Optimism & Choice

Optimism

Last week, I traveled to New Orleans for work. I had a great time, though I didn’t love the city. I had a lot of time on the plane to do some pondering, some reading, and some sleeping. 

One of the things I thought about was that of all people, we as members of the LDS church have the biggest reason to be optimistic of anyone out there. 

Let’s look at it this way. When we die, we expect that unless we have done something horrifically awful, our life on the other side will look like this

89 And thus we saw, in the heavenly vision, the glory of the telestial, which surpasses all understanding;

90 And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it. (D&C 76)

So, worst case scenario for us: we are wrong, and the LDS church is not God’s church, we believe we will end up in a place where the “glory…surpasses all understanding.” That is a risk I am certainly willing to take. See, even if we are wrong, we still believe the worst that can happen to us is that we will be somewhere that is so wonderful, we would die to go there

Other churches preach that if we are not found worthy or of the right church, there will be hell, fire, and eternal torment. So, worst case scenario for them: hellfire and damnation. 

I believe that God wants us to be an optimistic people. There are many other instances of optimism in the scriptures. One of my favorite scriptures is in 1 Nephi, chapter 3. Lehi tells his sons that they need to go back to Jerusalem, where they just left, and get the brass plates from Laman. This would not be an easy task, and yet, Nephi knows that whether or not it is easy is irrelevant. He knows that the Lord will provide and that everything will most likely work out fine in the end. He says (in verse 7):

 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for knowthat the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men,save he shall prepare way for them that they may accomplishthe thing which he commandeth them.

He knows there is no way he can do it alone, but he knows he can do it. Was this an easy thing for Nephi? Absolutely not! But, he knew the Lord would help him be successful in his quest. 

Choice

I was talking to a friend the other day, and he said, “Well, we don’t really have any other choice, but to do X.” We had the following good discussion.

God gave us an opportunity to choose because He believes that is vitally important. I hear sometimes about people who say that we (Mormons) just blindly follow (and are taught to blindly follow) whatever our prophet or other leaders say. That is absolute hogwash. We fought in the prexistence over the right to be able to choose! The Man who could create this world and form it together to successfully support life surely could have forced us all to make good choices and be with Him forever, but he wanted us to be able to choose. Choice matters. It really does. 

When we say, I have no choice but to do X, we are essentially telling the Lord that we are forfeiting the right that He lost 1/3 of His children to give us. That is like me saying that I would give up one of my kids so that the others could make their own choices. To hear them say, “I have no choice,” would run a dagger through my heart every time. I would think, “How can you say that? I gave up your brother to make sure that you would ALWAYS have a choice. Always means always. It is not something that you can just give up.” As a parent, I wouldn’t even be mad, I would feel pain and anguish every single time. 

There are times when we lose our choices. For example, when we sin, we don’t have as many choices anymore. When I run a red light or speed in front of a police officer, I don’t choose where my $300 or $95 goes. That choice gets made for me. But when we are living right, we do have choices. 

30 And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

 31 He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you. (Helaman 14:30-31)

God gives us the opportunity to decide for ourselves. Sometimes, all our choices are bad choices. Sometimes, the best choice is still not a great one, but to say we don’t have a choice is very rarely the case. 

I’ll give a personal example. My wife really hated credit cards (she still does) when we got married. I had one and she thought it was ridiculous to have one. She continually pressured me to get rid of it, but I wanted to keep it. I thought I needed it to build credit, and I wanted to have it for emergencies. I argued, “I have to have a credit card, I don’t have a choice.” My wife argued, “You don’t have to have a credit card, as there are other ways to prepare for emergencies (like saving money in an emergency fund), and there are other ways to build credit (like the student debt and car loan you also have)!” Eventually, I came around to my wife’s way of thinking, and we haven’t had a credit card at all for years. This is a small, seemingly meaningless example when there are so many other examples of where we do have choices, but the principle is the same, regardless of the size or importance of the issue. God gave up 1/3 of His children so we could choose eternal life. We better respect that. 

The Plan of Happiness exists because we are constantly being asked to make choices.  We are always being enticed one way or the other. 

 16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. (2 Nephi 2:16)

God wants us to act for ourselves. We can’t say we have no choices, for the Lord set it up so that we would almost constantly have to make choices. 

Mindset, Part 2

One of my favorite beliefs of the gospel is the idea of the gifts of the Spirit. In Moroni 10, the gifts of the Spirit are listed, and then Moroni says:

 And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will. (verse 17)

So, everyone pretty much gets their gifts. Christ gives them to us, and we can have many gifts, or not very many, but everyone can have at least one. D&C 46 reads: 

For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. (verses 11 & 12)

But where it really gets interesting and pertains to Mindset is here, in verses 8 and 9 of D&C 46:

…and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;

For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me…

Not only is the Lord willing to give us all at least one gift, but He also commands us to pray for and seek more gifts, so that we may have more opportunities to benefit those around us. This is truly possible. And it is quite spectacular that we can have so many gifts if we just ask for them. 

In Mindset we read:

Some people simply pick up these skills in the natural course of their lives, whereas others have to work to learn them and put them together. But as we can see from the “after” self-portraits, everyone can do it. 

Here’s what this means: Just becasue some people can do something with little or no training, it doesn’t mean that others can’t do it (and sometimes do it even better) with training. This is so important, because many, many people with the fixed mindset think that someone’s early performance tells you all you need to know about their talent and their future. (70, emphasis in original)

Sounds an awful lot like gifts of the Spirit to me. It doesn’t matter what we are born with. We can develop those things that we need to have if we seek the Lord and ask for the gifts. I love that the gospel teaches us naturally to become growth-minded individuals. 

QBQ! By John Miller

QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life may win the award for having a title that takes longer to read than the book itself. This is a quick read, and a good one. There are so many parallels to the gospel that it is hard to find where to begin and what to highlight. Miller even invites you to read the book again when you are done (a good strategy).

This book is about personal accountability. Miller invites the reader to not just whine and complain when things don’t go the way she wants, but rather asks the reader to ask a couple more questions. “What can I do?” becomes the clarion call of the QBQ thinker.

There are two ways I want to illustrate how we learned this simple account of personal accountability.

First, the hymn, Have I Done Any Good (Music), is the exemplification of Personal Accountability and QBQ!

Has anyone’s burden been lighter today
Because I was willing to share?
Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?
When they needed my help was I there?

There are chances for work all around just now,
Opportunities right in our way.
Do not let them pass by, saying, “Sometime I’ll try,”
But go and do something today.

QBQ! is about finding ways to be the solution to the problem, not another complainer. This hymn is great because it reminds us to go out of our way to solve problems and help others. One of the great stories Miller shares is of a server in a busy diner that saw that Miller didn’t have anyone helping him yet. When Miller asked for a Coke, the server mentioned that they only served Pepsi products, so Miller asked for water instead. Much to his surprise, a couple minutes later, the server returned with Miller’s food and an ice-cold Coke. When Miller inquired of the server where it had come from, he learned that the server had sent his manager next door to the grocery store to buy one so Miller could have what he wanted (needed). Personal accountabilty is about “making better choices” (14) like the server did to get what someone needed.

Second, there is the story of Nephi. Miller relates a story about a girl and her father flying in a small airplane when the engine stopped. The pilot (the father) told his daughter he would have to fly a little differently than usual. He put the plane into a nose dive right over Lake Michigan and tried to get the engine to start again. When that didn’t work, he tried again, still over frigid Lake Michigan, and a few hundred feet closer. This time, it worked. Miller says:

When faced with a new situation, [the father] took action and solved the problem. But if he had resisted the change and instead spent his time whining and complaining…things might have come out much differently. (30)

Like the father in this story, Nephi, the Book of Mormon prophet, saw a problem and he fixed it. When the bows of his older brothers had lost their spring, and Nephi’s bow broke, everyone else immediately started complaining. Nephi had personal accountability and asked himself, “What can I do?” Then he did something-which is essential for a QBQ thinker-he made a bow, and asked his father where the Lord would have him go to find food. 1 Nephi 16:23:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did amake out of wood a bow, and out of a straight stick, an arrow; wherefore, I did arm myself with a bow and an arrow, with a sling and with stones. And I said unto my father: Whither shall I go to obtain food?

Nephi gave the most excellent example of a QBQ thinker throughout his life, but this is one time where he  did what truly needed to be done. He didn’t blame others for their weak bows, nor did he blame his father for dragging him out into the wilderness. He saw a problem, and dealt with it, the best way that he could, by finding personal accountability and taking action. Nephi didn’t just solve the problem, he also didn’t even blame anyone. “Who do accountable people blame? No one. Not even themselves” (49).

Mindset, By Carol S. Dweck, Part I [book]

The first book I’ll be reading is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (affiliate link) by Carol S. Dweck. Here is some background about her:

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success. She has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities, has lectured all over the world, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her scholarly book Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development was named Book of the Year by the World Education Federation. Her work has been featured in such publications as The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, and she has appeared on Today and 20/20.

Dr. Dweck is a very accomplished researcher and professor. But her eloquence, research, and effort reminded me a lot of what the volunteer teachers in primary taught me as a child.

The book Mindset is actually about just two mindsets: fixed and growth. The fixed mindset means basically that one believes talent and intelligence are static: we are all born with X amount of each, and that is all we get. The growth mindset is the opposite: we are born with X amount of talent or intelligence, but we can always increase that through hard work and practice. You can learn more about it at the book’s website: mindsetonline.com. And before you read the book, take the test to see what mindset you have, because once you start reading, you’ll be able to identify it really quickly.

One of the key tenants of the Mormon faith is that we can become like God. We do that by learning a little bit every day, until we become perfect.

For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. 2 Nephi 28:30

The premise of Mindset is that if we are willing to constantly learn, we can get better at anything. The last line of that scripture is particularly interesting as it relates to Mindset “From them [that say they have a fixed mindset] shall be taken away even that which they have”. This comes in to play later in the book when Dweck starts talking about people who had potential, but lost it because they had a fixed mindset.

In the first couple chapters, Dweck lays out how the mindsets look in children, and what those children do with their mindsets.

We offered four-year-olds a choice: They could redo an easy jigsaw puzzle or they could try a harder one. Even at this tender age, children with the fixed mindset…stuck with the safe one…[while] children with the growth mindset…thought it was a strange choice [to repeat an easy puzzle]. “I’m dying to figure them out!” exclaimed one little girl.

It is fascinating how early the mindsets start with children. I am grateful that I have always believed that I could become great. Not that I already started out great, and was stuck on that. I have been taught my whole life that I can become something amazing if I continue to learn and grow.