Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"He Never Missed a Day"

Confession: I'm not very good at writing in my journal. Not very good at all.

So bad, in fact, that fully nine months of my mission experience apparently never happened; at least I've got no journalistic evidence to prove it. We won't talk about my attempts at journaling before my mission, but the words 'pathetic' and 'grossly inconsistent' come to mind.

Why, despite my repeated failures, is keeping a journal important to me? I was very young when I first heard this statement by President Spencer W. Kimball
I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to your families, to your children, your grandchildren, and others, on through the generations...those who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives.
That statement made a lasting impact on my impressionable young mind, and I've since felt duty-bound to record my stories and insights. This blog is one effort to fulfill that prophetic—and now personal—vision.

No, the blurriness and black marks are not
a trendy feature on Picmonkey; they are a
consequence of dropping my camera at Lagoon
I realized recently that another statement made an equally lasting impact on my young mind. This statement surfaced again and again in a variety of settings, but one phrasing of it was, "Once Johnny started keeping a journal at 14 he never missed a day."

Woah, Johnny—never missed a day, huh? Well then surely I could do the same!

Well I couldn't. And I didn't. And I began to wonder if Johnny really never missed a day and I started to resent him if he hadn't. My inconsistent journaling on my mission stemmed from an erroneous belief that if I missed a day I could play catch up the next. The problem with this line of thinking is that one day inevitably piles up into 17 or 18. It didn't take long to get overwhelmed by how far I'd fallen behind. In trying to keep up with Johnny I couldn't even keep up with myself.

I caught myself falling into the same error upon returning home. After missing a couple of days I was tempted to play the familiar game of catch up. But something stopped me. True doctrine stopped me. My burgeoning understanding of the Savior's Atonement rescued me from the fallacy of wrong thinking. The Savior doesn't expect me to catch up on missed opportunities any more than he expects a repentant sinner to fork over back-payments on tithing. He expects me to start over, not to languish forever in a miserable game I never win.

Years from now if you're reading my journal you'll notice a break between July 9 and July 11, 2013.

Yes, I missed a day. But finally, mercifully, I didn't miss the point.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Words We Speak

My history and philosophy of psychology class has introduced me to a new way of thinking. What if the words we speak carry power beyond the energy it takes to utter them? What if the ideas we hastily subscribe to and share—even if false—permanently impact our thinking?

They do. Consider how often you find yourself saying something like this—
I wonder what caused Amy to do that.
Here we assume that Amy is a passive object acted upon by some stimulus which caused her behavior. Most of us will agree that if Amy robs a bank she is responsible for her crime. But almost in the same breath we will regurgitate some intellectual slop about how Amy's upbringing or genes or stressful work environment or difficult relationship caused her behavior. We don't feel comfortable saying Amy is not responsible for her decision. But we feel equally uncomfortable believing what we say—that Amy indeed chose to rob the bank and that she could have chosen otherwise. 

Either our words don't match our beliefs or our beliefs don't match our words.

What if we said this instead?
I wonder what her reasons were for doing that.
Here we acknowledge that Amy has reasons for robbing the bank. Yes, her circumstances contributed to her decision; how could they not? But they didn't cause anything. Amy chose to rob the bank. She could have chosen differently.

We rob the human race of dignity when we reduce a man to his behavior. We demoralize man in his search for meaning when we deny the reality of his agency.

Let us not through the words we speak offer man the toxic binge of behaviorism. Let us instead share doctrine.
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. (President Boyd K. Packer—Little Children, Ensign Nov. 1986