will require becoming a better person. Will that be our focus going forward?

Thoughts on Freedom of Assembly

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Ammendment 1

Through experiences of the past months, I am seeing that there is something profoundly valuable about being able to assemble as a group of people with a common purpose. Though business can and has been conducted remotely, there are added benefits to gathering together–feelings of unity, bonds, and synergy, that are lacking in the virtual world.

I remember back some decades to my time as a social worker. I observed that dysfunctional, and especially abusive families, were often isolated. This is largely due to efforts by abusers to maintain power and control. There are the obvious dangers of a lack of a support system or the ability to seek help, but there is another less obvious danger–isolation.

Isolation deprives us of needed reality checks. It is the casual observations and exchanges with others that give us our sense of what is normal. They give us opportunities to question our perceptions when they are different from others. We see common feelings and ideas and relate to shared experiences. Without these outside interactions, abused spouses and children come to see their restricted, abusive world as normal. Fears of outside dangers become magnified when interpreted only through the abuser.

After months now of social isolation and the absence of many of our routine group activities, the few and rather small gatherings of late have given me an unexpected emotional boost, almost like a cold drink after a long hot day makes me realize how thirsty I was. It feels wonderful! It brings back a feeling of normal. I suddenly have again a chance to feel validation for my thoughts and feelings through hearing others share theirs, with emotion conveyed as it only can be in person. An emoji can never convey what a smile, slightly raised eyebrow, or the hint of a tear in an eye can.

Humans are social beings. We need to be with each other. This is how it is supposed to be. There is great wisdom in the Founders recognizing and protecting the inherent rights of citizens to assemble for various peaceful purposes. Probably the most important purpose being to gather for the free exercise of religion. My soul is starved for that interaction now.

Division and fears are magnified when we are kept apart. Through isolation, governments can too easily exercise excessive power and control and in the process deprive us of those experiences which reinforce our shared humanity and foster unity. I hope this is a lesson from this experience that we do not forget.

Governing Through Principles

“I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.”

Joseph Smith.

This statement was given by Joseph Smith as an answer to a question about how he governed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think it is very applicable to a secular “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I have reflected on this statement as I have become very concerned about what is happening in our country during this time of crisis.

Founding Principles

The principles which should guide all actions by our government are outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Correct principles also include principles such as those in the 10 Commandments. People should treat others with respect and kindness, as they would want to be treated. Life is sacred and should be protected. Self-direction and self-reliance are sound and valued principles.
At times of crisis like this we see situations where some needs become urgent and some principles take precedence over others. The challenge of meeting urgent needs while maintaining rights according to those principles is a role of government.

Principles in the constitution affirm individual rights of liberty, exhibited in the opportunity to travel, to engage in business, to participate in activities of our choice. The Bill of Rights specifically spell out rights to assemble and to practice religion. People need to be able to work and provide for themselves and their families. They have need of goods and services to preserve life. Generally, government should not interfere with these rights. This is a basic principle of the Constitution.

Yet, government has responsibility to keep its citizens safe, to provide defense against that which would cause harm and endanger life. There may be times when the suspension of individual rights may be necessary in order to protect us, but those situations should be very rare and action taken with great caution. The reason for caution is human nature and the tendency among those with power to exercise “unrighteous dominion.” When people in power seek more power, they put themselves and their wisdom above others and use power to order actions and suspend individual rights. If successful in a crisis, there is not much to stop this from occurring without a crisis, with orders being self-serving, rather than for public good.

Maintaining Balance Through Mutual Trust

Maintaining a balance between preserving inherent and constitutional rights and providing protection can be complicated. Mutual trust is vital, yet sadly lacking today.

Allowing citizens to “govern themselves” requires that government trusts them to do the right things. It includes an assumption that the majority of citizens are morally upright, good people, who want to do good. When good, intelligent people are given accurate and sound information they generally will make choices to benefit all, even when those choices might limit their own freedom to do what they want.

If government trusts their citizens, they need only provide clear, accurate information and make recommendations for action. Then citizens can freely, with their own agency intact, act to make things better or at least not worse.Sure, there will always be those who are not trustworthy, who will selfishly do stupid things that endanger others. They are the ones laws are written for anyway. But to impose orders and threaten penalties upon law abiding citizens shows a dangerous lack of trust.

Trust of the government by the people is also necessary. Governments are mandated to educate their citizens, and that education should include the teaching of correct principles–not only the principles underlying our government, but correct principles about science, history, and human nature.

Teach Correct Principles

Besides being well educated, citizens need to be well informed about current situations in order to be able to use their agency to make wise decisions. This is where a thorough and impartial media is critical. We should be able to trust the media to give us accurate and unbiased information. I see a lack of trust today in both directions.

Public education has been influenced by those who would promote certain agendas over teaching truth. Education about the history of this country is no longer a priority, so we are lacking in understanding about those founding principles and the sacrifices made by those in the past to secure the freedoms we enjoy. Moral education, which early in this country was a significant part of education, has been dismissed as unfairly promoting religion. The ability to regurgitate facts through tests is now preferred to teaching students how to think and reason. What we have now are many citizens blindly following the teachings and direction of whatever factions they trust and suspicious of all other sources.

Back to Trust

Which leads back to trust in the other direction. By creating an educational system which lacks moral training, we have citizens lacking in moral judgment, and a government which does not trust them to make wise choices in a crisis. Add to that people in government more concerned about power than the welfare of citizens issuing orders that restrict individual freedom, which increases distrust of government.

I hope we come out of this crisis with our freedom intact and a greater appreciation of that liberty.

Self-Determination

Self-Determination Starts Early

During the past few months of living with my now 18 month old granddaughter, I have been reminded of the innate human drive toward self-determination. Even at a very young age, little humans show individual will and a desire to do what they want. As soon as they have some mobility they will move toward an object that they desire. As small motor skills develop they grasp and manipulate objects to explore them. They want to go where they want and do what they want.

One large drawback for this is the lack of ability to communicate what one wants. One of the first, and probably most used word for children is “no”. Though they might not be able to articulate what exactly they want, they are able to let you know exactly what they do not want.

“No” is also used frequently toward children as they seek after what they want. Parents have a challenging role to provide an environment for children to learn and develop while keeping them safe from danger. Some are better than others at balancing this. There are parents who provide more than needed direction and restriction in the name of protection.

Maintaining Balance through Trust

Key to maintaining a good relationship through this balancing act is trust. If children feel loved and secure they learn to trust that their parents want what is best for them. Parents and others can try to teach children about dangers and how to avoid them, but sometimes the best teacher is experience. Unfortunately, over-protection often deprives children of such experiences. There are always some children more inclined to be obedient who might become overly dependent. And others more independent might resist restrictions and become rebellious.

Self-Determination Applied to Government

The founders of the United States of America recognized the human need for self-determination. They saw monarchy and the systems of the old world as working against that. In forming a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” they realized the value of individuals and the importance of individual rights. Many resisted ratifying the new Constitution because of the lack of a Bill of Rights. Why was this so important? They wanted to make sure that governmental powers were limited and preserved the rights of individual citizens toward self-determination.

Government also has a stated role to provide protection to citizens from threats and defense from attacks. This requires a balance not unlike the parental balance between encouraging development while protecting. There may be times when safety would require limiting individual freedom to do certain things. This is the argument given at the present time regarding this pandemic. Yet, there are others pointing out the dangers of increased government control.

Trust in Government

If the underlying condition with parenting is trust, then it would seem that trust of government would be essential for citizens to accept restrictions in the name of safety. But government is really people. We have elected officials who are supposed to act in the public interest, but too often act according to the own self-interest. We have officials who seem to thrive on excessive use of power. Just because someone has been elected to an office, does not mean that they have superior intelligence or knowledge and know best what to do. Yes, they often rely on “experts” for information, but do these experts also have other motives?

Our constitution allows for the people to vote to remove from office those who they feel are not representing them and their interests. Unfortunately a huge bureaucracy consisting of officials, not elected by or accountable to the people, is in the position of making and enforcing regulations.

Once power is used to limit individual freedoms, even in the face of a real threat, it can become easier for those in power to see other “threats” warranting further limits of freedom. Over-controlling government, just like over-protective parents, can restrict growth and foster dependence, especially among those inclined to be trusting and obedient. But it also can provoke those inclined toward independence and lacking trust in government to the point of rebellion.

Maintaining Balance

The federal government is furthest removed from the people and much less in tune with the diverse situations in various parts of the country. It would make sense that elected officials on the most local levels would know best their own constituents and their situation and needs. They would seem more receptive to input from their neighbors about what is needed. It is easier for constituents to communicate directly with them and be more involved. This is one reason the founders created a Republic and left certain rights with States.

Though we are experiencing something dangerous today, I think it important to keep in mind the possibly greater danger to our freedoms by extreme restrictions imposed by government. The survival of individual citizens is of course important, but so too is the survival of our freedoms and form of government.

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?