Too Far Gone

 

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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?

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Victim vs Victor Mentality

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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

 

The Olive Branch Or The Sword?

great-sealTo commemorate its newly established nationhood, the continental congress adopted a coat of arms known today as the Great Seal. This emblem portrays a bald eagle holding arrows (symbolizing a readiness for war) with one talon and an olive branch (symbolizing peace) in the other. The eagle’s head points towards the olive branch, symbolizing the nation’s preference for peace. The significance of this allegory, while meaningful for a people, also carries an important application for individuals seeking to follow the Savior.

The Savior taught in word and deed the importance of holding the olive branch of love and mercy. During his sermon on the mount, Christ taught: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. This teaching came in rebuttal to the philosophy “Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy”. It’s easy to hate our enemies and retaliate against those who have done us wrong when our predisposition is to react to wrongdoing with the proverbial sword. Mercy is a harder choice than justice.

“May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” Thomas S. Monson (Choices)

The parable of the King and the servant reiterates the importance of being merciful. The king, who was rightfully owed a return for a large sum of money, forgave (olive branch) the pleading servant’s debt. Once forgiven, the servant went and imprisoned (sword) one of his debtors when he was unable to pay back his small amount. The principle of receiving the level of judgement that we resort to in life is depicted in the tragic ending of the parable. The king discovers the servant’s lack of mercy and imposes that same level of judgement on him by casting him into prison.

When presented with the adulteress to be stoned; while in the act of being unjustly arrested; and even during his wrongful execution, Christ held the Olive branch by rescuing and defending the very sinners that we probably would have fought and condemned. While admonishing the early elders of the church to overcome the world, Christ taught: “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men”. Christ, the eternal judge, whose right it is to fix and wave punishments, chose not to condemn but to liberate and heal. Conversely, we take it upon ourselves to vigilant around with our sword of “justice” by seeking to right the wrongs committed against us and remove the motes from other people’s eyes.

When presented with the heavy or seemingly insignificant scenarios of life, the question can be asked: are we holding an olive branch or a sword…

  • when someone is driving in a manner we disapprove of?
  • when someone close to us says or does something thoughtless or hurtful?
  • when a co-worker, roommate or associate lives by different rules than we do?
  • when we’re communicating a difference of opinion with someone else?
  • when someone else is communicating a difference of opinion with us?
  • when someone isn’t pulling their weight?
  • when someone broke their commitment?
  • when a neighbor is in need of help and we have other things we’d rather do?
  • when an ecclesiastic or secular leader doesn’t meet our expectations?
  • when someone is dressing in a manner that we don’t approve of?
  • when our prejudices seem to be vindicated?
  • when a child is being rambunctious?
  • when we find out our parents aren’t perfect?
  • when someone’s pride shows through?
  • when we see the poor as deserving of their condition?
  • when we covet what the rich have?
  • when we want the youth to experience the hardships that we’ve experienced?
  • when we see the worth of souls as greater within one boundary than another?
  • when someone holds a differing worldview than us?

Are any of these condoning adultery, aggression, dishonesty or any other form of wrongdoing? Of course not. Being merciful towards people doesn’t mean that we reject God’s law in the process. Also, we can’t control the thoughts and actions of other people. All we can control are our own thoughts and actions. Preferring the olive branch over the sword will make our responses to life’s tests become easier to endure and will fill our souls with peace and love.