The Future: As Hopeless As Right Before Dawn

Times appear to be darkening in this world. Many people’s mental, physical, financial, relationship, and spiritual health are strained and in jeopardy. People feel unhappy, fatigued, lonely, in pain, confused, angry, victimized and afraid. The near-term future doesn’t appear to offer a lot of hope for this country. Friendships and families are being divided by the sophisticated tactics of the devil. While chasing scepters, a particular faction of society is using lies, distortions and manipulations and destroying anyone in their way while pursuing their wicked ends. Good is called evil and evil good. The masses are buying it.

When we look at the history of the Book of Mormon, we see a pattern of multiple American nations who were once a righteous people become destroyed due to wickedness and clever schemers. This is a land of promise but the promises are a double-edged sword. As Moroni observed his people, the Nephites, ripening for extinction within his own lifetime, he was also abridging the Jaredite record and soaking in the story of that other American nation who also went from a prosperous and God-fearing nation to utter extinction due to wickedness. He wrote:

“And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them… And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.” (Ether 2: 9-11)

Referring to this Book of Mormon pattern, Gordon B Hinckley said:

“In its descriptions of the problems of today’s society, it is as current as the morning newspaper and much more definitive, inspired, and inspiring concerning the solutions to those problems. I know of no other writing that sets forth with such clarity the tragic consequences to societies that follow courses contrary to the commandments of God. Its pages trace the stories of two distinct civilizations that flourished on the Western Hemisphere. Each began as a small nation, its people walking in the fear of the Lord. Each prospered, but with prosperity came growing evils. The people succumbed to the wiles of ambitious and scheming leaders who oppressed them with burdensome taxes, who lulled them with hollow promises, who countenanced and even encouraged loose and lascivious living, who led them into terrible wars that resulted in the death of millions and the final extinction of two great civilizations in two different eras.” (The Power of the Book of Mormon)

Which of President Hinckley’s descriptions match today’s conditions in this country? Who can say we are a God fearing people? After describing the depravity of the Nephites in a letter to his son Moroni, Mormon wrote that he couldn’t “recommend them unto God” lest God should smite him. Can you recommend this people to God when lies and double-standards are told and accepted at all official levels of society? Can you recommend this people to God when lasciviousness is celebrated and morality is seen as either subjective or hateful? Can you recommend this people to God when millions of murders of innocents are committed and legally protected every decade? 

As the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints explicitly teaches, these are the latter days. We know that times will be dark. The ancients including Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, Nephi, Mormon, Moroni as well as our modern prophets have warned about the spiritual and temporal destruction that will precede the Savior’s second coming. The darkness will be unprecedented. To a relatively few who remain, the sentiment expressed by Joseph Smith while in Liberty Jail “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” is and will be increasingly asked by good, yet desperate and lonely-feeling people. When Jesus described what it will be like before his return, he compared our condition to a woman in labor and said “ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful…” There couldn’t be a better description of the times.

Christ and the prophets don’t harrow up our souls with these seemingly bleak messages of the last days if it were not for our good. As the most outspoken modern prophet of unpopular truths, Ezra Taft Benson, pointed out – the saints tend to prefer sweetness over light. Sweetness is comforting and popular. Light can shine in dark places we’d rather avoid. But it’s important for us to have the knowledge of what is coming so that we can, through God, muster the courage and strength to stand, be aware of common pitfalls, and know what it is we’re standing for. If all we speak of is the sweetness of the gospel and ignore important truths, even the unpopular ones, the adversary can easily take us off guard.

The darkness, although an essential part of the latter-day story, is incomplete and hopeless without the triumph of the light that will shine after the darkness ends. As Thomas Fuller wrote, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn”, the Lord also taught:

“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.” (D&C 58:3-4)

The tribulations may appear hopeless but our situation is as hopeless as:

  • A group of freed slaves, wandering in a desolate desert for 40 years. 
  • The experience of a man on Mt Sinai who was put in a state of fear by a dark force which pretended to be a morally superior being, yelled and violently demanded that he be subjugated to it. 
  • The vision of a concerned father, who traveled a long time through a large, dark and dreary waste. 
  • A group of people experiencing mass destruction and death, first through a secret band of murderers and then through earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, a period of silence and a vapor of darkness so thick that no man-made light could illuminate it.  
  • The despair and confusion accompanying a small group of people who were promised saving but who instead witnessed the legal murder of their Savior. 
  • The dark powers that seized and silenced a 14 year old boy in prayer to the point that he was ready to “sink into despair” and abandon himself to destruction. 

The long, dark, repeating hardships we are encountering can seem unbearable while in the middle of them but the glory of light that is shortly coming will be so great and our joy so full that it will make the pains of these hardships become forgettable. After Christ described the labor-like tribulations preceding his coming he added:

“…but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:20-22)

We must live worthy of this glory and be willing to endure our crosses well. We can’t give up the light because the darkness is temporarily winning. We shouldn’t succumb to wicked schemes out of worldly pressures or out of fear that we will lose a job or a relationship. Christ’s disciples aren’t cowards. We might need to hold our tongue or speak up; flee, lay down our lives or fight. Death doesn’t need to be scary and dark times don’t have to feel permanent. The only way to know what is needed in our particular circumstances is to be close to God so that he can instruct us and strengthen us. During the coming days, whether increasingly severe travail pains are active or in-between, we will need to follow Elder Henry B Eyring’s council:

“As the challenges around us increase, we must commit to do more to qualify for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Casual prayer won’t be enough. Reading a few verses of the scripture won’t be enough. Doing the minimum of what the Lord asks of us won’t be enough. Hoping that we will have the Atonement work in our lives and that we will perhaps sometimes feel the influence of the Holy Ghost won’t be enough. And one great burst of effort won’t be enough. Only a steady, ever-increasing effort will allow the Lord to take us to higher ground.” (Raise the Bar)

If Only

Life can be full of unbearable pain and hardships
IF ONLY there was a source of healing, comfort and strength

Life can be full of doubt and fear
IF ONLY hope and assurance was possible

Life can seem permanently stained by some of our choices
IF ONLY there was a way to become clean

Life is full of noise and distractions
IF ONLY we had regular reminders to renew our focus on what matters most

Life can be hectic and draining
IF ONLY there were routine ways to recharge and find strength

Life can feel empty and lonely
IF ONLY we had a constant companion who filled us with light and joy

Life can feel clouded and confusing
IF ONLY there were reliable directions and guides to help us navigate through the darkness

Life can feel incomplete and inadequate
IF ONLY we had someone who knew us completely and loved us despite our flaws

Life can seem so pointless and temporary
IF ONLY the light never faded with time

Disengage Over Disagreement?

I’ve been noticing how easy it is to have unity and good feelings towards others when conflict is absent but how quickly warm feelings vanish when there’s a simple difference of opinion. As a general rule, I don’t think it’s right to cut people off from our lives due to a disagreement. Yet it happens all of the time in marriages, friendships, employment, churches and other relationships. It’s amplified when intolerance of opinion is not only justified but embraced systematically in the forms of group-shaming and other dehumanizing purges. Tolerance vs purging. Inclusion vs exclusion. Freedom vs oppression. Understanding vs ignorance. The olive branch vs the sword. Love & forgiveness vs anger & bitterness. These are some of the choices we face when we have differences of opinions with others. 

Have our past convictions been so flawless that we can, with confidence, state that our current convictions are beyond question? Do we have all of the facts and perspectives that would make us capable of judging a topic competently? Is our moral arsenal so complete that even if we had a full understanding of the facts that we would be able to make a rightful judgement? Is it our right to judge? In other words, are we perfect? If not, why do we expect others to have the same convictions as we do? Other’s possess perspectives that can help refine our own, if we will search their minds with an open heart. Purging people tends to make their ignorance worse and therefore the likelihood of misery worse. Loving people, despite our differences, can make incremental advances towards love, truth, completeness and fulfillment. Thank goodness we all have different perspectives.

“Ah, but what about the nihilist?”, says one? “Or what about the racial supremacist?”, objects another. “Are we to embrace these nasty ideologies?” Objections to tolerance are constantly made on the grounds that it is condoning symptomatic ideas and behaviors. But tolerance is not condoning anymore than listening is agreeing. We can love the sinner and still hate the sin. 

Daryl Davis was able to convert over 200 people away from the KKK, including multiple upper-level leaders of the group. What makes this feat most meaningful is the fact that Daryl is an African American, the target of much of the group’s intolerance and violence. His success hasn’t come from shunning, screaming, deplatforming, ignoring, fighting or any other form of purging. Rather, Daryl reached out, talked with, listened to and befriended some of the very people who initially viewed him as inferior. These actions ultimately humanized his race to a large segment of an organization that society had thought irredeemable. His kind actions dispelled the darkness that clouded these people’s minds. That light was not and could not have been instilled through dark methods. 

Daryl observed a timeless lesson about the importance of actively trying to understand each other during an interview he had with a few of the KKK members. No violent intentions were being expressed during their meeting but tensions were still high. Neither trusted the other. All of a sudden, a loud noise occurred that startled Daryl. He was afraid that one of the other two was making a quick movement to hurt him. As he glanced at the others, he noticed the same startled look on their faces – they were on high alert that something might happen to them. It turned out that the noise was just a can of soda settling in a bucket of ice next to them. Daryl associated layers of meaning from this incident by pointing out that: “Ignorance breeds fear. We fear those things we don’t understand. If we don’t put a lid on that fear and keep that fear in check, that fear in turn will breed hatred because we hate those things that frighten us. If we don’t keep that hatred in check, that hatred in turn will breed destruction. We want to destroy those things that we hate. Why? Because they frighten us. But guess what? They may have been harmless and we were just ignorant.” 

Take parenting as another example of how seeking understanding can make everyone’s lives better. Many parents will play behavioral whack-a-mole with their children not understanding that their attempts to correct their children’s behavior could actually be making things worse for the child and requiring more energy on their part overall. In order to help children, or anyone for that matter, long-term successes are tied to the means in which the corrections are consistently, patiently and lovingly applied. A parent will see a child acting out – yelling, crying and throwing a tantrum when they don’t get what they want – and the parent often responds, usually with good intentions, with authoritarian dictates or force (or in some cases, rewarding the child for the bad behavior). None of this helps because none of it is getting to the root of the issue. The child’s tantrum is a symptom. The symptom is an opportunity to stop and dig deeper into why that child is acting out to begin with. Perhaps their love-tank has been running on empty for an extended period of time and what they really need, instead of lectures and punishments, is genuine attention that is meaningful to them. Or perhaps they were bullied, abused or they made a critical mistake and they are too afraid to raise a sensitive topic up to someone who will make them feel smaller than they already do. Or perhaps they’ve been conditioned to behave this way from others who constantly give in to those styles of demands. The root causes will vary almost as much as there are different personalities and circumstances. What is not needed, though, is ridiculing or verbally discarding that child because of their behavior. What is always needed is love, understanding and appropriate boundaries.

Just like there are boundaries for many other good things (e.g. charity, freedom), there are boundaries to tolerance as well. First, as mentioned previously, we ought to separate the sinner from the sin. Always viewing a person through the lens of love and choices through the lens of truth helps us to not debase each other to varying degrees of worth. Second, if someone’s choices are aggressing on someone else, those breaches don’t have to be tolerated. We can and should forgive and have mercy but that doesn’t mean that we need to continually put up with abuse. As an exception to the general rule to be tolerant, there are occasions where we can admit that another’s actions have actually severed their bond to us. After agressions are repeated so often and after so many petitions to stop, the only choices left are to cut yourself off from the abuser (if escape is possible) or fight back (if escape is not possible). Though, as was the case with Daryl Davis, this doesn’t mean that we should stop extending the olive branch. The behaviors of those who we perceive to be hopeless are often just symptoms of deeper problems that can be healed with our patience and love. The problem is that most of us jump straight to the exception (of separation) rather than living the rule (of tolerance).

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.

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