Thursday, 18 May 2017

Intrinsic Goodness

When a young lady was asked what it was that drew her to the man she married she replied: “It was his intrinsic goodness.”

It struck me that goodness is an often overlooked quality trait. Often we chase things that don’t exist or don't matter. We search for happiness in the wrong places and ask ourselves why we can’t ever find it. On the flip side, if we start with the things that really do matter we find we have created the life of happiness that we were seeking.

To be good is more than to be kind. People may be politely respectful to others without emotionally connecting. This type of kindness creates a façade of civility but in fact isolates them emotionally. Goodness is more than just tolerating things that don't create pain, embarrassment or discomfort in others. True goodness is the ability to have integrity under all circumstances. It is something that is long-lasting and all encompassing.

Have you ever met someone who was really good?

They radiate a type of warmth and light that makes you want to draw nearer and spend more time with them. Goodness is a soft power that can change hearts and minds. Goodness is created step by step. We add those things that make life beautiful and throw away those things that make life bitter, mean and petty. This refining process takes the original “you” and makes you into something better. The greatest part is that we are all fundamentally good.

Nelson Mandela wisely said “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite" (Long Walk to Freedom, 1994).

By seeking out those that are intrinsically good and being that type of person. We are adding to the strength of our society and creating the foundation for more tolerance and understanding. This is not a major leap, though it may feel that way, but a decision that grows in small increments until its impact is felt far and wide.

Monday, 13 March 2017

The Heart That Could

“As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7)

As I was preparing for a talk I gave a few weeks ago I came across a quote that struck me. It is by Wendy L. Watson April 1998 many years before she married and became Elder M. Russell Ballard’s wife.  In it, she simply states “Ancient Hebrew tradition held that the heart could think.” I love that because I believe it's true. In the classical Chinese worldview, the mind and heart cannot be separated. Sinologists (those who make an academic study of China through the language) translate the word heart "Xin"[ ] as “mind”. I feel it is an accurate description and one worth focusing on. If we give credit to our feelings as making rational choices, and not just emotional fluxes, we can understand more about ourselves and we can make meaningful and worthwhile decisions.

Religiously the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost which testifies of God the Father and Jesus Christ also communicates with us through our thoughts, feelings, and impressions making it a bridge to the divine. Because of the great power we hold, mainly to act and not be acted upon we are also bombarded by ways to desensitize and stifle our emotions and feelings so that that link is effectively cut. A way to combat the many distractions we face is to live a virtuous life. Virtue is the fruit of self-mastery. When we make it a point to control the way we act, think and do we create strength of character. I’ve always found being careful of what I do to be easy enough, I don’t often uncontrollably hit people beside me or fly into a rage. Also using words that uplift those around me and don’t demean them is also not extremely difficult especially when I surround myself with people I respect and admire. Yet I find controlling my thoughts to be hard because as most people would say its unconscious so you do it without realizing it. The link between what we feel, say and do can come down to our basic core values. Our values are what filters the everyday world and interpret it in a way we can understand. If I believe everyone is out to get me, then I will be cautious and second-guess others motives. If I have been raised to see myself as a victim of circumstance then I will often complain and see others as being unjust and unfair. If our heart and mind are so closely linked then really all we need to do is have a change of heart. By intentionally choosing to control what we can, we can by its merits influence control over that which we cannot.

Experience and wisdom dictate that strength comes from opposition. When exercising ‘resistance’ is used to make workouts feel harder. It boosts muscle growth and endurance. Similarly, if we want to change the way we think we must encounter some resistance from outside sources or within ourselves, as we create new channels for our mind to act on. An example of this comes from the book “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman. He talks about how women are twice as likely to suffer from depression men because on average they think about problems in a way that amplify depression. “Men tend to act rather than reflect, but women tend to contemplate their depression, mulling it over and over, trying to analyze it and determine its source.” This is called rumination a word that means “chewing the cud”, doing something over and over again. Ruminant animals chew cud which is regurgitated food, over and over again. As humans, we do the same thing but with our negative thoughts which might not be an appealing example but a very true one. A way to combat that vicious cycle is to relearn our ABC’s. We need to understand the connection between Adversity, Beliefs, and Consequences.

 Simply put whenever we encounter Adversity, injustice, rejection, or opposition we react by thinking about it. Thinking is not static but turns into our beliefs which are so habitual we are unconscious of them unless we take the time to pin them down. By acting on our beliefs that can inspire us to try again or throw in the towel and go home, we will have our consequences. At times our beliefs about our own self-worth are so habitual we don’t realize them for what they are. A person might think they have high confidence and a good self-image but often times their thoughts and actions will counteract what they espouse. It’s fascinating to make the correlation and see how we react, for better or worse when difficulties occur like not getting a job, breaking up or losing our phone. We often allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity and then pick ourselves up again. But what if we just skipped that part? Think of how much faster we would overcome and begin again. 

There are many instances that prove our mental state of mind needs to be stronger than our physical one. As a gymnast, my coach would always tell me “It's 90% mental and 10% physical, you need to not be so hard on yourself.” This advice can be applied to many situations. In order to come to an understanding of who we are we need to acknowledge and face our weaknesses but not be immobilized by them. So even though in the beginning I was scared to death of doing back handsprings on a beam only 10cm wide and would at times have restless nights of sleep about it, I was striving for something greater so I faced my doubts and practiced until I could do them with confidence. 

If everyone took the time to recognize that our heart can think and influence our choices the results would ricochet across society. As they stand now, the laws of a country are never concerned about a person’s thoughts or desires in isolation. When they do cross that personal boundary it is mainly to assist in determining what consequence should be assigned to an action that was perpetrated. This is a bandage instead of a cure for systemic problems. By the time a decision is made whether to put someone in jail or not, the opportunity for reformation is often passed. If instead we are taught to live a virtuous life at a young age when our minds are more predisposed to it,  the likelihood of a change in nature is far better. It’s similar to the Chinese phrase that if you steal a needle when you’re small; you’ll still gold when you’re older. ( 小时偷针,长大偷金). Individual responsibility will be a blanket of security for the communities we live in. Even though our laws aren’t concerned with what people think we should be.

Adam Smith, Father of modern economics used virtue to determine how in the economic sphere, self-interest allows men to operate on levels of virtue and attain the greatest benefits for society as a whole. “According to Smith, the four principal virtues in a person's life are justice, prudence, benevolence, and self-command. It is through the exercise of self-command, Smith's cardinal virtue, that a man can rein in his selfish impulses, regulate his conduct, and indulge benevolence. Self-command involves the ability to control one's feelings, to restrain one's passion for his own interests, and to enhance his feelings for others (Champions of a Free Society, Edward Younkins).” 
  
By analyzing our own motives and changing those thoughts that do us harm, we will be happier and do more good in the world around us. As we strive to be true to the best within us, we can follow our heart and reason together. 






Tuesday, 3 January 2017

New Year Miracles


I have had a great start to the New Year though things didn’t go as I initially planned.

I decided on the spur of the moment to go to Calgary to celebrate the festivities since my hometown is a bit small and most of the people I knew where gone. I was blessed to have wonderful cousins who were in town and took me with them as we planned out what to do for the next week. The feeling is similar to living in a bachelorette house since my Uncle and Aunt are gone but we three girls are manning the house.

Calgary still has a familiar feel to it and I’ve enjoyed my time here. I was set on going to a dance and getting that part over and done with since I’ve been told it’s the hardest to switch back in to. Maybe it was beginners luck but I had a great time at the dance. I liked the music, I liked the people and it felt really comfortable. I re-connected with those I haven’t seen in ages and I like the independence of it, dancing when you want to and sitting down to rest when your feet get sore.
I found out that night there was a baptism the next day of a Chinese girl and was invited to go and see. Being in the south of Calgary I had to carefully calculate how to get up north for 10:30am.This is when the beginning of the miracles started. As I was planning on how to do this I decided to leave with an hour time and walk to the nearest c-train station (like a sky-train) since I don’t have a car to drive.

As I left the house in minus something weather I headed in the general direction hoping my phone battery wouldn’t die and cutting me off from all access to my handy GPS. After only walking 3 minutes or so a friendly bus driver pulled over, not even at a stop, and told me I could get on. We started talking and turns out she is Indian, Shia (Muslim), and had been in Canada for a number of years. I told her I was a returned missionary from Vancouver and heading to a baptism. She asked what that was, and I described simply that it was a covenant we make with God and represents a new start to life in the same way we celebrate a New Year with new beginnings and a change of our habits and nature. She then went on to say she respected that and a way she keeps her mind on a higher power is by praying throughout the day. She said that she loves her job because she can say prayers in her head and it makes her feel calm and peaceful.  I noted it also influenced the people she picked up and dropped off since her attitude was open and kind. It was a short but good discussion and then she dropped me off and I took the c-train to my next stop. On the way there I saw a girl sit down in front of me that I was 99.9% sure that she was Chinese. As I was going to a place where there would be Chinese speakers, I thought I might give it a try to see if she had plans for the day. I then subtly - in my mind, anyways - pulled out my Chinese Book of Mormon and started talking with her. Turns out she was on her way to work and never heard about scriptures before. I showed her some pictures in the beginning of the Book and described how it is like a family story and how they followed the inspiration of heaven. She was really excited and said she had never read the Bible before and never heard of this book. I then testified that it was God’s word and that something I like about it is that it answers the questions we have in daily life, like faith to find a job, my current challenge, and courage to move to a new country, like Lehi and his family. I then shared with her Ether 12:6 and she explained the meaning to me! It reads as follows: And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.
She told me how so many things you can’t see with your eyes but by first trying, you then learn through experience that it is true. I felt the spirit strongly and really liked her explanation. I told her I could give her a copy so she could read it on her own but she chose instead to download the app. The next stop she had to get off before me so we exchanged numbers and said goodbye. I thought it was an amazing since talking on the train can be difficult at times but with her it felt quite natural.

I then found my way to the baptism and made it just in time. I had a few moments so I introduced myself to some people and then took my spot. It was a beautiful feeling to hear talks and prayers in Chinese. I felt right at home and though I couldn’t sing very well since I’m recovering from a cold, I felt like I participated though I didn’t even know the girl. Afterwards while we had refreshments I met a man from Ethiopia that was having lessons with the Elders. He had a Canadian wife and child and invited me to come over with the missionaries to talk more about the gospel. Then there was a women I said Hi to from Iran that seemed especially happy to meet someone wearing a headscarf too! Then there was a man from Uganda that had a lot of questions that couldn’t be answered to his satisfaction and he was a bit disappointed. My friend who introduced me to this man started out by saying, “ Hey, she can answer your question!” and then promptly left. I wouldn’t say it was throwing someone under the bus but it was a narrow escape. It ended up well since my friend came back to join the discussion and after a time we left so I could catch a ride home.

Overall it was a fun and good day. I felt like so many great things happened because I was willing to leave my comfort zone and it showed me that revelation can come just as easily outside of a mission as on it. I am excited for 2017 and the new experiences it will bring. I also should mention the birth of my newest niece, Clara Grace Northcott, born January 2nd at 4:47pm! I am so thrilled and can’t wait to hold her. I know that with every new day is a chance to draw closer to the Saviour and the peace he brings.

Much Love!