My ultra-boring life

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.