Monday, June 9, 2014

Choices, not excuses.

Politics, religion, parenting, FDA, NSA, human rights, health care and a plethora of other controversial issues today are so often sources contention, fear, anger, war, neglect, jealousy... the list goes on forever.  My aim with this post is to NAIL one thing that I believe needs to be admitted by all people everywhere in order for there to ever be a chance at peace in the human heart.  I refrain from saying peace on earth because whether or not there is peace on earth, the thing that matters so much more than world peace is peace in the human heart, regardless of our circumstances.  Now I understand that there are a number of important factors that make it much more difficult for some people to manage the choices they make than it is for others, disorders and diagnoses of conditions that limit, not eliminate, but significantly limit the amount of control someone has over their feelings.  But this article is to touch on those who are not significantly limited in their level of agency, their ability to choose right from wrong, who do not have chemical disorders that limit that kind of thing.

My wife always gets a little annoyed when I use movies to illustrate moral principles, but come on.  Spiderman, Harry Potter, The Fantastic 4 (1 and 2), Thor, Green Lantern, Rainman, Jon Q, Click,  the list goes on, and they all have really good messages behind the plots.  All these movies have so many fantastic parallels to real life moral absolutes and I'm much better at explaining anything to anyone using analogies than any other way.  I'm going to start this off by using a parallel from the Green Lantern movie.  For those who aren't familiar with the comics, the movie, or both I'll give a brief synopsis.

The movie is based around a Green Lantern corps made of beings from many different races all over the galaxy (or the universe, can't remember which, exactly) who wield the green light of will power using rings with the Green Lantern symbol on it.  The rings allow the bearers to form hard green light constructs of anything their heart desires, depending on the strength of their will power.  In DC Comic lore, it is considered to be the most powerful weapon in the universe.  There is also, however, another corps, the Yellow Lantern corps.  They wield the yellow light (with yellow rings) of fear and are able to form any hard yellow light construct they want depending on how much they can feed off of other people's fears.
Based on a Latter-Day Saint perspective on agency, the Green Lantern corps powers could be compared to Heavenly Father's plan, which is based on agency, and the Yellow Lantern corps power could be compared to Satan's plan, which is based on compulsion and fear.  The stronger the will power of the Green Lantern, the more powerful they are.  The more afraid they are, the weaker they get and the stronger the Yellow Lanterns get.  Comparatively, the less you are afraid and the more you exercise and strengthen your will power, the more control you have over yourself and the the less the adversary/devil has power over you.

I'm going to use one of my wife's favorite scriptures to illustrate this further.  It comes from 2 Nephi 2:14, "And because [we] are redeemed from the fall [we] have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for [ourselves] and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day..."  In the movie, the yellow lanterns power grows when people succumb to fear and allow themselves to be acted upon.  In the same way, all people who fit the description I made at the beginning of this have the ability to overcome their fears, gain control over their beliefs, emotions, thoughts, words and actions and always act instead of being acted upon, or controlled by, well, anything.  People, circumstances, events, memories, habits the list goes on.

I am convinced that the single reason why there is not total world peace on earth today and, according to LDS doctrine, why there never will be until the earth is cleansed by the Savior and all the wicked are destroyed, is because the very fact that we are mortal means that every last one of us will always have moments of weakness where we allow ourselves to be acted upon instead of acting for ourselves. Just think about that for a bit.  When we allow ourselves to feel angry at someone for insulting, us, who has control of our mind, us or them?  When we fail at something and we feel worthless because of our perception of what failure means, what has control or our mind, us or the circumstance?  When a possession breaks or malfunctions, when the weather is bad, when that driver cuts us off in traffic or almost hits us, when we are lied to, what or who is in control, us or the situation or person?  I think the answer to these questions is obvious.  When we allow ourselves to have a bad attitude about anything or anyone, however trivial or monumental, we are giving up control of ourselves.





In those moments, we completely give up control. When we give up control, we choose to give up our ability to choose for that moment; And with addictions that choice ripples even further and robs us of our ability to choose down the road as well and allows the addiction to dictate what we think, believe and do rather than ourselves.

Okay, I wasn't even considering doing this in the beginning but I am going to now, because of how much it so DESPERATELY needs to be put out there.  I'm going to touch on two controversial issues on the front lines today;  And before anyone jumps to conclusions and says I'm being unrealistic with what follows, please read all the way to the disclaimer following the examples I use.  Please keep in mind I discuss these issues from an LDS perspective.

Situation number one.  Person 1 says they were born gay/lesbian, that they can't do anything about it, so they act on it and make all efforts mentally to try and snuff out any guilt they feel way deep down for doing the wrong thing.  Now, I'm as much of an expert of this type of thing as fire is cold, but as far as I know - and I have done a lot of reading about this subject matter - the scientific community has yet to come up with any determinate evidence that that being born that way is a real thing.  No one has found a homosexual gene, not one.  But I'm not saying it isn't possible for other reasons because, like I said, we have no determinate evidence.  But hear me out.  Based on the premise that this person is not born that way, I see only one reason why they would stuff out the reality that what they are doing is wrong.  Fear.  Fear of being wrong, fear of intense guilt, fear being rejected by others who base friendships on that particular sin, fear of the pain of change, even it is for the better, fear of confusion, fear of being uncomfortable in their own mind for heaven's sake.  All of these are completely legitimate fears.  Heck I'm afraid of change some times, afraid of confusion and more.  But the principle is the same.  If this individual could understand that they have more will power than they think they do, they could have so much more peace of mind, knowing that any weakness they have can be eliminated if the choose to act rather than be acted upon and oppressed by their own fear.  But, again, keep reading at least until the disclaimer.

Next subject. Person 2 was born into a family with a long history of alcoholism and anger management problems.  They were raised by a father who had a huge anger problem and was always drinking and the mother is never there, always finding a way to get out of the home for fear of the father going on one of his anger fits and hurting her.  Growing up, person 2 was always afraid of their father and learns from the his example to be angry all the time.  They are too fearful to direct this anger back at the father in an effort to get him to change so they direct the hurt, frustration and anger at the mother.  Take this situation or the reverse of it, having the mother being the one with the anger problem.  Either way, what I'm getting at with this one is this.  Even people who are programmed to act and think in a certain way by the way they were (or weren't) brought up, provided they still fit into the category I mentioned at the start, still have that ability to take control.  No, let me correct that.  They have all power to seize control of themselves, to say to their circumstances, in a manner of speaking,  "This is my body, my actions and my thoughts.  They are MINE.  I own my mind and I and I alone will determine what I do with it.  No one and nothing can take control of me.  One of the thing few things that no one can take from me is my right to choose who I am and who I become."

And they'd be absolutely, unequivocally correct.  In General Conference of October 1995 Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, in his talk "Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father", "One’s individual will thus remains uniquely his. God will not override it nor overwhelm it."  God has given us everything, EVERYTHING, in this world.  But the one thing that is truly and uniquely ours is our will.  No one, not even God Himself can take that from us or He would cease to be God.  We are totally responsible for how we choose to react, how we feel, what thoughts we entertain and act on, what and who we choose to believe and believe in and we have an obligation to take ownership of those things.

Many times we mistakenly assume that, in any number of situations, "I had no choice", "I had to do it", "There was no other option", "There's wasn't anything else I could do".  Okay, okay, if a biker gang had cornered me and said they were going to kill me right then and there and I had a weapon that would stop them, I most likely would use it.  I understand that there are some situations where there is only one option if you want to stay alive or something like that.  But notice those six words I just used, "if I want to stay alive".  If this biker gang had cornered me and it was truly my last moment, but I knew that I could die then and there with a clear conscience regarding my life as a whole, I would choose to die, because of the why, because of the end goal I had in making my choice.  If I want to indulge and be bad, then I had better choose to live a horrible life.  But if I want to be happy and be a good person and not be imprisoned by my own choices, I have better make good ones.

For those who are aching for the disclaimer, here it is.  Every choice we make is for a purpose, whether our motive/reason is to satisfy the natural mortal man, succumbing to our circumstances or other around us, or to choose the higher ground and choose to do what is right and keep control of ourselves, rather than to just take what seems like the easy way out.  But I will go as far as to admit that, many times, yes, it just looks dang near IMPOSSIBLE to make a different choice than the one we want to make.  So often seems impossible to overstate how difficult it is to choose to say something else or to choose a different thought, attitude, believe, desire, action, etc.  Wow does it ever seem impossible many times to make a different choice because our circumstances seem so intensely difficult and we feel enormous pressure from all sides and angles.

But, as has been said by prophets ancient and modern as well as many other religious and non-religious people through the ages, you'll never get anything in life that you can't handle. Let me amend that statement though.  You'll never get anything that you won't be able to handle the right way.  God (or life, if you're not religious) will never throw you something where you are not able to take command, seize control of yourself, and have one of the best natural moral highs of your life when it's all said and done, knowing that nothing in that situation took control of you, that you and you alone showed that you were charge and you just proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

A few quote's about will power that I to go into my last point:

William Penn said "'No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself."

Vince Lombardi said "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious."

Only in those moments, where we grit out teeth, squeeze out every last ounce of will power we have, block the entire world out if only for a split second, and make a choice to be a better person, even if it means suffering some pain, but come out on top, knowing that we didn't have anything left to give and that because of it, we are a better person and our conscience in 100% clear - only in those moments do we truly reach our potential for that moment.

To use a phrase from another movie, X-men: First Class, only when we have harnessed that level of focus that "lies somewhere between rage and serenity" and truly been the best we can, even with all the evil there is surrounding us, will we ever feel total and complete peace about ourselves and the world around us.  I think it's a small price to pay for that kind of peace.  I really don't think most people truly comprehend the power of self-control.  More people need to.

I hope with everything in me that I can be like that one day, and I trust that with God it will happen eventually, but until then I'm just like the rest of you reading this.  I'm prone to making mistakes every day, screwing up, doing the same dumb things over and over again, being so far off of reaching this ideal state of being I have been going on about here.  I succumb to fear all the time.  But I still know I CAN do better and it's entirely up to me to do that.  I will get there one day if I keep trying, if I never give up, and so can you!

To end, I'll use all that I've said to this point to go back to the original goal of this post, to NAIL one thing that I believe needs to be admitted by all people everywhere.  Everyone in this world who fits into the category I mentioned at the beginning needs to admit, boldly, assertively, and without shame, as the silver surfer said at the end of the Fantastic 4 movie,

"There is ALWAYS a choice".

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