Friday Fundamentals: Hope and Social Justice

I just finished reading “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, PhD. She describes what is going on in individuals and society at large when we experience shame. When I try to talk about what I have learned from this book, I have had to start out describing what shame really is. I told one person about shame, and their response was that they wish people were more ashamed these days – ashamed of their immoral choices. That is different. What they really wish is that people would feel more guilt about their choices, but because people already feel so ashamed of who they are, their behaviors are justified, sort of. Dr. Brown describes shame as an attack on our identity or inherent sense of worth, and fear of disconnection. Shame is “I AM bad”, while guilt is “I DID something bad that doesn’t align with my values.” Guilt compels people to change and grow.  I am totally paraphrasing any of the information I got from this book, just so you know. If you want direct quotes, read the book. It is awesome.  (By the way, this is a super long post, but I hope you’ll bear with me).

When people experience shame, our “flight or fight”, or natural response is one of three reactions: to move toward it (to please or appease), move away from it (hide, become detached or depressed), or move against it (become aggressive, shame or blame others). You know we see examples of this EVERYWHERE. That is the point of Brene Brown’s message. Shame is a plague on our society. Because of shame, we are isolating ourselves, propagating disconnection. People are afraid of being vulnerable because we believe we live in a world where there are two types of people: kill or be killed.

“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

ONE example of shame that resonates with me the most is how all women experience shame around motherhood. All women do. If you have no babies, people start asking when you are going to start, or remind you that you won’t be able to have babies forever. If you have a baby, you’d better be married, that baby had better be flawless, and you had better be perfect. Then people ask when you’re having another. When you have them, you feel pressure about everything: too many kids, too few, you’re too young, you’re too old, they are spaced too close, they are spaced too far apart, you should co-sleep, you should let them cry, your kid should be reading before they can sit up, they are too thin, they are too fat, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, you’re too permissive, you’re too aggressive, and ultimately you are wasting your college degree and an insult to the female sex. If you can’t have children, you are burdened with shame, and you will never understand what it is really like to be a mom. If you have ever had an abortion, you are in a world of shame (not advocating anything here, I just want to make a point). Everyone can find a reason to say you are a BAD mom. Shame. Most of the time, people who are pointing the finger the loudest are the ones who feel the most ashamed of where they are in this spectrum. I saw a meme recently that said something like, there is no way to be a perfect mom, but there are a million ways to be a good one. That’s good stuff right there.  Check out Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto on her website.

“The real questions for parents should be: “Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?” If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

I took a personality psychology class during my undergraduate studies, and we discussed the plague of personifying characteristics as inherent flaws rather than simple choices. Think of that last time someone cut you off. Did you think, “boy, that was rude. Didn’t they see me here? Maybe they did not learn how to drive properly” Or did you think, “what a jerk!” and go the rest of your trip driving offensively because the road is full of jerks, essentially becoming one yourself.  In shame culture, we attribute our choices to who we are, rather than simply our process of learning and growth that is naturally fraught with mistakes.

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

If we consider Erik Erikson’s stages of psychological development, we go through a phase where we either experience autonomy, or shame and doubt.  If you never experience true autonomy (self-efficacy), you get stuck in that phase.

We all have something to gripe about. All of it, very real. Sexism, racism, class-ism, ageism, sexuality, level of education or the type of work you do, religiosity vs. atheism, political views, parenthood, single vs. married, fat vs. skinny, the list goes on and on! We all fall into some category that we identify with, and we can find someone on the “opposite” side claiming their plight is worse, or more credible. Everyone is fighting over who is the bigger victim rather than owning our story.

Brene Brown says that to conquer shame we have to own our story so that we can be the ones to write its ending. In my mind, this means applying the atonement of Jesus Christ, His grace, to repent and make your life new. It means being agents who take accountability for life and choices, having the power to act for yourself, rather than be acted upon. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explains this concept: “As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who act rather than objects that are acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14)” ( “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality“)

Dr. Brown says the antidote, or the supernatural response to shame is empathy and connection. Find someone who will commiserate with you and console one another with soothing responses of identification and compassion. I believe the most important connections we can have that create the deepest resilience are our connection with God, and our family and/or ancestors. In the context of what I am saying, a deeper remedy to the problems of our society is hope. What is hope? Hope is a topic Dr. Brown touches of briefly in her book. She says hope is “grit” or “a function of struggle.” The ability to endure discomfort because you have developed strong character. Hope is a learned trait. It is cultivating our capacity to persevere. It takes practice to learn how to endure discomfort, failure, stress, tolerance, delayed gratification, rejection, and fear. People who have hope know who they are, they have self-efficacy, and are resilient to those things that cause pain or discomfort because they can endure it knowing there will be a bright side to it all, or at least an end. Someone who has hope doesn’t let tough things change who they are.  They can enter into a vulnerable situation with hope that they can endure it.

” Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4, The Book of Mormon, emphasis added).

If people had hope in a better world, they would not be insecure when they hear insults, but would let it slide because they can endure a little discomfort. When you have hope, you can act on faith to produce that better world. Faith is an action word that compels us to do something supernatural. Rather than focus on the negative, look for the bright spots.  Rather than fighting the things you disagree with, promote the things you believe in and care about.  If you hope to grow a garden, you act in faith to plant a seed and to water it and nourish it (See Alma 32, The Book of Mormon). If you give up faith that the seed will grow, you will stop nourishing it. You will also lose hope that you will ever have a garden.  You might wonder why you’re experiencing a trial, and perhaps it may simply be that you need a greater measure of hope.

“Sister Burton told Latter-day Saint women that as they move along life’s path, the Lord gives them burdens to carry that they might yoke themselves to Him. ‘Yoking ourselves to Him not only helps us develop the spiritual muscle needed to get us through our current trials but also blesses us with His enabling power, which helps us face the future trials that surely await us.'” (General Auxiliary Presidents Speak to Women About Atonement).

I believe that through hope we have the power to see the world differently, to look for the bright spots, to have hope in a better world! Then, have faith that we can do something about it. We don’t have to all agree with each other, but we can let things slide without it breaking down our character. We can show expressions of love to others who may be ignorant of our plight. We can also seek out those who will understand and have empathy rather than withdraw and become bitter.

“Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

“And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.
“And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” (Alma 7:23-24, The Book of Mormon).

“And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
“And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
“Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
“And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.
“If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:40-48, The Book of Mormon).

 

 

Monday Memoir: “The Breath of Life, Even Eternal Life”

In the beginning, I was forced down from the top of a very high mountain.  A man at the bottom convinced me I needed to go back up the mountain, that it was crucial to my well-being.  I started back.  I crossed over a bridge that would lead to my mountain.  In my mind’s eye, I could see the man watching over the progress of my journey from elevated ground.  I found the trail that led up the mountain and made my way up about half way.  There I met someone who tried to talk me out of going further up the mountain and wanted to convince me that he had the prize right there in his hand.  It was a giant, delicious muffin (I had been working for Sam’s Club previous to this time).  I thought he was right.  What an amazing prize.  Then, the man appeared and showed me the true value of this imaginary prize.  In his hand, it looked tiny and bland, and I realized that this was only a counterfeit and nowhere near the glory of the real prize.  I continued up the trail and then had to climb a rope ladder.  Only, the ladder was like a tunnel, and it was lined with giant books that I had to climb over.  It was challenging and it took a lot of work getting through.  Once I was finally through, I had reached the top of the mountain.  There I observed the Savior’s tomb.  I went inside.  On the stone bed where He would have laid were photographs of the Man, but he was not there.  While I combed through the pictures, I knew why He was not there.  I began to weep at the realization of what He had done for me.  Then I was beckoned out of the tomb by a woman who I knew for her Christlike characteristics that I admired.  She shined, she was fun and faithful, and kind.  She was what I thought I wanted to be, and I knew she had served her mission in Hawaii.  She led me out onto a tier in the back of a large church.  The lower level was full of people wearing colorful clothes.  When we walked out, the whole congregation turned and looked back at us as we each testified of what we had witnessed in the tomb.

When I woke from this dream, I knew instantly that I had had a vision.  I knew that through my life’s challenges I would gain the character and the testimony of Christ that would prepare me to serve a mission, and allow me to grow in the light of Christ throughout my life.

Then, I got my mission call – to Hawaii.  I knew that was where the Lord needed me to be.  As soon as I walked off the plane and could feel the humidity (a stark contrast from the dry air in Provo), saw the palm trees and the beautiful sky, I knew I was going to love my mission.  I wanted to be a good missionary with all my heart.  I knew my goal was to learn to know my Savior and have a personal relationship with Him as my Brother and my Redeemer by serving the people of Hawaii.

I arrived after dark on Christmas Eve and drove up Temple View Drive while the temple was lit in all its beauty.  I knew I was going to love my mission.

I really did love my mission.  I loved the sisters and senior couples, the people, and that beautiful place.  I have many fond memories, met amazing people, and watched people grow in the gospel and be baptized.  I loved my daily study, and testifying of the gospel to anyone who would listen as I gave tours at the Visitors’ Center.  I even met someone when I returned home whose journey to finding the gospel began on a tour I conducted from the Polynesian Cultural Center!  I look back on my mission with great fondness and many great memories.

That being said, I want you to know that my mission was also the most challenging experience of my life.  As I am now coming out of some years of depression, I am able to come to terms with the reality that I suffered from depression on my mission, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.  My anxiety was overwhelming!  I was constantly bombarded with negative, doubtful thoughts about myself, my worth and my abilities. I was crushed by these feelings, and beat myself up most days with the fear of all my failure.  I was inauthenic, self-conscious, awkward.

Nevertheless, I worked hard.  My mission has been the only time in my life I have been able to wake up on time, early in the morning, consistently, with hardly an alarm (I am not a morning person).  I pushed myself to do things that were intensely challenging for me, especially when coupled with my severe self-doubt.  There were many, many times when I was able to overcome my fears and even did it cheerfully, and gained wonderful, memorable experiences!

Still, when my mission was drawing to a close I was overcome with angst that I was not the missionary I could have been, and I longed to return to the beginning and start it all over again.  I still wish I could go back knowing all that I know now.

However, my mission president gave me a blessing before my departure that I knew was inspired.  He told me that my mission literally saved my life.  Whether that was in a temporal or a spiritual sense is all the same.  I knew that by serving my mission I had served the Lord with all my “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), and I did all I could with what I had at that time, in spite of all my weaknesses.  And because of that service, I would be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven because of how my service had, and would influence my  choices throughout my life.

The moment I arrived home and was released, the dark spirit that plagued me on my mission was gone.  My confidence soared.  I was immediately called to serve as the temple committee co-chair in my singles ward, teaching temple prep classes, and becoming an ordinance worker.  Soon, I was called to serve as a chair on the “transition committee” serving new-comers to our ward and making sure they were not lost in the mix.  With confidence, I was sincerely extroverted and was even described as having an “electric personality.”  I loved my life.  I escorted my dear friend through the temple for her own endowment – the one who went on my tour of the Hawaii visitors’ center!  I went to school.  I worked in the temple.  I went on dates, determined to learn whether the guys in my ward were marriage material (because I couldn’t honestly say so without getting to know it for myself – see Elder Oaks’ talk summarized in the Ensign, June 2006, Dating Vs. Hanging Out).  Each of the guys I went on dates with had incredible talents: writers, musicians, dancers, even a mathematician.  But soon, my husband returned from his mission and we started dating before he had been home one month.  The Lord knew we were meant to be, and he is better for me than anyone I would have chosen for myself.  Everything that has happened since my mission has been incredibly rewarding!  The decisions I have made have been inspired, and influenced by my experiences there.

Now as I reflect on my mission, and I see all the good that came out of it – my dear friends whom I served with, memories of teaching amazing people that I grew to love, my personal gospel study, that obedience brings blessings, all the things I learned about the church organization and all that the church does to strengthen families, and yes, even the challenges I faced – have indeed been the source of my salvation.  I have learned more about grace, repentance and forgiveness, and countless principles of the gospel than I could have ever learned by not serving.  I learned deep lessons of obedience, charity, sacrifice, work, service, and priesthood.  This is why I urge anyone (who is able) to serve a mission.  And my advice for anyone who serves is the same as the advice President Hinckley received from his father when he despaired on his mission: “forget yourself and go to work” (Ensign, May 1995, Sweet Is the Work: Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the Church).  The Lord needs whatever it is you have to offer.  Your unique qualities will touch lives.  Let your light shine in whatever capacity you have, and just love the people you are with.

“Aloha” in Hawaiian means hello, and goodbye, but it also means love.  My mission gave me another new perspective of that beautiful word.  We had a mission motto that went something like this:

 We are called to serve in the Hawaii, Honolulu mission, the “Aloha” mission.  The atonement of Jesus Christ is our message, love of God and others is our motivation, and obedience to the commandments and mission rules is our strength.  By sharing the gospel with others, we give them the “ha” – the breath of life, even eternal life.  Aloha!!

My journey to the top of this mountain may be over, but I see many peaks in my future I have yet to conquer.  But from now on, I am armed with a testimony of the Plan of Salvation, the Atonement, and all of the appendages of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have been given the gift of “alo-ha”.

If you are preparing to serve a mission, my suggestion is that you make the temple your goal.  Go to the temple often, and do the things that will keep you worthy of that goal.  Don’t give in to the counterfeits that may try to keep you from reaching that mountain summit.  Study the gospel.  Know the scriptures in and out if you can.  Serve whenever you can in any capacity.  And, learn life skills like cooking and cleaning, money management, and proper diet so you aren’t distracted by those things while you serve.  Learn the true meaning of charity, faith, and obedience.  Then, be authentic, and lose yourself in the work (Mark 8:35).

Here are just a few of the special moments on my mission:

MTCVC muu muusBanyon TreeAll Hawaii Sisters ConferenceHukilau CafeHawaii, Tonga, Tahiti PCCVC SistersJessica baptismPCC TramDebra baptismMaui baptismDavid baptismLast day

Wednesday Wondering: Being a Peacemaker

What does it really take to be a peacemaker? Just wondering. Is anyone really good at being a peacemaker?

It says in the Guide to the Scriptures that a peacemaker is “A person who brings about or promotes peace (Matt. 5:9; 3 Ne. 12:9).” I get the part about promoting peace, but to actually bring it about is a little harder.

To understand more what it means to be a peacemaker, I refer to President Thomas S. Monson’s talk from the Priesthood session of General Conference in October of 2009 entitled, “School Thy Feelings, O My Brother.”

In President Monson’s talk, I learned that “Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything” (Lawrence Douglas Wilder, quoted in “Early Hardships Shaped Candidates,” Deseret News, Dec. 7, 1991, A2.)

We’ve all felt anger. It can come when things don’t turn out the way we want. It might be a reaction to something which is said of us or to us. We may experience it when people don’t behave the way we want them to behave. Perhaps it comes when we have to wait for something longer than we expected. We might feel angry when others can’t see things from our perspective. There seem to be countless possible reasons for anger.

To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry.

…we are all susceptible to those feelings which, if left unchecked, can lead to anger. We experience displeasure or irritation or antagonism, and if we so choose, we lose our temper and become angry with others. Ironically, those others are often members of our own families—the people we really love the most.

School thy feelings, O my brother;
Train thy warm, impulsive soul.
Do not its emotions smother,
But let wisdom’s voice control.
School thy feelings; there is power
In the cool, collected mind.
Passion shatters reason’s tower,
Makes the clearest vision blind. 8
This last poem reminded me of a section in my health textbook about emotional intelligence. I found it invariably profound to consider the discipline it takes to master emotions to this depth. But, I imagine many fights would be avoided if people could master emotion.

“Emotional intelligence can be defined as the degree to which we can skillfully and adaptively deal with our emotions and those of others.
“More specifically, this involves the following:
1. Recognizing feelings as they occur
2. Responding to feelings with neither impulsive, aggressive reactivity, nor suppression, denial, distraction, or avoidance
3. Being able to tolerate and contain strong emotions and soothe yourself in the presence of powerful feelings
4. Being able to use the energy of strong emotions to motivate yourself and respond skillfully to the situation at hand
5. Being able to perceive the content of feelings in order to connect the emotion to its source and understand why you are feeling a particular emotion
6. Being able to recognize and bear the feelings of others without needing to distance yourself or dissuade the other person from having their feelings
7. Being able to persist in the face of fear or frustration and cultivate resilience
8. Being able to delay gratification
9. Being able to be curious and stay open to feelings rather than close down, tighten up, or turn away from emotions
10. Being able to express a wide range of emotions in a way that is natural and to a degree that is appropriate to the particular situation

“How do you cultivate emotional intelligence? The key lies in the ability to develop the overarching skill of mindfulness – the ability to dispassionately observe thoughts and feelings as they occur and while they’re occurring. This skill is aided by culivating a “witness” or a “watcher” in your mind and noting the arising of strong reactions with a certain detachment. By holding our reactions in a larger mental space we can make more measured, wise, and skillful responses to the situation at hand.
“Mindfulness can be cultivated by simply paying more attention to the operation of our minds, slowing down our lives enough to make more detailed observations, and staying in the moment so as to maximize awareness of our selves and others. Although we often have a limited ability to control external events, it turns out that we have a great deal of ability to discipline, focus, and train our minds. With practice, we not only can become more emotionally intelligent but also may be able to cultivate an ongoing peace of mind that many people find so elusive” (Core Concepts of Health, Insel, pg 101).

No one is perfect, except for Christ. Only through Him can we truly possess the pure love of Christ: charity, and become peacemakers. I believe relationships can heal. It requires faith, and the willingness to bear the yoke of grace together with the Savior, and become like a child.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Wednesday Words of Wisdom: “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”

In Conference on Sunday, President Uchtdorf gave some very sound advice: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon,” he said. “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm—please apply the following: Stop it!” He goes on to say, “We are not perfect. The people around us are not perfect. People do things that annoy, disappoint, and anger. In this mortal life it will always be that way.
“Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.”

I have often pondered the concept of not judging and have tried to improve. It feels impossible sometimes. In my psychology class I’m taking right now, I learned about a study where two subjects were selected, a man and a woman. The woman had her picture taken, but the picture was put aside. Instead, the man was given a picture of a different woman depending on the reaction the study wanted to see. For example, the man was shown a picture of an attractive woman. Then he received a phone call from the woman whom he thought was pictured. The conversation was recorded. The recording was played back to a college class, except the only portion that was played back was the woman’s end of the conversation. Women who were perceived by the men as attractive were more warm, humorous and poised than when the man was shown a picture of an “unattractive” woman. The conclusion is that we not only judge other people, we also respond to the judgements placed upon us whether we know it or not (Study from “The Personality Puzzle” 5th Edition by David C. Funder page 187). That was shocking to me. I started to realize how my behavior through my depressive stage may not have just been how I felt about myself or the people around me, but actually my response to how people around me had perceived me.

I love this video illustrating the story President Monson told in his talk “Charity Never Faileth” in the Relief Society General broadcast in 2010. If you get the chance to read it, it is a great talk.

Conclusion: if you judge others: “Stop it!”

(I’m sorry if you can’t see the video doesn’t work. Here is a link anyway.)