Sunday, January 29, 2017

Attributes that Should Accompany Broadmindedness©

"He mistakes the stretching of his conscience for the broadening of his mind."
--Vance Havner

Yesterday I wrote about the neglected meanings of the word "discrimination." Today’s essay is a companion piece about a different phenomenon–the almost unthinking acceptance of the positive values given to the word broadminded and the neglect of its dangers and associated attributes which should accompany it in order to avoid its negative effects. The thoughts are not mine, however. Today this column is relinquished for reproduction of a short but thoughtful essay by a man whose intelligence, wisdom, and articulateness I greatly admire and respect–Richard L. Evans, the voice of radio’s “Spoken Word,” for forty years.

“Broadmindedness” is a word that has much meaning and much to commend it. But “the question is,” said Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “the question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
We sometimes let words run away with us. If, for example, a stream is allowed to run too “broadly” it may dissipate itself in devious shallow courses instead of running full and effectively.  It is possible also for a person to become so “broad” that there is shallowness, that nothing stays fixed, that the mind is wide open for every breeze to blow through
It is good to be broad in understanding, but there is also a need for depth. It is good to avoid narrowness, prejudice, too have an open mind, but not so open that it doesn’t discriminate, not so open that it spreads out all over without convictions or principles or judgment or depth or definition. “Broad” is only one dimension. There are others equally essential.  Concerning an obsession with one dimension, Emily Dickinson said: “He preached upon ‘breadth’ till it argued him narrow, / The broad are too broad to define.”
One could conceivably become so indiscriminatingly [sic] “broad” that there would be no bounds to his thinking, no lines he wouldn’t cross, no principles he would be governed by, no direction he wouldn’t go. If a navigator were so “broad” as to ignore the safe channel, he would likely be wrecked.  If a pilot were so “broad” as to fail to follow the beam, he would hazard his own life and other lives also. To broadness must be added judgment, depth, definition and direction–broadness that is straight and true, broadness that includes principles and standards and character and competence.
This would be our appeal to young people: Don’t let a false and shallow kind of “broadmindeness” rule your lives or determine your decisions. Never let yourselves be run by a word without looking at its several sides. Broadmindedness can have much virtue, much strength, much understanding–but broadness without balance, broadness without standards, broadness without judgment, without moral qualities and character simply isn’t safe. We should never become so “broad” that principles are set aside.(1)

Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  Richard L. Evans, Thoughts for One Hundred Days, Volume Five, (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1972), pp. 176-77.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We Need More, Not Less Discrimination©

"Never let yourselves be run by a word without looking at its several sides." 
--Richard L. Evans

It is worth considering another point of view about the highly loaded word discrimination. In today’s world discrimination has been politicized and narrowed in meaning to the point of making the word nearly useless.We are obsessed with discrimination as an act of prejudice or a prejudicial outlook, or treatment, where discrimination in a perverse sort of way is categorical–stereotypical–rather than individual.  In other words, the finer, and I do mean finer points of the word’s meaning are perverted from truly discriminating to true prejudice.

The word is not useless, however, and its broader meanings and applications should not be overlooked or abandoned. Wikipedia tells us the etymology of the word is from Latin into English and meant to “distinguish between;” coming from a verb meaning to make a distinction. Discrimination means “the act of making or perceiving a difference,” but it implies the ability to ultimately make fine and important distinctions. 

The ability to discriminate or make subtle distinctions is a very essential element of our own education. Early on we begin to do two things–generalize and discriminate. Things we play with are called toys–a generalization. However, a child without clear distinctions may consider a loaded pistol as a toy. So we must learn to discriminate between toy and not-toy. As every parent learns, that process of refining our ability to generalize and discriminate is endless during childhood and indeed it continues through life especially as the categories become more complicated and abstract.

Like so many other wonderful words in our English language, discriminate and discrimination have been co-opted as largely a negative–in this case they have become a political bludgeon. I would here argue for the reinstatement of the admirable meanings of this very useful and important word. Consider how essential it is to discriminate between the following, and the consequences when such distinctions are not made:

Truth and error
Strong and weak evidence
Good and bad
 Character and persona
Dangerous and beneficial
Fact and opinion
 Foolish and substantive
Right and wrong
Ends and means
 Valid and specious
Intention and action
 Important and unimportant
Freedom and anarchy
Maturity and immaturity
It seems that many of today’s American politicians, journalists, pundits, commentators, and bloggers are almost constitutionally incapable of  discriminating between such things as:

Islam as a religion and radical versions of Islam
The value of the life of a child before birth and after birth
Living under the rule of law and lawlessness
Legitimate disagreement and prejudice and bigotry
Wealth and success
Fame and/or status and knowledge and intelligence
Facts and “alternate facts”
What is legal and what is moral
 Possessing educational degrees and wisdom
Actions and policies and consequences
Slogans and solutions
Superficially presenting “both sides” and true neutrality, objectivity
Information and education
High emotion and winning an argument
Civility and weakness
Sexual preference and perversions 
Sexual license and sexual consequences
 Sanctuary cities and civil disobedience
 Personal preferences and correctness
 Majority rule and personal rights

In the face of the philosophical diverseness, fuzzy and simplistic thinking, hyper-emotionalism, political correctness, deep partisanship, materialism, relativism, secularism, and a dozen other “isms” which dominate the American polity today, as a society we need to be more discriminatory than ever.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

President Trump Missed His First Great Opportunity©

“Real life is about reacting quickly to the opportunity at hand, not the opportunity you envisioned.”
–Conan O’Brien

“To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good
that is within our reach, is the great art of life.”
–Samuel Johnson

“Hell begins on the day when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved,
of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do.”
–Gian-Carlo Menotti

Alas, the new President missed his first great opportunity yesterday. With the women’s march on Washington he had hundreds of thousands of America’s women come to his house. Unhappy women, discontented women, scared women, some angry women. Probably the vast majority of them pretty darn good women. But they came by the tens and hundreds of thousands. You have to admire their commitment to participate in such sheer numbers.

The day before he told the nation that nobody was going to be neglected, everyone was going to be heard. Here were hundreds of thousands of voices wanting to be heard standing on his doorstep.  He also said he was going to be a man of action and get things done.  So, why didn’t he.....

Have his chief of staff call the organizer of the march and ask if the President might come to the Lincoln Memorial and have 5 minutes to speak to the women?  Just five minutes. What would he say in those five minutes?
  • Welcome to Washington, D.C.  Thank you for coming.
  • Thank you for participating in our democracy.
  • Yesterday I promised you I would listen and try to be the president of all the people.  In fulfillment of that promise, here is what I have come prepared to do.  I have brought teams of helpers.  They will be with you all day recording what you say.  They will receive your statements, your petitions, whatever.  One group will receive your objections to me personally, another group will receive your concerns about policies etc., and a third group will receive your suggestions for improving this nation.
  • We have contacted Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina to head up a special committee to review all of this and in three weeks give us a report of the 10 or 15 most important items in each category. Three weeks after that I will address the nation and outline what we intend to do on these matters–how we will address them.
  • We wish you a great day in Washington.  Sorry, we couldn’t have arranged better weather for you.  Thank you again for coming and participating.
I think the dunce missed one of the great opportunities he might get in his administration.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Parents, Lead Your Children to the Finer Things of Life©

I read something last night which prompted this blog, because it seemed so profound and has so many applications, especially for young parents. More than a decade ago I served as a mission president in northern California. Nearly all of the 450 young men and women whom I presided over during the three years we were in the mission field are parents now. Almost daily I see on FaceBook pictures, read accounts of activities, and rejoice in accomplishments of their children.  I think about these young parents whom I love with a depth only parents really understand. Most are outstanding, some have stumbled and picked themselves up, some have yet to get up, and some seem to have abandoned their religious moorings altogether.  In nearly every case, however, I see troubling signs of worldliness creeping in almost unaware. What I observe in these cases is not confined to my young friends, it is everywhere in our society. Indeed, they are perhaps the least of the problem. Nevertheless, what I read last night combined with these observations prompt what follows.

Richard L. Evans, now deceased, was an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He delivered 2-3 minute messages on the church’s “Spoken Word” from Temple Square every Sunday for forty years!. In one of his messages(1) he quoted President N. Eldon Tanner of the Church’s First Presidency as saying,
The parents that you should honor more than any others are the parents of your children yet-to-be. Those children are entitled to the best parents that it is possible for you to give them–clean parents.(2)
Elder Evans went on to elaborate a bit about this idea.  In the process he also said something that struck me as deeply profound. He wrote:
Honoring the parents of your children-to-be!  Think of the importance of the partner you choose in marriage. Think of marrying someone who shares your own ideal so your children will not be pulled apart by their parents. Think of the importance of learning and working and providing for them.Think of giving children parents who are moral, reverent, clean and kind. Think of giving children homes of love and responsibility and respect; parents who would not neglect to teach them, but who would lead them to the finer things of life.(3)
That paragraph could be the subject of a sermon or a chapter in a book or an essay such as this. However, I was struck most by the last phrase in bold italics. It led me to ask myself, “What are the finer things in life which parents should be leading their children toward?” As I considered this I reflected on the kinds of things which are so often trumpeted on FaceBook pages and elsewhere, and I wonder.

Are sports competitions, small and great (a child’s participation, or attendance at professional sports events), where so often these days winning is the only thing, rules and morals and sportsmanship be damned, really the finer things in life. Or even if these negatives are not present, what does one say about the almost idolatrous affection for one’s favorite team or alma mater sometimes portrayed? Foul language, “trash talk,” self-promotion, arrogance, strutting and swaggering, chest beating, taunting, “in your face” attitudes, anger, and even fighting are standard fare in most of what we see in sports today. Young people learn to do these same things from the teams and models their parents idolize. Finer things?

Many young people are very conservative and are deeply committed to the Second Amendment of the Constitution, as I believe they should be. However, I confess it has astounded me how many seem to be teaching their children how to handle a weapon at very young ages, or who relish the family “hunt” which, of course, involves killing animals. Too often, even when the ostensible purpose is to stock the family freezer with meat, there grows up in the heart almost a blood lust in hunters. Are these things really the “finer things of life”?   Is intentional violence against animals a fine thing? 

How about entertainment in general?  “Fun” is one of the great values of most of America’s youth. If something isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing. The corollary to this is, if it isn’t entertaining (a special kind of fun), it isn’t worth our time.  Is this value, these priorities the “finer things” of life? One contemporary example. Does permitting children to spend as much as 6 hours a day on personal electronic devices playing games and engaging in social media qualify as among the “finer things” of life?(4)

More, but only mentioned without elaboration: rampant materialism; irreverence; disrespect; harsh language; fostering fads and fashions of the world such as casualness in grubby dress and unkempt grooming, ubiquitous presence of facial hair; sexual innuendo; the trashy; the low-minded; off-color jokes; the undignified and ignoble; wasting time; dodging responsibility; blaming others; excuses; cheating employers; breaking laws (traffic laws for example); and a thousand more; critical attitudes about everything from the driver in the car that cut you off to the government to church leaders and church policies. Where do these things fit in the call to lead children to the “finer things” in life?

Do not over react or dismiss this. I am not against sports, entertainment, guns, hunting (well maybe), and fun. But it seems to me that there is overmuch emphasis on these things in the world and in many modern LDS families. I once complained that boys practice skateboarding tricks by the hour in the church parking lot and pavilion behind our house, but could you get one of them to spend even 15 minutes reading and memorizing a scripture in preparation for his mission? One of my great mission assistants said that described him perfectly as a boy. Nor do I expect perfection from young parents. Anger, excuses, critical attitudes, and dodging responsibility are things all of us have to learn to master and for most it takes some time.

This call to my young friends, parents and parents to be, is to give serious consideration to the matter of parenting, especially their manner of parenting, and not assume that what they are doing is the way the Lord wants them to do it.(5) I encourage them to ask themselves, “Am I teaching my children and fostering in my family the Lord’s culture or man’s culture?   Is our goal to lead them to the finer things in life? If so, how much thought has been put into what those “finer things” are? How much thought has been given to the things we stress and do in our family? Can we have fun and be righteous people, keeping the balance so the pendulum doesn’t swing too far away from righteousness?

What are the finer things? Well, in Elder Evans’ book(s) he has a lot to say about that. He constantly discusses sterling character, faith, righteousness, truth, excellence, integrity, culture, refinement, goodness, responsibility, reverence, respect, love, charity, compassion, confidence, education, testimony, knowledge, chastity, cleanliness, empathy, tolerance, manners, morals, communicating well, loving God and his Son, loving mankind, hard work, honorable work, commitment, duty, obedience, action, involvement, generosity, kindness, service and more. Such things as self-control, personal dignity and nobility; duty, magnanimity, common sense, keeping promises, elevated thought, reverence for family life, loyalty (especially family loyalty), are repeatedly stressed in his writings.  

I might add a suggestion or two, not listed in any priority: life long learning, books and reading, writing well, wisdom, judgment, maturity, appreciation of the various disciplines of knowledge, high level music, the fine arts, edifying performing arts, good literature, creativity, elevating entertainment and recreation, meaningful travel, museums and parks, love and respect for nature, humanitarian and philanthropic endeavors, cultivation of religious sensitivity, worship, and service, service, service; certainly these are among the finer things of life.

Parents could do worse than to take the 13th article of faith as their family guide.

Let’s think together again, soon.


1. The book I am presently reading is, Richard L. Evans, Thoughts for One Hundred Days, Volume Five (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1972).  It is a collection of some of his last “Spoken Word” messages before his death in 1971.

2. N. Eldon Tanner, cited in Evans, Volume Five, 123.

3. Evans, Volume Five, 123-24, emphasis added.

4.  I recently read a report of a study which indicates that nationwide children spend over 6 hours a day on personal devices, over and beyond use in school!  As I have observed my grandchildren, I suspect this statistic is correct. However, it may be that many LDS parents pay closer attention and/or restrict the use of such devices more than most parents because we have received counsel regarding this for 10 years or more.

5.     Several of the General Authorities of the LDS Church have spoken about the difference between the Lord's culture and man's culture.  My plea here is that young parents would take their role seriously enough to study many of the fine books and talks written by church leaders and members about parental responsibilities and parenting, because we are not born knowing how to parent and even in the best of homes there may be traditions and teachings that do not conform to the Lord's way. So they must inform themselves about how the Lord wants them to parent.  I know of no other church or institution which endows its people with such resources about marriage, family, parents, children, family life, and parenting as does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Just one example:  Two general conferences of the Church have been held every year since the organization of the Church in 1830.  One would be hard pressed to find a conference where one of the above mentioned subjects has not been discussed; and in the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries there have often been several talks on these subjects in each conference.  We of all people are most blessed, but we are also the most responsible for doing it correctly--given all the Lord's counsel on the subject. Thus the imperative that parents ought to be anxiously engaged and about the work of finding, reading, studying, and implementing this counsel.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Yearly Plan for Self-Evaluation and Personal Improvement©

Introduction: It is common at the beginning of each year to make "New Year's Resolutions." I've never been consistent at that, nor good at it. I am resolved to do better.  Below is the yearly plan developed by an Apostle of the Lord, Elder L. Tom Perry. One could do worse than this simple but thoughtful plan for self-evaluation and ongoing improvement. I share it with you for your personal inspiration and motivation.  Happy New Year.

In conclusion, let me tell you about a personal planning cycle I developed about the time that I was ending my formal education, with the hope that it will cause you to seriously reflect and plan the future. I was a little older than most when I graduated from college; a mission and World War II had slowed the process. I graduated from college just a few months before my twenty-seventh birthday. I was married, and the first child was on its way. Family responsibility has a special way of bringing a maturing process. I decided if I was to accomplish my life's objective I needed to form a plan and review my performance regularly against the determined plan. My decision was that I would hold an annual review on each of my birthdays to evaluate my progress. On my twenty-seventh birthday my first plan was prepared. On my twenty-eighth birthday I made my first annual performance evaluation and plan revision. This I have carried out each year until the present. The plan includes the same ingredients we have discussed here tonight. First, a physical plan: it is near my birthday each year that I go to the doctor and have an annual physical examination. My plan includes some established goals for an active and restive pulse rate, a blood pressure reading, and a weight range. Annually I check my performance in my physical plan.  
My physical plan also includes a financial plan. I wanted to have thirty years of accumulation where I could become financially independent. My plan at the end of those thirty years was to be in a position where I could call the shots, be flexible, do what I wanted to accomplish. I would be able to fill a second mission, or to devote my time to community service or education. Each year I would prepare a personal balance sheet to evaluate my progress toward achieving this objective. 
Second, I would evaluate my relationships with my wife, my children, my friends, and my business associates. I was continually asking the question, "What kind of an influence in the world am I for teaching righteous principles?" I wanted to be balanced socially and emotionally.  
Third, I established a study program to improve my mind. I would mark a calendar each year with my study objectives of how many chapters I would read each day in a 365-day year. I am afraid that in my early years I was moving too much toward the objectives of my professional life. Now my program has changed, because I have discovered the great value of the scriptures. My program now is to read two chapters in the scriptures first thing every morning. By so doing I can cover the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the New Testament each year.   
Fourth, each year I gave myself a very careful temple worthiness interview. I would ask myself the questions, "Am I morally clean?" "Do I live the Word of Wisdom?" "Am I honest in paying my tithes and offerings?" "Am I regular in my attendance at my priesthood and sacrament meetings?" "Am I keeping my life in harmony with the principles of the gospel?" "Do I sustain my stake president?" "Do I sustain the prophet of the Lord?" "Is my testimony of the Lord and Savior vital, alive, and an active force in my life?" This process has had me focusing in a special way each year on what I wanted to accomplish within the time allotted to me in my mortal experience. Each year I would feel the thrill of accomplishment, but more strongly the determination to do better.(1)
Let's think together again, soon.


1.  L. Tom Perry, “‘I Need Thee Every Hour,’” 1977 Devotional Speeches of the Year, (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 1978), p. 8.