Too Far Gone

 

prodigal-son-e1565800625276.jpg

Marj was my last English professor. I attended her course for the first few classes and then I stopped going. After about 6 weeks, I was talking with a friend about my absence and how I regretted quitting the class. He encouraged me to reach out to her to see if it was too late for me to go back. I said “There’s no way she’ll take me back.” He responded, “What do you have to lose?” So I emailed her and she responded that it was absolutely not too late and that she’d love for me to return. I attended regularly to the end after that. 

Unlike previous English teachers, Marj actually taught us principles of good writing and she taught them to us through our own interests. That’s how she helped everyone discover the light within themselves. Every other English teacher I had before her seemed to have the same social cause that they imposed upon us. Marj encouraged each of us to read, research and write about topics that were meaningful to us individually. She would work with us one on one to guide and mentor our efforts along the way. 

She loved and respected everyone in the class and, those of us who would open up to her, loved and respected her back. I remember during one of her lessons she was talking about her son in law. When she first met him, she disregarded him because of his outer appearance. She didn’t approve of his hair, piercings or the way he dressed. She told us about her regret that she had judged his outer appearance, especially after discovering his inner kindness, humility and character. As she recounted this story, there was no judgement in her voice. Only genuine love and compassion. The humility it took to publicly admit this fault only added to our trust and respect for her.

These experiences with Marj taught me valuable lessons about following Christ’s teachings and example:

His Grace is Sufficient – Before Marj, my writing was deplorable. C-letter grades were common from my English teachers up until that point. If you were to read my writing, you’d see that my teachers were being merciful. I left Marj’s class with an A and not just because she was a softy. My final paper was submitted to an external writing competition by Marj and another professor in the department. I don’t write this to brag but to emphasize the principle that when we receive the Perfect Mentor’s help, it produces results we can’t produce on our own. We are weak without his help. Critical problems are impossible to overcome without the guidance, empowerment and strength of the Savior.

Don’t Judge – Like Marj, before she repented, many of us have wrongfully passed judgement on others when we’ve had no right to do so. Man looketh on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart. The Great Judge requires that we have mercy, love and forgiveness for others. Jesus said, “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it’s required to forgive all men.” He also taught us to “Judge not” and that “Judgement is mine“. 

Pride Repels, Humility Invites – Marj’s humility made it easier to connect with her. My other English teachers spoke at us but rarely truly connected with us. When someone is prideful, it’s difficult to build an open and trusting relationship with them because you know that everything you do or say will be received with condescension and belittlement. No one is perfect but yet everyone acts so, to some degree, through their pride. The only perfect person to live on Earth invited others to come closer to him, not only through his words but also through his humble treatment of others. I suspect that the sinners who ate with Christ were happy to be in his company because they knew that despite their shortcomings, he still humbly loved them.

Love Mercifully – Marj’s mercy towards me, after missing so much of the semester, did more good for me than the proverbial sword would have done. I recently learned about a marriage therapist who can predict with over 90% accuracy whether new marriages will end in divorce. The number one indicator is to see whether one or both of the spouses have contempt for the other. When we have contempt, we despise and don’t respect the other person. We cling to the sword as we justify to ourselves why the other person is in the wrong and why our rotten feelings towards them are justified. The Savior didn’t hold anyone in contempt. Even for those who falsely accused, arrested and crucified him, he advocated on their behalf. The world might see such mercy as impractical but consider how many lives have been spared and elevated because of its application. Contrast that to how many souls that have been destroyed because of the proverbial sword. The swords of shame, criticism, judgement and contempt are heavy burdens being lugged around by so-called “pragmatists” who refuse to exchange their burden for the lighter olive branch. The olive branch, as hard as it can be to hold when we perceive wrongdoing from others, is so much more effective than the sword at convincing others to repent, resolving conflict between people and bringing inner peace amidst life’s storms.

The Whole Don’t Need A Physician – On multiple occasions I’ve heard people express that “so-and-so” shouldn’t be going to church because of “fill-in-the-blank” sins that they’ve committed. When the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with publicans and sinners they repeated the same sentiment. Jesus responded that “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick… I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The church is a hospital for the spiritually sick. The gospel is treatment for the spiritually sick. The Savior is the Great Healer. Much like my unfounded fear that I wouldn’t be accepted back into Marj’s class, sometimes we may convince ourselves that we’re too far gone and that our Perfect Exemplar won’t take us back. None of us are perfect. We’re all spiritually sick and lacking. We can take today as an opportunity to reset our perspectives and consider how we can return to a loving, inviting, unshaming Savior. He’s ready with open arms to receive each one of us. What do you have to lose?

Advertisements

The Beggar & The Three Travelers: Adding To The Golden & Platinum Rules

Beggar WaterThere’s an ancient proverb about The Beggar and The Three Travelers. It’s a hot, dry day. A man is begging in the streets of a city. Another man, dressed in a yellow robe, is traveling through and sees the beggar. Before the beggar could ask for anything, the man gives him the last of his favorite nuts and then continues on his way. A while later, a second traveler dressed in a gray robe sees the beggar and asks what he wants. The beggar says that above all, he would like some wine to help him cool down from the day’s heat. The traveler obliges, gives him wine and continues on his way. A third traveler, dressed in a white robe, assesses the needs of the man, gives him a drink of water and helps him find a continual source of water before continuing on his way. The beggar was allergic to nuts and would have died if he had eaten them. He was also dying of dehydration and the alcohol would have sped up his demise. What he truly needed wasn’t what another person wanted for him nor was it what he wanted for himself. He simply needed water. 

This proverb isn’t ancient. I just made it up. But it illustrates a timeless principle – the need to rise above the limited perspectives of desires when serving others and instead look at needs. The story depicts three ways which we can treat others:

  • The Golden Rule: I will treat others the way I want to be treated.
  • The Platinum Rule: I will treat others the way they want to be treated.
  • The Celestial Rule: I will treat others the way they ought to be treated.

The Golden Rule is commendable. My one year old son recently offered me a soggy animal cracker that he was sucking on with an innocent “It’s good, you’ll like it” expression on his face. His intentions were good. He wanted to share his joy with me. I admit – when I give gifts – I do the same thing. I often give others what I want them to have rather than what they want. I wonder how often they perceive my offerings with the same humored disgust that I felt with the soggy animal cracker. There’s a better way to give.

Living the Platinum Rule means that we escape our own self-centered perspective and see the thoughts, emotions and desires of others from their perspective. Once we do this, we are better equipped to empathize and provide others with what they want. When it comes to harmless offerings, the Platinum Rule is the way to go. But it definitely has its shortfalls. When what a person wants for themselves is unhealthy – physically, emotionally or spiritually – then we should not be giving that person that thing. There’s an even better way to give in these cases.

The Celestial Rule means that we perceive others through the lens of the higher law. The higher law requires that we treat others the way that they ought to be treated within the bounds of tactful, loving kindness. For example, when someone is going through a difficult time, some people will express their sympathies in ways that make it about themselves rather than the person going through the difficult problem (Golden Rule). Others will act as enablers and give the person attention in a way the person wants but this is unhealthy when it feeds negative energy and grants permission to the person to see their problems through the lens of victimhood or helplessness. This is an example of how the Platinum Rule falls short. The Celestial Rule helps us to see the struggling person through the lens of love and the circumstances surrounding their struggles through the lens of truth. When that happens we can, like Christ, empathize with their pain and provide empowering guidance for healing – all in a spirit of love.

Personal Development Zones – The Roles and Limits of Rest & Stressors

Roger Bannister Four Minute Mile

In order for muscles to grow, they need to be put under repeated stress to the point that they tear. After muscles tear, with proper nourishment and rest, they repair stronger than before. The frequency by which they’re put under weight determines the level of strength the muscles can eventually bear.

Like our bodies, our minds and character are antifragile (a term coined by Nassim Taleb) which means that when put under stress, they grow stronger. Contrast things that are antifragile to those which are fragile or robust. Fragile things, like glass mugs, break under stress. Robust things, like the mythical Phoenix, neither benefit nor are they destroyed from fire. Antifragile things, like the mythical Hydra, benefit from conflict. Friedrich Nietzsche argued that people are antifragile when he wrote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

There’s a lot of truth to what Taleb and Nietzsche teach us about the role stressors play in human development and there are limits to how severe stressors can be before they go from being antifragile to fragile. Going back to the muscle analogy, in order for weight to build muscle, it needs to push a person beyond what they’re comfortable bearing but too much weight or frequency can be destructive. Torn connective tissue, broken or dislocated bones, heat exhaustion, brain aneurysms or other physical harm can result from over-exertion.

Just as there many who still believe “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, there’s an increasing trend to accept the debilitating philosophy that “what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”. It’s this mentality that, according to authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, is leading to a culture that is becoming increasingly unable to bear the struggles that life inevitably brings. Higher rates of depression and suicide are evidence of an overprotective culture, according to Lukianoff and Haidt. The notions of “Safe Spaces”, “Trigger Warnings” and “Microaggressions” are a few examples of the level of protectionism that the rising generation are embracing from well-intentioned “intellectuals”. In their co-written book, Coddling of the American Mind, they point out:

“A culture that allows the concept of ‘safety’ to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.”

In addition:

“Parenting strategies and laws that make it harder for kids to play on their own pose a serious threat to liberal societies by flipping our default setting from ‘figure out how to solve this conflict on your own’ to ‘invoke force and/or third parties whenever conflict arises’.”

They also observed that overprotective parenting and teaching “come with costs, as kids miss out on opportunities to learn skills, independence, and risk assessment.”

Various mental models, such as Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, have been created that can help us understand the role that stressors and limits can play in our development. The following diagram serves as a way to visualize the roles and limits that rest and stressors play in our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual personal development.

Personal Development Zones

Each of us have our own comfort zone – the level to which we feel familiar, comfortable and relaxed with certain things. Rest and healing happen here but growth does not. Each of us have a growth zone – the level to which we are able to bare particular stressors – whether it’s handling a difficult task at work, learning a new subject, public speaking, dealing with loss or anything else that stretches us beyond our comfort zone. This zone is where we grow. Each of us also have a destructive zone – the level to which stressors are causing more harm than we can bare or sustainably endure. Each of us are different and will therefore have varying limits within our comfort and growth zones.

To the person experiencing hardship now, the destructive zone appears much closer than it usually is. Much like the weight-lifter who doesn’t think they can lift another rep, their physical limit is usually beyond what their mind is telling them it is. Humanity’s ability to run a four-minute mile, previously a perceived impossibility, became an exponential recurrence once Roger Bannister did it 1954. To the person who sees their trials with the benefit of hindsight, the destructive zone can usually be clearly seen to be beyond what they thought it was when they were experiencing it.

Analyzing how children learn how to read provides another example for how the personal development zones are applicable. Reading comprehension expands as children read just beyond (growth zone) what their current reading level (comfort zone) is. Introducing a child to reading material that is too advanced (destructive zone) can backfire and cause the child to be discouraged, not learn or give up. Academically, these zones are referred to as the independent, guided and frustration reading levels.

Perspective plays a major role in which zone we’re in. After the devastating war had ended between the Lamanites and Nephites, in Alma 62 we learn that many of the Nephites were hardened by the weight and duration of their hardships. Had I been through their experience, I probably would have been too. Conversely, many were softened and humbled themselves before God. What made the difference between these two groups? Their experiences appear the same but their outcomes are opposites. Choice plays an essential role in how we come out on the other side of hardship. It’s not about how strong we, by ourselves, can be during trials. We are weak creatures. We need God for strength and healing. The difference comes by choosing to depend on God over ourselves for strength and endurance.

After nearly four months of being falsely imprisoned in Liberty Jail during the Missouri winter and with little food or means to stay warm, the Lord revealed to a discouraged Joseph Smith the expanse of the growth zone:

“If thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”

The distance between where our comfort zone ends and where the destructive zone begins is where growth happens. If we spend our whole life in the comfort zone, we’ll be weak, dependent, afraid and ignorant. We’ll atrophy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If we spend time in the destructive zone, we’ll be burnt out, bitter and broken. If we want to be better, stronger, happier and more fulfilled, we need to regularly stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zones.

The comfort and growth zones have current limits but they’re also expandable over time. As our muscles tear under stress, with rest (comfort zone), they regenerate stronger and are able to withstand more weight later. Likewise, after our minds and spirits are stretched for certain weights and frequencies, and after time has been made for renewal, the degree to which our minds and spirits can withstand stressors increases. Growth requires strength and energy. Strength and energy require regular renewal. God rested after six days of labor. He created the Sabbath for our renewal, rest and benefit. Our mortal bodies are designed to require about a third of our day in an unconscious, restful state. The Earth goes through similar cycles annually as the seasons repeat the growth, rest and renewal stages. We can’t and shouldn’t constantly have our bow strings strung tight. All things must be done with wisdom, order and diligence but we should pace ourselves lest we run faster than we have strength.

To add to the long list of opposite periods of time that we encounter in life – To every thing there is a season – I’ll also add that there is a time for growth, and a time for renewal. The philosophy “go big or go home” is an enemy to progress. It’s unsustainable. It serves as the mantra for the newly energized zealot who is about to burn out. Or it’s the excuse of the person who doesn’t want to leave their comfort zone at all. Progress happens one step (and often failure) at a time when we frequent the growth zone.

The benefits that trials can provide were depicted eloquently when Chief Justice John Roberts broke the commencement-speech-norm at his son’s 9th grade graduation by, instead of well-wishing the graduates, he expressed the following:

“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

Questions To Consider:

  • What are some hardships I’ve experienced that I can learn from?
  • How do I find the line between the growth zone and the destructive zone? What signals do I notice when I’m pushing myself too hard?
  • What signals do I notice when I’ve been in the comfort zone too long?
  • What areas of life do I need to scale back on?
  • What areas of life do I need to stretch myself in?
  • What are some ways that I can unwind?
  • What are my most dreaded fears that I have control over? Those fears are likely ones I can face.
  • Are there any reminders I can schedule to practice leaving my comfort zone?

Conviction Spectrum

Conviction Spectrum

Victim vs Victor Mentality

muhammad ali knocked down

In an attempt to help individuals solve their own problems and be happier, good friends, parents and psychologists will try to help those who blame their problems and suffering on external factors (aka external locus of control) strive to take responsibility and control of what they can within their own lives (aka internal locus of control). Victim mentality, a form of external locus of control, has permeated much of our culture. It’s fruits are sour. They include dependency, helplessness, unfulfilled potential, regret, anger and unhappiness. This innately human problem is progressively becoming worse through its broader acceptance in the forms of party blaming, parent scapegoating, identity politics and an obsession with an equal-outcome form of equality.

Even though victim mentality can be identified all throughout the history of mankind, the appeal of not taking responsibility of one’s own life and placing blame on others is at the philosophical core of marxism and its various flavors (including national socialism). As the psychologist Jordan Peterson concisely put it – “Leftist politics always depends on identifying a victim and an evil oppressor who is responsible for that victim’s suffering.” It’s no wonder that nations who embrace this attitude deteriorate into helpless, angry, intolerant, bitter doles who see violence as justified means for their envious ends. If the only lense by which you see the world is through the lense of a constant victim/oppressor struggle then you’ll amplify the miniscule, make up the non-existent or you’ll miss out on some important perspectives and opportunities. Regardless, victim mentality has no place amongst anyone wishing to live after the manner of happiness.

As extremely imperfect people living in a fallen world, we are desperately in need of help. God’s grace, available through His atonement, provides the greatest hope for redemption from life’s suffering, if we do our part. We must be doers of the word and not hearers only. Victim mentality is a barrier to God’s grace.

The Book of Mormon contains a history of the Nephites and Lamanites, the descendents of an Israelite family who left Jerusalem to settle the American continent around 600 BC. The Nephites, decedents of Nephi, are constantly driven and harassed by his brothers’ posterity – the Lamanites (descendants of Laman & Lemuel). These Lamanites perpetuated the damning traditions of their fathers by:

“Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea; And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea…And again, they were wroth with [Nephi] when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him. And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.” (Mosiah 10:12-16)

Contrast this Lamanite victim mentality to Nephi. He never aggressed against his brothers, never acted violently against them, quickly forgave them when they repeatedly made fun of him, complained against him, tied him up and beat him almost to death. When God had a task for them, Nephi’s response was affirmative. Even after multiple failed attempts to accomplish tasks, he still had faith and pushed forward. Even though Laman and Lemuel experienced miracles, they would find ways to perceive their condition through the lens of victimhood. As was often the case with the Lamanites, victim mentality leads people to be idle and justify their idleness due to the perceived injustice of others.

Scapegoating and mercy are incompatible. Those who hold the olive branch aren’t quick to blame their plight on others. Those who prefer the sword (justice) over the olive branch are prone to see their condition as a result of some injustice. Not coincidentally, it was the Nephites mental shift from the olive branch to the sword that resulted in their destruction. Victim mentality in individuals does the same thing.

Another great depiction of victim mentality can be found in the 2006 movie, Rocky Balboa. After Rocky’s son finished complaining to him about how hard his life was and blaming others for his problems, Rocky responded with a sharp, yet empowering mental course correction:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

Holocaust survivor, author and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl experienced and witnessed some of the most tragic suffering that mankind has ever seen. After years of persecution, imprisonment, forced labor, starvation, infectious disease, forced family separation and murder – millions of people were vanquished – his parents, his brother and his wife being among them. Frankl was one of the few prisoners to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. In his classic book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he contrasted the opposing perspectives of the prisoners who kept purpose in their lives and those who were hopeless victims of their conditions. The factor that made the difference, as Rocky articulated, is determined by choice: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” In Steven Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, he reiterated the same point – “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

The first truth of Buddhism, that Life is Suffering, is an inevitable fact of life. From the moment we are born to the moment we die – pain, loss, injustice and all manner of hardships will cause us to experience suffering. The manner in which we perceive and choose to respond to suffering determines whether we have, what some term – victim mentality or victor mentality.

  • After failure, victims say “It’s not my fault.” Victors say “I’ll do better next time.”
  • When victims find themselves in a dire situation, they expect others to save them from hardship, regardless of whether they have exerted any effort to help themselves first. Victors exhaust all of their conceivable options before petitioning for help but they don’t feel entitled to it.
  • Victims are obsessed with fairness and believe that if someone has more than they do then it’s at their expense. Victors don’t compare their circumstances with others.
  • Victims envy the success and well being of others. Victors are genuinely happy for the success and well being of others, even for those who aren’t popular.
  • Victims don’t recognize their blessings. Victors gratefully count their blessings.
  • Victims covet. Victors are content.
  • Victims dwell excessively on the source of their pain. Victors attempt to overcome their hardship by focusing on a better future.
  • Victims keep picking at their emotional scabs. Victors seek healing.
  • The difference between a reason and an excuse is attitude. Victims give excuses. Rather than try to accomplish something hard, their initial reaction is to look for ways to get out of doing them. Victors prioritize their goals and will look for ways to accomplish the most essential ones.
  • When someone else is experiencing hardship, victims act as enablers and convince them that they are a victim from external factors. Victors help that person to internally overcome their problems.
  • Victims don’t recognize their mistakes. Victors seek to recognize their mistakes and fix them.
  • When victims experience loss, they dwell on it. Victors move forward to the future.
  • When victims receive correction they get angry and try justifying why they’re not in the wrong. Victors respond to correction with gratitude. They are able to dispassionately filter out destructive criticism and take to heart constructive criticism.
  • Victims complain about the hard things they’re asked to do. Victors say, “I will go and do.” (1 Ne 3:7)
  • Victims are acted upon. Victors act. (2 Nephi 2:14)
  • Victims take no responsibility for their lives. Victors are agents unto themselves, are anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will. (D&C 58:26-29)
  • Victims allow their emotions to rule them. Victors attempt to rule their emotions.
  • Victims sound the alarm about their hardships. Victors only raise their hardships in an attempt to overcome them or when helping others learn how to overcome theirs.
  • Victims “keep score” in relationships by comparing their contributions to others’. Victors expect little from others.
  • Victims constantly believe others owe them something. Victors recognize themselves as an essential source of their own success.
  • Victims confuse permissive enablement for loving empathy. Victors love the sinner but hate the sin.
  • Victims wait. Victors do.
  • Victims damn their own progress. Victors seek to be better.
  • Victims perpetuate misery in themselves and others. Victors spread hope and light.

Recognizing the difference between victim and victor mentality is not an excuse to ignore the source of one’s suffering. People have experienced true injustices. People are experiencing internal struggles we’ll never comprehend. It’s important to acknowledge the weight and cause of people’s suffering. When appropriate boundaries can be established, they should be sought for. Along the same lines, shame and guilt shouldn’t be attached to grief. We all suffer. Being harsh on ourselves or others who are experiencing pain stifles healing. As is often the case, healing requires time and time requires patience and understanding. Recognizing this is important else we are tempted to bury our problems or kick others while they’re down. The important choice to make is at the crossroads of suffering. Accepting that healing requires time isn’t an excuse to wallow in self-pity. Rather, we ought to choose to move forward with an olive branch extended outward and its healing effects applied inward. The choice is ours.

After berrading his son for seeing himself as a victim, Rocky expressed the reason for his reproach which can serve as an additional example for how we can help ourselves and others overcome life’s crosses – “I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens… But until you start believin in yourself, you ain’t gonna have a life.” 

 

Victim

Victor

Spiteful Loving
Judging Uncritical / Tolerant
Complaining Grateful
Dependent Responsible
Blaming Accountable
Entitled Self Reliant
Comparing Content
Helpless Self Empowered
Idle / Unproductive Active / Engaged
Constrained Free
Bitter / Resentful Forgiving
Quits Endures
Fearful Courageous
Scarcity Mentality Abundant Mentality
Enable Empower