My ultra-boring life

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

10 Ways to Show Charity, Become a Better Person, and Feel Better About Yourself with less than 5 minutes and No Money

1. If you go to the store, don't pick up your cart from the collection inside. Take one from someone who just unloaded it to save them the trip to the cart holder.
2. Write a letter or email to a friend or acquaintance for no reason. Get personal with it: ask them personal questions, tell them specific things you like about them. If you miss them, tell them so.
3. Do the same with a phone call.
4. Show up at a senior center or assisted living center. Tell people you are the 'Hug Fairy' and go around giving a hug, a smile, and a greeting to at least a dozen people.
5. Visit a mom with young children. Offer to do a specific household chore and talk to her while you do it. Both can brighten a mom's day like you wouldn't believe.
6. With things like #4 or #5, wear a cape or fairy wings when you do it. It may seem silly, but trust me, it makes it a million times more awesome for everyone.
7. If you're at a grocery store where people have to bag their own groceries, help the person before or after you bag their groceries (especially if they are elderly or alone or have little kids with them).
8. Keep your cape/fairy wings with you at all times. If you ever have a time and place that you have a few minutes to wait, put them on and give random people hugs or smiles.
9. When you are at a store, or in the drive thru, pay attention to the person helping you. Give them a moment of real and friendly interaction. Compliment them. And thank them sincerely for what they do.
10. Keep a couple of sticks of sidewalk chalk with you in a ziploc bag. Use them to write short and sweet greetings on the drives and walks of both friends and strangers.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Responsibility of Democracy

When it comes to voting, I'm afraid that this is what we've come to:



After the results of the Brexit vote last night--including the regrets of many of the people who voted to leave--I thought it was time that somebody get the word out to people to clear up some misconceptions that have been perpetuated by soundbites and vote beggars, as well as give you some education about how government and democracy actually works.

First, to the government part.  Governments are what make our laws that dictate what you cannot do.  They are also in charge of enforcing those laws, and protecting the country that you live in as well as the people in that country.  They also manage relations with other countries, to help with security and other foreign relations that affect industry, trade, and other things important to the people in your country.

Got it so far?  Good.

Now, up until a century or two ago, most countries in the world were ruled by monarchies or dictatorships.  A few were ruled by oligarchies, but democracies were few and far between.  This meant that the number of people who had ANY say in the laws, enforcement of laws, protections, foreign relations, and other things that affected everyone in their country, was in the dozens at best.  No one else had any say.  Period.  This didn't mean that the people could sit around and let those few people take care of them and take the responsibility of making sure things ran smoothly.  Heck no.  This meant that the laws were based on the needs and wants of the people who made the laws--those few people.  The laws kept them in power, the laws made them rich, the laws kept them from getting in trouble.  Protecting the country was more about pride and power of the leader, not protection of the people (except for the detail that the fewer people there were to man the armies, the easier it would be for another country to take the power and pride away from the leader(s)).  Foreign relations were more about keeping power and money with the people who already had the power and money.

Still with me?  Let's move on.

This meant that there were a lot of laws that most of the people didn't really like, but there was almost nothing they could do about them.  Like, they couldn't talk bad about their leaders, at ALL, even if it was true.  If they were accused of crimes, they were often guilty until proven innocent, and since it was usually appointees of the leaders who made the judgments, and not a jury of one's peers, you were basically screwed if you had done anything to get on the bad side of any kind of leader or one of their friends.  Religion at that time was generally based more on power and politics than conscience, as well, and many, of not most, countries had a 'state' religion.  This not only meant the the religion was the official one of the country, but that the leadership, rules, and monies of the state and the religion were intertwined.  This not only meant that the state religion affected laws and policies, but that the state affected what was taught at the pulpit.  Think about that.

Now, the United States was not the first democracy, nor will it be the last.  But the people living here  considered the rules and restrictions they were living under unpleasant enough that they decided to go to war over it.  Not just fight.  Not just rely on a few strapping young men to go volunteer to sacrifice their lives in a foreign land for them.  But to give up their homes, their money, their reputations, their comfort, and quite possibly their lives and the lives of their families by waging a war against the most powerful country in the world at that time.  That is what a say in their country's governance was worth to them.

Now, though, things have changed.  Democracies have become so commonplace, and the world so populous, that we really take our way of life for granted.  If something goes wrong, it is Somebody Else's fault, and Somebody Else had better fix it.

Well you know what?  That's not how democracies work.  

Let me say that again.

Democracies are not governments where someone else is responsible.  Democracies are governments where YOU are responsible.

Now, I'm not going to use blanket, simplistic adages like 'just vote!' or 'if you don't vote, you can't complain!'  Why?  Because they are WRONG, and I will tell you why: with something as important as the governing of your communities, towns, cities, states, and countries, you absolutely should NEVER just throw crap against the wall and see what sticks.
Voting means you are in charge of the government in your country.  And if others have been willing to work their whole lives, to give up everything, or even die for this, you should at least be willing to put a few hours of research into making an informed decision in the voting booth.

Don't tell me you don't have time.  I know there are a few people out there that are crazy busy with serious responsibilities in their lives.  But most of us spend more time in a single week scrolling through Facebook, watching sports, or playing on our phones than it would take to be decently informed on upcoming political choices.  You cannot rely on the intelligence, sacrifice of time, or sense of duty of others to make sure your life runs smoothly.  It never has, and never will, work that way.

So here's some important rules to follow:
1.  At least a week before an election, do some research and find out what issues and candidates are going to be on your local ballot. Then, from a few different sites (none of them social media, please!), gather information about the issues, the laws, and the candidates.
2.  If you don't know anything about any of the issues or candidates by the time you go into the polling place, don't vote.
3.  If you are basing your voting decisions solely on the party associated with that candidate or issue, don't vote.
4.  If you are basing your voting decisions on what you think your friends like, don't vote.
5.  If you are basing your voting decisions on how your spouse told you to vote, don't vote.
6.  If you are basing your voting decisions on hatred of some person, group, or people, you should probably not vote.  (Protection of you and yours is one thing.  Simple hatred of others is something else entirely.  And it's bad.)
7.  If you are basing your voting decisions on what name simply looks most familiar, don't vote.

Please note that I am NOT saying you should never vote.  I'm saying you should VOTE RESPONSIBLY.   Those career politicians you hate that you say we need term limits to oust?  Stop voting them in.  Those high-level politicians that you hate having as the only choices?  Start voting good people in at lower levels of government so that we have better choices when they get to the top.  WE are the ones in charge.  WE are the ones whose responsibility it is to make our country better.  So start taking the responsibility that was given to you seriously and put some effort into it.  It's important.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Beauty

OK, so there is this trend lately to make sure that everyone is 'beautiful.'  And I'm not particularly on board.

See, to me, everyone has strengths.  Everyone has weaknesses.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Some people are short, some people are dumb, some people are ugly.  Those sound like awful words, and in some ways they are and shouldn't be used in polite company.  However, I don't think the solution is to redefine the antonyms of those words so that they apply to absolutely everyone.

Dictionary.com defines beauty as "the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest)."  However, I feel like most people define it as visually pleasing when it is used in a generic context.  If something is not intensely visually pleasing, it is not beautiful.

But my point is this: People do not have to be beautiful to be good and of worth.

You don't have to be 'normal,' or clever, or pretty, or talented, or even functional, to be good.  Period.  Being good is all about your choices, which are unrelated to any of those.

The people I know who are not 'normal' (aka 'weird') are great because they add humour and variety to my life.

The people I know who are not clever can be great because they teach me the value of perseverance and trying even when they won't ever do very well.

The people I know who are not fully functional teach me the value of persisting despite obstacles, and finding alternative ways to get things done.  The ones that are truly and completely not functional, teach me to love and to serve without expecting anything in return.

The people I know who are not pretty teach me to look beyond the surface for other qualities.

Now, I have known a lot of annoying people.  But most of them are annoying because of their choices, not because of vacuous societal judgments or inborn traits.

So embrace the good in you, fight the bad, always try your best, and you will always be splendid.  You don't need to be the best at everything--or even ANYTHING--to be wonderful.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Finishing!

I think I've seriously wanted to be a writer since about eighth grade.  I was a voracious reader pretty much since I was four years old.  As I got older, I not only wanted to live in other worlds and lives, but I wanted to live in worlds of my own devising, so I could make sure that things worked the way I wanted them to.  But various things hindered me, the largest of which was a complete lack of self-confidence.
It was easy for me to see for many years that, despite my good grades in English and writing courses, the things that I wrote didn't have the power to transport me to their worlds.  Combined with the idea that I could never finish anything by myself, I spent most of my life feeling hopeless about writing.

But last year I got a bug.  (As well as a dose of mania.)  And that passion pushed me past my roadblocks, pushed me past the 'I know something is wrong but I don't know how to fix it,' and pushed me past my doubts and psychological hangups (aside from being obsessive about Benedict Cumberbatch.  That's still there.).  And last night, I finished the first 'book' I have ever, ever finished.

Yes, it's fan fiction, so no, it will most likely never be published.  And yes, it still needs some editing.  But it's DONE.  And I am so excited and proud of myself that it's like drinking a full case of diet Dr Pepper, because I couldn't get to sleep until sometime after 2 this morning and I couldn't sleep much past 6.

And while I was pondering this this morning, I remembered this quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
To any who may be struggling to see that light and find that hope, I say: Hold on. Keep trying. God loves you. Things will improve. 
And it made me cry.  Because it's true.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Lesson of Zeniff

I was reading in the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon this morning and I was struck by something as I was reading the account of Zeniff, who had gone back to the original Land of Nephi to reclaim it.  Now, Zeniff seemed to be a decent guy.  He saw good in the Lamanites there and didn't wish to war with them.  He seemed to reign later in justice and follow the statutes of the Lord.  But when he wrote the record, with the benefit of hindsight, he said he was "over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers."

Now, to be called a zealot today is generally considered an insult, because it has a connotation of being overly committed to something, to the point of being blind to facts and reason.  I'm not sure exactly what the connotation of zealous was when this was translated in the late 1820s, but I am sure that 'over-zealous' could not have been complimentary.  So for Zeniff to say this about himself indicates, to me, a great deal of regret.

So, as I try to do with scriptures, I began to ponder how this sort of idea could apply in my life.  Was Zeniff a bad person, or did he have bad intentions?  No, he doesn't seem to.  Would getting back the land of his fathers' inheritance be necessarily a bad thing, or violating the commands of the Lord?  No.  But the record doesn't say the idea itself was bad.  It says he was over-zealous.

How many times in our lives do we have something we want so badly that we are willing to make many sacrifices for it?  Sometimes this is a good thing.  But sometimes, I think, we push things a little too hard or cling too tightly to something that may not be as important as we believe it to be.  For those of us in the Church, we often call this 'kicking against the pricks.'  Sometimes in our lives, we have something we want SO BADLY that we fight even the promptings of the Lord that tell us that we should shift our focus a bit.  It's not that what we want is necessarily bad.  It is usually that it may not be the best thing for us, or will lead to bad consequences we couldn't foresee.

In Zeniff's case, it led to many wars and bloodshed with the Lamanites, the drifting of the people from the Lord under the reign of Noah, the murder of a prophet, the loss of their liberty, years of heavy taxes and burdens, and contentions amongst the people.  He could not foresee these things.  But they happened.  And for what?  Because he wanted not just ANY land, but THAT land.  He was clinging to the past nostalgically, and ascribing an increased value to that specific land which was inflated and not real.

How many times do we do this in our own lives?  You really want to marry a specific person, so you get creepy about them.  You really want to get married, so you jump at the first opportunity despite obvious signs that it is a bad match.  You really want children, so you either go to inappropriate lengths to get them (such as sleeping around to get pregnant when you are not married), or you waste the rest of your life accomplishing nothing because you are too busy whining about how you were robbed.  You really want to do well in some worldly goal (a certain job or skill, perhaps), so you sacrifice everything (including family and/or personal integrity) to get it.

All of these desires are good, when accomplished in good and reasonable ways.  But when we carry them too far, we can hurt ourselves and others.

There is a false belief out there that if we really want something, we should NEVER give up on it and we should sacrifice anything and everything to get it.  While hard work and determination are good, we all will have points in our lives when, to remain sane, we MUST re-evaluate the costs and possible rewards involved, and sometimes that means letting go of a goal or desire.  I find this easier to figure out with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, but most of us have the ability to apply reason to such things, especially if we work to set aside our passionate emotions and look at the situation wisely.

And on those occasions when you decide that letting it go is the wisest course of action, I think it is important to really let it go.  That means not only ceasing the relentless pursuit of it, but also not allowing the loss of that dream haunt you, like you had been robbed or you have to be miserable forever because you can't have that thing.  We can always be happy.  Always.  It is our choice whether to hold onto something like that and be miserable about it forever, or to find something else to love and be happy about.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Ecosystem of Society

My husband listened to a Freakonomics podcast today and was talking to me about it.  In it, there was a woman who had taught at Princeton and then went to work for Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State.  But then her teenaged son, who was with her family back in Princeton, really started having disciplinary problems.  She evaluated her options--do I stick with this promising career with many opportunities for even greater advancement, or do I quit here, and go back to Princeton to take care of my family and maybe go back to being a professor?  She chose to go home, which eventually really helped her son, but she noticed something: everyone she talked to became really uncomfortable if she explained why she quit her job in D.C.  In fact, 'choosing to take care of my family' is a euphemism there for being fired.

And I thought, what kind of crazy world do we live in?

There is a phenomena that some of you have probably seen that I like to call 'backlash parenting.'  It's what happens when I child (justified or not) feels that their parents were too extreme in one way or another, so when they are a parent, they are going to do everything the exact opposite of their parents.  Not logically, not with research or anything like that.  Just the exact, polar opposite of their parents.

And have you ever noticed that this NEVER works?  Parents who felt their parents were too strict, decide to never discipline their children.  Parents who felt their parents expected too much, expect nothing from their kids.  Parents who felt their parents would never help them or be there for them, sacrifice EVERYTHING (including important and necessary things like jobs and whatnot) to make sure their child has help with everything, all the time, until that kid doesn't know how to do things on their own.

This doesn't work because the opposite of something bad isn't necessarily good.  Every choice in our life needs to be based on truth, logic, goodness, and what is right.  Not a backlash against something we didn't like.

This is, I believe, one of the things that has happened with many aspects of the feminist movement.  For centuries, millennia even, women have often been mistreated by men (and even other women who believed what some men told them about women).  Over the past two centuries or so, our society has made a lot of changes to how people treat and see women.  But some of that has been backlash.  Instead of valuing what women can and already do, we have been told that they must do what men do to be valuable.  Instead of simply building up women, many have felt the need to devalue and even belittle and discount the importance of men in society and families.  And instead of respecting a woman's choice to value and take care of her family, we now belittle and undervalue that kind of contribution, mocking 'stay at home moms' as stupid, lazy, or brainwashed by old white men.

Do you have any idea what you're doing?

In biology, an ecosystem is a delicately balanced system of interconnected elements and organisms that work with each other and the environment to keep things in balance and surviving.  We know all too well that if you introduce an invasive species into an ecosystem, or take out a component of an ecosystem (even something as small and simple as an insect, fungus, or bacterium), it can and generally will wreak havoc on that ecosystem, possibly even making the whole thing collapse.

One of the remarkable things about humans is that we have a far faster and greater capability to adapt to changes in our environment and can live in just about any ecosystem on earth.  BUT!  That doesn't mean that change is always easy or immediate, or that it doesn't cause serious changes.  And since humans, by nature, seek out and interact in societies, relying more on each other than almost anything else, we need to recognize that our societies are very important parts of our human ecosystems.

Now, as we become glutted and obsessed with entertainment, frivolity, selfishness, consumerism, power and prettiness, we often forget or discount how important the various small parts of our ecosystem are.  And in our search for women's 'equality' we have started a cascading series of events that are having an incredibly deleterious effect on society even now, and will only get worse unless we stop them.  If you want a list, here's a start.

  1. We started treating the 'fun' of sex as a right and a need, demanding that any negative consequences that might result from uninhibited sex be taken away (such as STDs or unwanted pregnancies).  Dude, it's FUN.  It's leisure.  It's entertainment.  At least, that's all you want out of it.  And I'm sorry, fun is not a right or a need when it comes from something with such long-lasting and powerful effects on yourself, your family, and society.  
  2. We started telling people that children didn't need two-parent households and they would be fine.  "But we didn't say that," some might claim.  Hello, are you stupid?  What kind of message do you think you are giving people when you tell them that it is better for an unwed, teenaged mother to keep her child than to let it be adopted by a couple that has undergone an extensive vetting and qualification process?
  3. We started saying that pregnancy was just an inconvenience/burden for the mother, rather than a consequence for a choice she made to have fun (and I am NOT referring to women who were victims of race or incest.  That's very different and is a small percentage of unwanted pregnancies) and a life.  And because we keep pounding into people's heads that it is just a choice, a choice, a choice, and ignoring the choices that were already made and the rights of that child, we have not only convinced many people that abortion is a 'right' and is perfectly moral, but we have devalued the lives of ALL children from being marvelous little miracles and the future of our society to an inconvenient and unjust byproduct of my 'right' to have fun.  They are only valuable if they are planned and prepared for in every way, held up as trophy children.
  4. We have degraded the value of men so much that they are becoming less productive members of society.  When you tell men that not only should women be treated equally in the workplace, but that we need MORE women in the workplace, you are, by definition, saying that we either need FEWER men in the workplace, or that we should have fewer parents taking care of children (and that's another can of worms I will get to later).  At the same time, much of our entertainment treats men as buffoons: socially inept, clueless in matters of running a household, dealing with people, or raising children, and completely unnecessary (see point #2).  Is it any wonder, then, that more and more men are not contributing as much to households financially, in work, or in child-rearing?  Dude, if someone told you that you were stupid and unnecessary, would YOU want to stick around?  Now, more women than men go to college.  And more women have to support single-parent households.  And many women, who are underpaid in 'pink collar' jobs, still have to put forth the vast majority of household and child rearing time when there is a man in the house, because we have taught both of them that she is better and he is not needed.  So why should he fight the natural instinct to sit around watching TV and eating cheez puffs all day?
  5. We have taught people that divorce is an easy, acceptable way to get out of something that is inconvenient, hard, or not as 'fun' as it used to be.  Not just relationships, but the families formed from relationships, are disposable and not as important as you having fun all of the time.  
  6. We have taught people that 'love' --defined as the lusty, titillating feeling you get when you are first in a relationship with someone you like--is more important than anything, but that it should be easy and fun all of the time.  Your fun level (including sex) is the ultimate, defining measurement of the value of the relationship.  Plus, you can't control it.  It either is 'meant to be' or it 'just didn't work out.'  I hate to break it to you, but this is a huge lie.  HUGE.  Love is not about having a great time always.  It's about caring for each other no matter what--and that is a CHOICE, based not just on initial feelings, but on acts and choices (both big and small, but mostly small) that you make every single day, as well as a determination to make it work.  And it's for something more than yourself.  It's for your spouse, it's for your children, and it's for society.  And if you work hard and do it right, it's actually even nicer for you, too.
  7. We have degraded and dismissed the value of parents and caregivers.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard--in entertainment, in personal conversations, and in news segments--people (especially other women) deride women who choose to stay home with their kids.  They either consider them stupid ('couldn't cut it in a work environment') or lazy (like, you taking care of household matters, child rearing, AND a job somehow makes you better, instead of either being a patsy because you are now doing far more than your husband, or just not as good at any or all of those things because your time and attention has to be so divided).  Just because people used to say that household management and child rearing were all a woman COULD do or was CAPABLE of doing, does NOT make child rearing or household management bad!  They not only need to be done, but honestly, CHILD REARING IS MOST LIKELY MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR JOB.  Tell me, in thirty years, do you think it will be more important that you sold that contract or closed that deal, or that your child/children are honest, good, productive members of society?  Which will have a further reaching effect?  Which will you look back on with more happiness?
  8. We are actually telling people that science doesn't matter.
    Yes, I said it.
    By telling people that being an unwed mother is fine, we are ignoring the overwhelming statistics that show that it has massive negative consequences in almost every aspect of the mother's AND the children's lives.  When we tell people that divorce is better than sticking around and being unhappy, we ignore the statistics that say that really isn't true.  When we tell people that they should live together first 'to test it out,' we ignore study after study that show that people who live together first actually have a much higher divorce rate.  When we show unrealistic romantic entanglements that END with the marriage (if we're lucky enough to have gotten that far), we fail to teach how to deal with the hard but inevitable parts, and that the vast majority of successful relationships are all about how we treat each other after the twitterpation wears off (and that the twitterpation, which we focus on in those romantic entanglements, actually means little to nothing at all).  When we constantly bombard people with nothing but the feel-good exceptions to these rules, we give them a skewed perspective that rules are stupid and they will be just fine without keeping them (which, unfortunately, they probably won't).  

So, back to ecosystems: ecosystems require balance.  Every organism and environmental factor in an ecosystem has an important role in maintaining balance.  The wolves cull the herds of the weak, sick, and injured.  The bacteria, insects, and fungi, help break down dead things and sloughed-off organic matter to clean up the area, limit some diseases, and make nutrients available to plant life.  Plants help prevent erosion, provide food sources by turning light into consumable forms of energy, provide shelter, and other things.  Everything has roles, and if even one thing gets out of balance--too many wolves introduced, or a fire that destroys the trees--it can have catastrophic effects.
We have, relatively rapidly, introduced some serious vacuums and imbalances into our societal ecosystem.  Families are the fundamental building blocks, because they provide the emotional structure for healthy people, the moral teaching for societal members to have integrity and respect for the rights of others, the basis of education that will help them to become productive members of society, the physical protection to allow the young to grow up and help our society to continue and thrive.  In haphazardly deciding to throw out the rules that helped make families stronger, because they were 'old-fashioned' or 'dictated by old white men' or 'repressive because I couldn't have as much fun, and fun is my right otherwise you'll hurt my feelings,' we have put our ecosystem out of balance.  The roles women played before, which are now derided, are still necessary, but are now not filled as well or at all.  The roles which men played in the family, now dismissed as unnecessary or bumbling, are actually VERY important and are not being filled as well or at all.  And each subsequent generation raised like this has a harder time behaving in a way that helps our society thrive and treat others with civility and decency.

So before you make life-altering decisions, or at least before you belittle someone's choice as 'less,' do some research and some serious soul-searching as to what is truly important and the best ways to get there.  And maybe do a little growing up.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trials

I don't know if I'll be getting to Part Deux of the Q&A anytime soon.  The last one was a little...wordy (I know, you're shocked), so I need to think about the next one a little more before I write & post it.

Today's topic is trials (just like it says in the title!  AMAZING, right?!).  Specifically, how grateful and glad I am for the trials I have had in my life.  In fact, I would dare say that the hard times in my life have been my greatest blessings.

This seems quite contradictory, of course.  Aren't blessings, by definition, the exact OPPOSITE of trials?  Clearly, Dyany, you have gone even more crazy.  So, of course, I have to explain.  Let's see if I can do it without writing another novel. :P

Everybody has trials, okay. EV.RY.BO.DY.  In various degrees and various amounts, no one is immune.  Sometimes a trial seems worse than another, from one person to another, because our strengths and weaknesses in various areas vary.  Sometimes they are the result of what other people do to us, sometimes they are the consequences of our own actions (or inactions), and sometimes they just plain happen.  It doesn't really matter.

When life started getting seriously hard for me--I don't mean the whiny little complaints most of have in high school or what not, but the serious, I-don't-know-how-I-can-go-on stuff--I had choices.  Lots of times it feels like we don't have choices in those circumstances, and sometimes our choices are limited, but we do have choices.  I can choose how I am going to react.  I can choose if I am going to see what I can learn from it.  I can see if I will roll over and play dead, or get angry that life isn't fair (which honestly, is one of the stupidest things I think people can say.  Would you like to suffer the worst consequences for all your mistakes?  Would you care to suffer the worst injustices that can be experienced in the world?  Of course it isn't 'fair' because there IS no 'fair.'  Everyone is different, and every experience is different.  That's just the way it is, so throw that whine out the window and either come up with a more valid complaint or deal with it).  And I can choose if my definition of what makes life 'bad' trumps the idea that there is a God and He is good.

Let's focus on that last one for a minute.  Now, setting aside the suffering caused by people making bad choices, bad things still happen to people.  Illness.  Accidents.  Natural disasters.  One of the biggest arguments against God is that if He existed, and if He were real and good, then He would stop those things from happening.  Because those things are Bad, right?  Good cannot allow Bad, right?

But consider this: if you are a parent, do you feel it is your responsibility to 'save' your child from every struggle, failure, and hardship they will ever come across?  Do you feel that doing so would help them to be better and stronger people?  Or do you realise that doing so would cause them to grow up as weak, entitled, whiny pansies?  I'm serious.  All parents have different ideas of how much discipline and help is the right amount to give their children.  But most decent parents realise that if they 'save' their children from all these things, they are doing them a serious disservice.

God is our Heavenly Father.  As a parent, he understands this principle and works the same way.  Sometimes He helps us.  Sometimes He doesn't.  He wants us to become stronger and better (in an ETERNAL way, not necessarily in an earthly way).  Not just have a good time. Therefore the argument that a good and loving God would remove anything hard or painful from every second of our lives is invalid.

So, back to trials.  When they started hitting me hard, as I said, I had choices.  Very hard choices.  Because choosing to look at these difficult and painful things happening and trying to see purpose, or good, or a positive side to them is not a remotely natural thing to do.  But I had an advantage.  God, of course, is always there.  And earlier in my life, when things were easier, I had chosen to try to figure out if God actually existed, and as I said in the last post, I tested it and started to gain evidence that He did, and He loved me, and He is good.  So as things got harder, I had that understanding to start with.  It wasn't enough to get me through the hard times.  But it WAS enough to have taught me that I could do more testing and see if God would get me through the hardships.  It was enough that I could start with a little faith that the tough times would work for my good, instead of being all bad (even though I didn't know that completely at that point).  That God was still in charge and had my back.

Note that I said trying to see purpose and good.  Because, as with all skills, for everybody, I started out pretty weak at this.  I had my whiny, whimpery days.  A lot of them.  I had days when I just plain failed at everything.  I had days when I gave up.  But, amazingly, though I didn't always stick to the plan, God did.  He was always there for me.  Staying on target.  Not giving in to the kid throwing the tantrum on the grocery store floor (that's me, by the way).  And as time passed, and as I had more good days, and I put more effort into it, things started to change.  I started to see amazing things that I didn't even realise existed.

I saw that some trials, which I thought were awful and terrible and insufferable, actually helped to prepare me for harder trials up the road, making them more bearable.

I saw that, as I began to recognize and face my weaknesses and mistakes, that it gave me more understanding and sympathy for the weaknesses and mistakes of others, allowing me to love them rather than always getting angry and judging them when their mistakes or weaknesses were different than mine or hurt me.

I saw that it was okay to not be perfect or have a perfect life, and that I could actually be happy even when things didn't go according to plan.

I saw that some things that look all bad are not really all bad, but have a purpose I hadn't thought of that is really very good.  And everything has SOME good to it, even if it is just what you or others learn from it.

I began to learn the value of diligence, hard work, and not quitting.

I began to learn the value of forgiving others and forgiving myself.

I began to be able to laugh more at myself when things went wrong, and cry more with others when they hurt.

I began to see that the events in this life are not as important or long lasting as we sometimes think they are, but our choices are everything.

I saw that as I learned to make these choices that helped me be happier and stronger, the choices became easier to make.

I saw that letting my weaknesses, trials, and struggles define me and my life was as restrictive and miserable as a prison, but if I instead learned to deal with them, and work with God on them, and accept and understand and utilise Christ's atonement on them, that I became more free and happy than I ever thought possible.

And from all of these things, I began to really learn how much God and Christ actually DO love me, and ARE there for me, and DO turn all the things that happen to me to my good.  ALL of them.  Because in learning and testing these things (and it took many years, and I'm still not done), I was still collecting data on the original questions: does God exist and does He love me?

The data is pretty consistent.

He does.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Q&A on Things I Know: Part I

I've been thinking a lot lately about a lot of the arguments I've seen for and against many of the things I believe or know to be true.  And one of the thoughts I had about it was that I should put some of the things I've learned out there, partially just because it helps me to write things down, but mostly to help dispel some of the misunderstandings some people may have about these things, at least in regards to me.  So here goes:

Q: I think people who do good only because they anticipate some sort of reward in the hereafter are shallow and mercenary.  People should just do good because it's good or because it helps other people.  Therefore, how can you believe in a hereafter or that the idea of a hereafter can make someone good?  And who could believe in a pecuniary God anyway?
A: I don't believe that the ideas of rewards or punishments should drive our motivations, though I believe it can be a good start.  When you are working with small children, you often have to use fairly simplistic systems of rewards and punishments to stop bad behaviour and encourage good behaviour (and tell them they whys as well).  As they grow older, and their understanding increases, this type of behavioural conditioning can be replaced with more altruistic motivations.  That doesn't mean that we should skip the first lessons, or that the first lessons are bad.  It just means that lessons change as our capacity changes (and, just as different children learn different things at different rates, so to with everyone on earth).
So, for instance, when I was younger, much of the good I did was out of a sense of obligation, or of fear that if I didn't, I would 'get in trouble' (that's a very vague concept much of the time).  Many people even now, religious or not, believe that if they follow rules they can avoid bad consequences or be guaranteed good ones.  "If I don't smoke, I can never get lung cancer."  "If I exercise and eat right, I am guaranteed a long and healthy life."  "If I go to college and get a degree, I will definitely make more money than anyone who doesn't get a degree."  And while that statistically improves your chances, it is not a guarantee.  Same as believing in and following God does not guarantee that you won't suffer or struggle in this life.  Because his commandments are very similar: great ideas that really can help people have better lives.  I mean, can you imagine what kind of world this would be if we all loved each other as ourselves, didn't lie, didn't murder, had faithful spouses, and didn't get all upset because we didn't have what our neighbor has?
Now, will a lie instantly ruin your life?  Almost never.  Same as one cigarette usually won't kill you.  But as soon as you start making exceptions, it becomes easier and easier to make MORE exceptions, and others make exceptions, and the odds that something will go wrong go up, and it can go downhill fast.
Now, over time, I began to realise that rewards, punishments, fear, and incessant guilt were not good motivations.  They were even destroying me.  But luckily, by that time I had built up enough of a relationship with God and my Saviour that when I imploded, I still knew I could rely on them (and that was about all I could rely on).  And I realised that they love me unconditionally.  Messing up doesn't make them hate me.  They aren't sitting there with lightning bolts at hand, waiting to rain destruction upon my head.  They want me to be happy.  They want me to be successful.  And over time, I have rebuilt.  I serve others and try to do good things not for rewards or punishments.  I do it because I love God, because God and Christ have already done so much for me, they STILL continue to do so much for me, and I want to show how much I love them.  Even more, I realised that if they could love me unconditionally, and help me even when I am a jerk or lazy or I just plain suck, then I can do that for other people too.  Because God and Christ love them just as much as they love me.

Q: Seriously?  How can you even believe in all that mumbo jumbo?  The whole idea of religion is just another way for a few people to hold power over the masses.  At best, you only believe it because that's what you were taught.
A:  Well, I could bring up all kinds of arguments about how the core tenets of most religions (especially Judeo-Christian ones) don't give exceptions to the elite members of their societies.  No one should commit adultery, not even David the prophet-king (who got in a lot of trouble because he did).  No one should shed innocent blood, or lie, or covet.  Or I could bring up scientific study after scientific study that show how most religious values--such as marriage, fidelity, honesty, etc.--have highly significant positive impacts on individuals AND society.  Not that religions or religious people are flawless.  There have been a LOT of people throughout history who have used people's beliefs against them, often (though not always) by claiming to be a great person in their religious system, or twisting the religious system to make them more powerful.  Even GOOD religious leaders make mistakes, and if their human imperfections get equated with their ability to be a religious leader, you seem to have a big dichotomy.  But humans are not perfect.  Never have been.  God and Christ are the only ones to hold that honour.  And they allow even their leaders to make mistakes sometimes.  Not to mention that holding up people who misused religion for nefarious purposes, as examples indicative of the corruption inherent in all religion, is like saying that just because the water in Flint, Michigan is full of vast amounts of lead and is not potable, that ALL publicly treated water is bad and not drinkable.  It's one of the oldest logical fallacies, the composition fallacy--that if a part of something is one way, then the whole must have the same trait.
At any rate, I have never based my belief system simply on what other people told me and I assumed to be true.  I'm not that kind of person.  (And honestly, you'll find that kind of person on BOTH sides of the "is there a God?" debate.)  I used the scientific method.
I can see your incredulous meter spiking.  "How can you possibly use the scientific method for something so UNscientific?!"  Well, I'll tell you.
In science, you see things in the world, patterns, or phenomena, or behaviour, or whatever, and you're curious as to how it works and other things about it.  Science is based on curiosity, after all.  So you do some research: see what other people, often scientists, have had to say about the phenomena.  For many people, that's enough to believe the theories that are out there.  But for the sake of the full scientific method, let's say that's not enough.  It doesn't answer a particular question that you have.  So you gather information from other scientists, experimentation, and observation and you form a hypothesis.  An educated guess as to what you think might happen.
After the hypothesis is formed, you experiment and collect data regarding that hypothesis.  Now, good scientists, of course, know and accept that the data, when collected correctly and without bias, may not support their hypothesis.  They don't think it will (that's why they chose that hypothesis), and they don't want to be wrong, but if they are good scientists, they accept it, tweak the hypothesis as needed, and continue testing.
One of the facts of the scientific method that a lot of people miss, is it's almost impossible to completely 'prove' or 'disprove' anything with a single experiment.  Or even a lot of experiments.  Science isn't about answering all the questions.  It's about constantly collecting data.  The more data you have supporting your hypothesis, the stronger it becomes.  The more data you have that goes against your hypothesis, the more you learn how to tweak the original hypothesis to be more true.  The more valid your experiments, the better the data, and the more your experiments hold up under different circumstances, the stronger the results.  Once you have collected a LOT of data, and made a number of tweaks to the hypothesis, and are getting consistently supportive results, and other people are finding the same things, your hypothesis can be upgraded to a THEORY.
Now, theories are still not facts.  They are stronger than hypotheses, They are more accepted as probably true.  But, contrary to most popular opinions, we are still collecting data on them because we aren't 100% positive they are true yet.  Some are even disproven after CENTURIES (such as Newton's 3 laws of motion and law of gravitation that were shown by Einstein to be only partially correct, and better data on Einstein's theories was found only this last week!), because we didn't have the means to be able to properly test or collect data on the theory, or some of the original experiments or data were flawed.
So how, you ask, does this apply to belief in God?  Quite simple, my friend.  I have a lot of observations and questions.  Why do people feel emotions the way they do?  Why are we here?  Why are sunrises and sunsets so inherently beautiful to almost every being on earth?  Why do we have music?  Lots of things.  I collected some data; there's lots of theories on these things.  Lots of people have claimed to have answers.  You could call them 'existential scientists' if you want.  But the ones I knew the most about, and had the most access to, were the Christian, specifically, LDS ones.  There is even a chapter in the Book of Mormon (Alma 32, in case you want to look it up) that pretty much invites you to try the scientific theory on questions of faith.  I thought that was a good idea.  I didn't want to just take someone else's word for it.  I wanted to know for myself.
So I tested some basic questions.  Collected data.  That led to tweaks in my theories, sometimes more questions, sometimes some answers.  Kept collecting data.  Now, some may claim that I can't collect data on matters of faith.  But look at Einstein's theories.  How many years had his theory that immense gravitational wells could warp space time (since space time is more like a fabric), sat out there, pretty much accepted, until we were actually able to collect data on them?  Nearly 100 years, right?  And yet they were accepted.  Not by everyone.  And not always immediately.  But enough that they weren't just thrown out.  We just knew we couldn't measure them empirically yet.  We didn't have the means.  We had faith in them.
Faith in God is rather similar, if you ask me.  It's pretty hard to measure the amount of peace and comfort that has come to me through my increased relationship with God.  It's pretty hard to assign a value to the promptings and answers that I have received.  And it's impossible to compare how my life has been with choosing to follow God, to how it would have been had I not.  The LDS religion even believes that our spirits have mass, just not really at a level that we can detect with our five senses.  But the bottom line is this: I have tested the hypotheses I formed about God--that he exists, and that he loves me.  I found enough evidence in support of these hypotheses for me to continue to research and collect data along these lines.  The more I research and test, the more supporting data I have collected, to the point where I don't doubt so much anymore.  Plus, it has led me to more correlating hypotheses that have also been supported strongly.  And the data in the rest of my life is more consistent and reliable when I conform other hypotheses to these hypotheses, rather than the other way around.
It's like flipping a light switch.  If you told an aborigine who has never seen electricity or anything that runs with it, that just touching a button or flipping a switch will fill a room with light without fire or sun, he would think you are crazy.  But you are so accustomed to it working, that you have faith that it will work every time, and if the light doesn't come on, you don't think, "I KNEW it!  I knew it was too good to be true!  Obviously this whole electricity and artificial light thing is a scam!"  You think, "oh!  The bulb must have burned out or the power is out.  Or something went wrong with the wiring."  Your faith in the technology is not shaken.
So, I won't tell you what to believe.  I'll just tell you, IF you want to find out for yourself if it's true, I could give you some of my data.  My experiences.  You can choose, if you wish, to find out if my hypotheses hold true for you as well.  After all, it's rather silly to poke fun at the beliefs of another if you are not willing to examine the evidence and entertain even the possibility that they are not complete idiots and there may be some merits to their belief.

Now, since this has grown way too long, I'll have to save more for another day!