Live so that you can look at anyone without an accusing conscience, without the memory of things you wish weren’t there. Be straight and open and honest. Don’t permit anything to get into your record that will not stand scrutiny under the search light of day. If you do, it will rise to plague you in times to come....
Friday, February 17, 2017
Over a lifetime of working with and serving the youth of the Church, I have observed many youngsters who have severely marred their lives at a very young age, or who were at the time in the process of so doing, or on a path that would lead to serious difficulties in the future. It is always important to help the young avoid doing, saying, and thinking things that can lead to disaster, and in the moment one does the best one can. On the other side of these life-altering events, especially those that turn out negative, one looks back to see what one could have done better.
I have had my share of these times, and looking back I have been amazed at how easy it is for a young person who is energetic, carefree, curious, relatively ignorant although highly intelligent, and sometimes resistant to the restraints life imposes on us, how easy it is for them to do something at a very young age that is tragic or will eventually lead to tragedy.
At an early hour this morning I read something that caused me to reflect on these things once again. It contains some advice which, if the youth will take it seriously, could help many avoid marring their lives at a young age.(1) It is a very brief (2 ½ minute) essay by Richard L. Evans about the records of our lives. At the outset he talks of the tendency in many youth to be a bit careless or indifferent about the course of their lives, assuming that when it is “convenient or necessary” they will settle down. In truth, it is a tricky business and significant dilemma for guides of youth to know how much to tolerate and when to intervene.
Elder Evans teaches the young the importance of the many records that are kept of our lives. He mentions school records of our accomplishments in every subject we take, “which affects our future as we become candidates for further opportunities.” A high percentage of today’s youth probably understand this idea pretty well. He also mentioned a soldier’s military record that goes with him wherever he goes–“explaining his past and qualifying his future.” A record is also preserved of our violations of the law. They can similarly influence our future. Less familiar to youth, but a powerful example has to do with individual credit ratings kept by the banking institutions of America. They track the “certainty and promptness with which we pay off our obligations; and any future credit or financial backing we may expect or hope for is qualified by the record.” Our interactions with others–our daily conduct and considerations” in many of the small matters of life are housed in the “indelible” memory of our family, friends, and associates. In each of these instances, the “record” of the past can significantly influence the future.
The problem is that many youth are unaware of or ignore the importance their past record will have on their future. “Sometimes youth permit the record to become clouded,” Elder Evans observes, “thinking that it won’t matter later. Unfortunately, however, it does matter later. And often there follows the heartbreak of wishing the record were different.”
How many colleges, universities, and graduate programs have not been attended because of a poor school record? How many promotions and additional training were not received or future employment gained because of a poor military record? How many opportunities of every kind have been lost because of the record of one’s legal rap-sheet? How much money has not been loaned to couples wanting to buy a home or partners wanting to start a business because of poor credit scores? How many relationships have been disrupted in families and among friends and associates because of the accumulated memory of how one has been treated in life? In the case of the Church, how many missions have not been served, marriages not solemnized in the temple, and callings to leadership positions not extended because of the past conduct of individual members? One of the great opportunity-destroying elements in life is the “record” of our past, many times of our youth.
So, Elder Evans addresses the youth with great wisdom. “And so it would seem that this should be said to young people, everywhere , at home or away:”
I regret that this principle was not as clear in my mind as a teacher and church worker when I needed it the most, as it is this morning. “Regret,” said William George Jordan, “is but the light of fuller wisdom from our past, illuminating our future. It means that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life.”(2) This being true, I sense new responsibility.The Internet and Blogspot give me a new chance to fulfill it. I pray the young will have the good sense to listen and that those who are a little older will pass this lesson on to their children at an early age and continue to teach it throughout their lives.
Let’s think together again, soon.
1. Richard L. Evans, “The Record,” in At This Same Hour (New York: Harper & Brothers, n.d., probably 1949 or soon thereafter), pp. 36-37.
2. William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), pp. 46-47.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Regret gets a bad rap in our modern and excessively “feel good” “do your own thing” age. It is an age of personal rights without corresponding personal responsibility and accountability. It is an age in which “no child is to be left behind” which has been morphed by do-gooder social engineers into a society of praise and self-esteem junkies who require gold stars on the forehead for every attempt and a good word about every assignment completed.
A manifestation that is particularly troubling is the attitude many hold about regret. Two sayings–and sayings are especially popular in this sound-bite society that does not want to examine today’s superficial philosophies too closely–are prevalent. Coaches, teachers, and life coaches shout the mantra “No regrets.” Today this is shorthand for “Give it all you’ve got,” or “leave it all out on the field.” Give every effort, expend every ounce of energy, use all your skills and determination to reach the goal, thus, leaving no reason for regret. You gave it your very best.(1) In other contexts, parents, teachers, friends, life coaches and arm-chair philosophers may use the phrase to encourage “living life to the fullest.”“Try anything once.” “Live large.” “You only go around once,” so don’t die with regrets that you let fear, lack of ambition or self-confidence, or anything else hold you back from anything you desire to do. I suppose this is the positive side of “no regrets,” although, as an aside, I suggest not only the impossibility of trying everything, but also its sheer folly as well.
A second popular phrase today, from my perspective is the negative side, but it is not seen that way by those who invoke it. We often hear it in interviews with celebrities. The reporter asks something like, “At this stage of life do you have any regrets–things you would do differently?” The celeb, often with great self-assurance, parrots the commonly held view, “I have no regrets. If I had my life to live over again I wouldn’t change a thing.” When this comes from those who have hit it big, it is perhaps understandable. With such good fortune, why change their trajectory?
Sometimes, however, we hear it spoken with an air of arrogance by the rebel, the bad-boy or bad-girl–those who glory in individualism and relish running against the grain, resisting restraints and conventional mores. In the ignorance of arrogance, or should it be the arrogance of ignorance, they think they have, like Frank Sinatra, done it their way and they claim they have no regrets for doing so–notwithstanding substance abuse, rap sheets, sexual license, family conflict, and multiple divorces which are often in their background.
Whenever I hear “I have no regrets, I wouldn’t change a thing,” I find myself saying “Really?” Really, no regrets? Pardon me for saying so, but I just plain don’t believe it. It is either an expression of a total lack of introspection and inspection of one’s life, or a monumental insensitivity to the victims of the inevitable mistakes, blunders, failures, and ignorances which accompany everyone’s life. No regrets, really?
Have they never injured anyone so seriously that it cannot be adequately compensated, redressed, or repaired? Have they never said a harsh, cruel, cutting, mean, sarcastic or abusive thing which cannot be called back, but which they wish with all their heart they could? Have they never made a bad decision in their family, business, among friends, in their neighborhood or community which carried in its wake a disastrous impact which could not be totally repaired? Did they never hold back a helping hand which they later lamented because they realized they didn’t engage because of selfish reasons, fear, or inconvenience? Have they never judged someone wrongly and their judgment precipitated consequences they could not prevent or later remedy? Have they never had their motives misunderstood so deeply that despite their best efforts it could not be corrected? Have they never wasted time to the extent that important opportunities for growth, progress, productivity, success were irretrievably lost? No. Really? I don’t believe it.
It is possible I suppose, for one to say he has learned great lessons for which he is grateful without regret. But the attitude which values only the lessons learned and at the same time casually dismisses the real genuine damage and injury that was done, but which was not redressed, is worse than callus, it is chilling. Are they really that proud, insensitive, uncaring, and cold hearted?
True, chronic regret may stifle, even paralyze. Aldous Huxley was not happy with his first version of Brave New World and apparently let it sit a long while. In the “Foreword” to his 1968 paperback version he wrote:
Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean. (2)
But I am affirming the merit of regret. William George Gordon says, “The man who looks back upon his past life and says, “I have nothing to regret,” has lived in vain. The life without regret is the life without gain.” This is true because every life is marred by sin, error, mistakes, and wrong doing. He continued,
Regret is but the light of fuller wisdom from our past, illuminating our future. It means that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life. But if regret remains merely “regret,” it is useless; it must become the revelation of new possibilities, and the inspiration and source of strength to realize them. Even omnipotence could not change the past, but each man, to a degree far beyond his knowing, holds his future in his own hands.(3)
From a religious point of view, regret or remorse is one element in the positive forward moving process of repentance. When sin and error are present in our lives we can ignore and deny them and their consequences; we can become catatonic, wallowing in the muck of regret; or we can be moved into action to correct the mistake and not repeat it. It is all about how one views one’s personal responsibility and the purpose of life. Regret can and should be a catalyst to growth and improvement. It begins with an acknowledgment that one is not perfect, has not lived a perfect life, and has at many points through his life harmed and injured others. The presence of regret suggests one’s sense of personal and social responsibility. It’s absence implies a cold hard-heartedness that as Jordan says, is a life without gain. Regret is also the presence of an opportunity for greater light and wisdom regarding our future interpersonal relationships.
Let’s think together again, soon.
1. This idea is so common it does not need a footnote, however, one example may suffice. In this one Pat Williams recount’s John Havlicek’s address to his teammates at Indiana University prior to their 1976 basketball championship game. See, Pat Williams, Secrets from the Mountain (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2001), pp. 88-89.
2. Aldos Huxley, “Foreword,” to Brave New World, (Harper & Row, Publishers, September 1968), p. vii.
3. William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control, (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), pp. 46-47.
Friday, February 3, 2017
Tolerance is only complacency when it makes no distinction between right and wrong.
The devil never had a greater ally than this modern atmosphere of genial, amiable, pleasant tolerance, in which nothing is bad, everything is good, and black and white are smeared into an indefinite gray. Nothing matters if everybody is in good humor. (1)
Hardly anyone these days asks where all this goodwill of uncritical and also unexamined tolerance leads? Havner did! He suggests that it ultimately leads to darkness. Jesus said he was the Light of the World, but he came into darkness. If it was dark back then, how much more so now. Here is Havner:
We are living in the dark. The closing chapter of this age is dominated by the prince and powers of darkness. Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. The night is far spent; the blackness is more extensive and more excessive as it deepens just before the dawn. Mammoth Cave is not limited to Kentucky; it is universal!
Strangely enough, man never had more artificial illumination and less true light. Bodily, he walks in unprecedented brilliance, while his soul dwells in unmitigated night. He can release a nuclear glory that outdazzles the sun, and with it he plans his own destruction. He can put satellites in the sky, and left to himself, he is a wandering star to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.(2)
A gloomy view to be sure. But isn’t the fact that we find it so gloomy in itself illuminating? What does it illuminate? Perhaps how desensitized we are to the reality of the darkness which surrounds us. How dare Havner call our tolerant and urbane civilization darkness! How dare he! In our quieter and more contemplative moments, however, we know he is right. You thought the above was gloomy? Hear Havner's description of today’s evil and notice how we got there–little by little:
We not only live in the dark, we get used to it. There is a slow, subtle, sinister brainwashing process going on and by it we are gradually being desensitized to evil. Little by little, sin is made to appear less sinful until the light within us becomes darkness–and how great is that darkness! Our magazines are loaded with accounts of sordid crime, our newsstands with concentrated corruption. We are engulfed in a tidal wave of pornographic filth. Television has put us in the dark with Sodom and Gomorrah–right in the living room. We get used to it, acclimated to it. We accept, as a matter of course, its art, its literature, its music, its language. We learn to live with it without an inner protest.(3)
We permit the slaughter of over 60 million fetuses in the name of personal choice and liberty and consider it no different than if we were cleansing the dust from the top of the table. Talk about desensitized! Talk about darkness! Talk about evil! How do we get used to such darkness?
One may live in a twilight zone, in conditions of low visibility, until he finds the practices of this world less repulsive. He mistakes the stretching of his conscience for the broadening of his mind. He renounces what he calls the “Pharisaism” and “puritanism” of early days with a good word for dancing, smoking, and even cocktails now and then. Instead of passing up Vanity Fair, he spends his vacations there.(4)
Why no protest? Because we are a tolerant, accepting, nonjudgmental, and civilized society. We live in the age of “do your own thing” and nobody will protest. In fact, if someone does, what happens? The political correctness police move into action. The ones to protest are the ones on the side of darkness. Not unlike the civilized people at the University of California at Berkeley. A very liberal place which one would think would be the epicenter of “free speech.” In reality, however, it is the epicenter of political correctness and darkness--hooded thugs who protest, then riot, burn, and destroy in opposition to a conservative slated to give an address on their urbane campus.
Havner got it just about right. Tolerance can lead to a serious desensitization–a tolerance of evil which leads to the worst kind of darkness–darkness in the mind and soul.
Let’s think together again, soon.
1. Vance Havner, The Best of Vance Havner (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1980), p. 81.
2. Havner, pp. 84-85.
3. Havner, p. 85.
4. Havner, p. 86.