You know when a batch of things come at you, and it becomes apparent that you need to learn something from it? That happened to me over the past two weeks. Three interactions, more specifically, two movies and an argument helped the message gain some traction in my head. Let me try and explain…
My EC and I watched a pair of documentaries last week that we found fascinating. The first was “Three Identical Strangers.” Here is the tagline of the movie (no spoilers): “In 1980 New York, three young men who were all adopted meet each other and find out they’re triplets who were separated at birth. Then they discover why.”
It was an amazing reunion story that takes a darker turn. It also raises interesting questions about why we are like we are, and the effects of nature and nurture on our personalities and behaviors. (It is rather startling to see how much of us is “pre-wired” by our genetics.)
The second documentary, “Finding Vivian Maier,” is described as “A documentary on the late Vivian Maier, a nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one of the most accomplished street photographers.”
This woman kept a remarkable secret her entire life. The people she worked with, and for, had no idea how talented she was and what art she had created. She was a mystery – even to people around her.
The argument I referred to was me, at my worst, dealing with a person from the U.S. Census Department on the phone. My task was to fill out, under threat of fine, some obligatory report for work, and the online system just didn’t work right. I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time online and on the phone with someone who was truly incompetent. (Full transparency: I was not nice. Not even a little bit.) After going the rounds for an hour, I finally hung up and called back, got a different rep, and resolved the problem in 3 minutes. Sheesh.
I was already having a bad day, and that phone call just made it worse. A few minutes after I hung up, I got a call from a client who was quite unhappy – with me! Turnabout is fair play, and I was now on the receiving end of someone else’s wrath.
How do these things tie together? As I was processing them, I remembered a quote from President Henry B. Eyring. I’ll include it in context, and bold the line that stuck in my brain.
“When I was a young man, I served as counselor to a wise district president in the Church. He tried to teach me. One of the things I remember wondering about was this advice he gave: “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.”
I thought then that he was pessimistic. Now, more than 40 years later, I can see how well he understood the world and life.” (link)
That gives me pause. I wonder if the Census rep that I shredded was in serious trouble, and I just made it worse? I do know that the client who got mad at me did not improve my life, or mood.
Here is my summation: The honest truth is that as we interact with people in this mortal existence, we truly have no stinking idea what is going on in their heads, hearts and lives – and they don’t know what is going on in ours, either.
I’m not psychic – and I don’t know anyone who is.
This even goes for the people closest to us. For example, I know my wife better than any person on the planet. Yet as much as I would like to think that I know her every thought and feeling, her every hope and dream, her every frustration or doubt, I know it isn’t the case.
How do I know? Because she knows and understands me better than any person on the planet, and I know that she does not know everything I think, feel, do or aspire to. Nobody does. Besides, sometimes I don’t even know what I think and feel.
Much of our lives are hidden. We all make choices: what to share, what to keep close. We guard things we feel are precious, embarrassing, controversial, dumb, contentious, weird or sacred.
And that is just fine. There is no obligation to open our minds and hearts to anyone and everyone. Even the Savior taught this with a very aggressive metaphor, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (3 Nephi 14:6)
What am I getting at? It might be different for some of you, but I can’t help but wonder how I can think about these things and then go through my day being unkind, snarky or *judgmental about how others are living out their day.
Christ taught, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)
Over time, this simple teaching evolved into some of the most insipid slogans of modern generations:
“All you need is love,”
“Love is the answer.”
“Love is love is love is love is love.”
The over-simplicity of these catchphrases is obtuse, as they are used to elevate love as the ultimate hammer against those who do not embrace the latest secular societal trend.
A better mantra would be “Love, applied as Christ teaches, is the answer.” That kind of love requires effort, standards, boundaries and insight. It also requires long-suffering, kindness, patience, humility, hope and the rest of Mormon’s list that Moroni chiseled for us in Moroni 7:46.
Love isn’t just a feeling. It is a way of interacting, and a way of being with each other – which brings us back around to simply being kind.
There is an idiom “Giving someone the benefit of the doubt,” which is defined as “A favorable judgment granted in the absence of full evidence.” (link)
Elder Marvin J. Ashton said, “Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped.” (link)
You don’t see that a lot these days. People are quick to pounce when any opportunity presents itself. The idea of giving someone the “benefit of the doubt” is not in fashion. We often wrongly presume to know what is going on in someone else’s head, and act accordingly.
Here is a personal example: Last spring, before I released my book, I ran a few teaser posts with cliffhanger endings to provoke interest.
The next week I got an email from a young lady who really let me have it. She told me how uncool it was, and how unfair I had been to leave my readers hanging. She also criticized using my blog to sell books and that not all of my readers could afford the book, etc. She was frank, and frankly, brutal.
I got my hackles up, because she was obviously wrong. I responded to her email with a rebuttal. I pulled out all the stops in a very condescending manner: Sarcasm, snark, and irony are some of my favorite literary weapons, and I wield them with profound finesse. I read it over and decided it was a sardonic masterpiece.
As I was getting ready to send it, that still, small voice inside said, “You can’t send that.” So I reluctantly deleted it.
The next day I wrote a gentle email to explain my thinking, how teasers are a basic marketing tactic, and apologizing for any problem I might have caused her. Nobody stopped me from sending that one.
No response for a couple of days. Then I got this:
“Hi MMM, I am Email Girl’s mom–and because I am the mom and I read most of her emails, I read your response to her… You see, she has Asperger’s and doesn’t always know how to filter her feelings… I often forget just how sensitive she is. I appreciate your forbearance in your comments back to her. Thank you!”
Yeah. I won that one, but not because of me.
I had no idea who I was responding to, or what struggles she deals with on a daily basis. Had not the Spirit retrained me from firing off my retaliatory email, I would have regretted it forever, and maybe caused some heartache – which I most likely never would have known about. Yet the Spirit knew that this girl needed to be given the benefit of the doubt.
How we love, and how we understand what people are going through depends on our level of trust, and communication with that person. Similarly, our understanding of the hearts of others also depends on our level of trust and communication with the Holy Ghost.
If we do our best to show our love and build relationships with others in a spiritual endeavor, The Holy Ghost will help us discern what to do, restrain us from doing what we shouldn’t, and teach us how to love as the Savior would have us love.
If “all we need is love” then we had better make sure that we turn to God to know what that means, because it means much more than sending happy thoughts.
“As the Lord is patient with us, let us be patient with those we serve. Understand that they, like us, are imperfect. They, like us, make mistakes. They, like us, want others to give them the benefit of the doubt.” (Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf)
*Please know that in mentioning being judgmental towards others, I am not relinquishing the expectation the Lord has for us to be exactly that. Our lives require us to be judgmental on a daily basis – often about other people. (If you are hiring a babysitter, you had better darned well pass judgment on who it might be.)
For further understanding of how judgment should work for us in our lives, I suggest you read the talk by President Dallin H. Oaks, “Judge Not and Judging.”