Friday, December 27, 2013

Belief vs Knowledge

In a talk recently given by Elder Holland, he talked about the importance of belief.  Thank heavens. The reason why I rejoice is because I personally have a hard time with the phrase "I know." I have my personal doubts and areas where I lack knowledge and experience. Absolutes like "I know" scare and seem too final. Plus if I truly knew, wouldn't I be at risk of the sin against the H.G.?

I have always felt the pressure to "know". It's dogmatic in our culture.  As a missionary, I was taught to say "I know", not "I believe".  To take our testimonies to the maximum seems to be the expected norm. I was curious about this "norm" and decided to take some data on it. During fast and testimony meetings I kept a tally of certain phrases that were used. For example, I monitored how often someone would say "I know Joseph Smith was a prophet" or some similar variation. I kept track of the "I know", "I'm grateful", "I bear testimony", and "I believe". I also kept track of the topics such as Jesus Christ, the Atonement, the Book of Mormon, prophets, prayer, and etc.

I did this at least 10+ times over the course of a few years and came out with a few insights. For one, I noticed that YSA wards tended to express more gratitude than older family wards. Mostly though, I noticed the lack of the use of "I believe." In all of those testimony meetings, I probably heard the phrase I believe less than 5 times. Half of them were by my roommate who knew what I was doing and used them just to skew the numbers. The use of "I know" and "I testify" was roughly even in use, garnishing around 15 uses a piece each meeting.

This long observation solidified that there is a cultural tendency to use "I know" instead of "I believe." For many, this is not a big deal and the difference between the two words is moot and irrelevant. For me, I prefer the term believe because it implies hope, faith, and a bit of uncertainty. It's vibrant in its color of meaning and emotion. While the word KNOW is powerful, immovable, and certain; which doesn't convey my actual feelings. I don't think it conveys most people's actual testimony.

Due to this cultural norm I have long felt less spiritual or that I had less of a testimony because I didn't feel comfortable using the phrase "I know" whilst everyone around me did. It always struck me as ironic when the declaration of belief was never used and yet we would sing "I believe in Christ" at the end of the meeting.

Self-control and reasons to obey

The other week I was sitting in a church meeting as we were discussing some commandments and why we obey them. The question was asked on how to stay in line with the commandments and why we are obedient. Many different answers were given and each answer has some value and use to each participant. As I listened, I started to think about how I live my life in accordance with the commandments and why I do. I don't expect my answer to work for everyone else since everyone has their own preferences, strengths, and etc.

I idealize that every one of my decisions is going to based on the grand premise of what will make me happiest. Through my experiences I have found that deviating from the commandments may provide some immediate gratification but it does not necessarily yield greater happiness. When I do stray, I feel a sense of guilt and remorse. For many people that should be enough to stop the behavior, but yet for others it isn't always enough. Feelings are temporary and are easily forgotten. What our brain processes is typically the now. In the moment of temptation the immediate natural response is to take the instant pleasure, which  can be all too enticing. See this following video clip.

I eventually decided to look at these temptations with God out of the equation and look at it completely from a temporal perspective. For examples sake, I will look specifically at chastity. In my relationships with girls I have learned that while passionate kissing is fun it is also addicting. Strong feelings emerge from these actions and cloud my judgment. What if I just had sex and got that sexual tension out of the way? What harm would it do? Well would that have made my relationship better and allowed me to also focus on the more important aspects of the relationship such as mutual respect, communication, and common ideas? I honestly don't know but I don't believe it will. More than sex I want a strong fulfilling relationship. Incorporating sexual behavior seems to detract from other more important aspects of the relationship, especially in the spring of the relationship.  I also believe that limiting one's sexual encounters to just one person will help increase mutual respect, desire, and love between a couple. You may disagree, but for me I believe this to be true.

Also I find great satisfaction in having self control. This past year I have taken up running more and as many know, running isn't very easy. Every time I go I always want to stop because walking is a lot more pleasant than running. It's a mental game for me but so many times I just keep going and push through those endless minutes when I want to stop. This has taught me that I can do hard things. The increased health not only makes me feel good but I feel a great deal of satisfaction of knowing I ran those few miles and I didn't quit. Remaining sexually pure is also a matter of self-control. It's about saying no to the moment.

We all have our moments of weakness though, and for some saying no to ending a run short is harder than others just as saying no to an advancing mate is harder than others. If we do give in, it's not the end of the world. There is always the chance to be better. If you do give in, you shouldn't feel bad because feeling bad doesn't motivate us to change. What really motivates us to change is to imagine the good that will come with that change. You have to disconnect yourself from the now and view these decisions on a broader scale.

I choose to remain sexually pure not necessarily because God commanded it, but because I have found that it yields greater happiness and as I believe/hope yields for higher quality relationships in the future. It just so happens that this lifestyle is also in line with what I believe to be God's commandments. I no longer view it as an obligatory commandment I must obey because some supreme Diety says it's bad, but I view it as a path to joy.

As I prefaced, this is what seems to work for me but everyone is different and I encourage you to find what works for you.

Rich Food Inequality

I could not take another bite. It was disgustingly delicious. The table in front of me was filled with hot fudge, eclairs, dark chocolate mint brownies, and etc. All of them were housed in silver dishes, silk doilies, and hand-carved tables. This food was way too rich and it made me want to puke. I left the event and took a stroll to clear my mind and stomach. I soon found myself in a local food market. I found food, real food. I found food of the highest quality but yet it sat there hapless in dirty old broken wooden crates. I looked around and saw the potatoes in a cheaply made plastic sack digging grooves into their skin. The tortillas were tightly squeezed into a mishapen thin plastic bag. It was savagery
How could this huge disparity between rich and bland foods exist? The bland food was of no less value nutritionally but yet was subjected to such poor conditions and negative stereotypes as to taste and richness. How could I stand idly by as these foods lived at the bottom of the food chain with little to no opportunities to become rich. Is it the potatoes fault it was grown bland? Something had to be done to right this wrong.
The rich foods need to impart of their richness to the poor foods. The FDA needs to step in the create a more equal food society. Actual changes don't seem to be feasible in the near future but you can join me by boycotting the chocolate chip cookie doughs of the world. Those greedy, selfish, capitalist pigs have had their reign long enough. So join now and don't give room in your stomach for rich foods.

Obviously this is a parody on wealth inequality in our society today. This parody is only to have a little fun with some of the rhetoric being used in this argument. Unlike this parody, wealth inequality is a complex and multifaceted issue that does need serious address. That address is too daunting for me right now so I'll suffice with this. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ragnar: I can do hard things

The past two days I participated in an event called Ragnar. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a 198 relay race from Logan, UT to Park City, UT. I was on a 12 man team where we each take 3 turns running. I ran about 21 of those 198 miles.

I have never been much of an avid runner in my life and this was basically my first big event running. In fact the farthest I had ever run at once was 7 miles and two of my legs were longer than that. So suffice it to say, it wasn't easy. It was one of the more physically and mentally difficult things I've done in my life but yet it's one of the most memorable and exciting things I've done.

On my team of 12, I only knew one other person who was my coworker. He was the one who invited me to the team. It took some persuasion by him to get me to join and eventually I conceded, partly due to the fact that there would be 2 single girls my age in my group. I got to know the people in my group decently well in the space of 48 hours and shared good moments with them. I've slapped their calves, seen them without makeup, seen them groggily wake up at 2:30 in the morning and go running 5 miles immediately thereafter, and shared some laughs. I was surrounded by 17,000 other people going through the same difficult thing. It was kind of exhilarating. Everyone was friendly and courteous and I never once saw someone be mad or frown. Yes, I saw a lot of pain on peoples faces as they struggled up their run but yet everyone enjoyed it (at least from my view) It's interesting how something obviously difficult can be such a catalyst for the positive. Relationships improved and friendships were made. Random strangers would give words of encouragement. When someone kills you (passes you) or you're killing someone, people say "good job" and "keep it up". Everyone is going through the same experience and building each other up for a collective accomplish something difficult. Yes, some people are in it to win it but most are there to just complete the course as best and as fast as they can, whether they "win" or not. It's like an instant community forms overnight all working to achieve a common goal.

As I think back on the experiences I am most fond and proud of it's not the ones where I am getting a massage or lying on a beach, it's the ones where I am exhausted from hiking and rapelling down miles of a slot canyon with my friends on a scout camp, when I get a high score on a test that I studied really hard for, when I reach the top of a mountain, and when I run 5 miles in the middle of the night and have my team slap my calf at the end of it. It's that realization that you can do hard things that brings that sense of accomplishment in life. It's in the midst of your most difficult hour that happiness can be found. It brings painful but yet more powerfully positive memories. Experiences like those have powerful impacts in building relationships and improving morale.

Just like in life sometimes the hardest parts are the most rewarding. I wouldn't have done Ragnar if my coworker hadn't convinced in devious ways to do it. Frankly the thought of paying more than a $100 to run lots of miles at ridiculous hours does not quite sound appealing. But now that I've done it, I want to do it again and do more similar adventures. I've spent a lot of my life preventing myself from accomplishing great goals simply because it sounded hard and I doubted whether I could do it. I've ended up missing out on so much. Due to fear and laziness I have limited myself not only to running races but also to happiness. When we don't push ourselves to accomplish something hard or that we're afraid of, (whether it be going to college, asking someone on a date, running a marathon, forgiving a relative, and etc) we limit our happiness.

So take sometime to think of the things you've always wanted to do but yet haven't done just because it seemed too hard. You won't regret it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Humble Seeker

What do you want most out of your life? What do you want to accomplish? What do you feel is your purpose?

If you're like me, sometimes you don't know the answers to these questions. However, the answer to these questions very well may be the same for me as they are for you and the answer is profoundly simple. So simple that it can seem almost stupid. For me, I want to be happy. I believe that happiness is what we all seek and is the end all motivator. Happiness just comes in different forms for all of us.

To understand this let's take a small detour here and discuss one of my interests, theology. Within theology there exist proofs for the existence of God, one of which is the Cosmological argument. Many times in life we may ask, what caused a certain event to occur. The answer may very well be followed by the succeeding question, "what caused that to cause that?" The regression of causality can be quite lengthy but is it infinite? The Cosmological argument holds that there is not an infinite regression of causality but there is eventually an uncaused cause, which is God. God caused the universe to be created and subsequentially everything else. While I may not fully like this argument for the existence of God, it did provide the framework for the following line of thought.

Could the Cosmological argument for the existence of God provide the same framework for motivation? If there is an end all causer, is there also an end all motivator? While talking to a friend the other day I asked her what her goals were in life. One of her responses was to get a job. I asked her why she wanted to get a job to which she responded so she could make money. Well why did she want money? So she could travel with her family. Why does she want to travel with her family? Because she enjoys that activity. That was as far as I went with the questioning but within those few questions we arrived at a sufficient enough answer for the time being.

The girl who I was talking to had other goals in life and if I had taken the same line of questioning for those goals, I would have eventually ended up at a similar point. It would have been something to the note of "I enjoy it", "I like it", "It's fun.", "it makes me feel good", and etc. All of these basically boil down to being happy and maximizing such happiness.

The other day at church we were talking about our purpose in life. Many spoke of how their goal in life was to be obedient, become like Christ, get married and start a family, stay on the straight and narrow, and etc. All very good answers but yet I felt they all missed the point. While these are all noble purposes, none of these would be our goals if it didn't provide us with an instrinsic sense of worth and happiness. If becoming like Christ made us miserable, would we really want to be like Christ? Probably not. Now that I feel sufficiently blasphemous let me attempt to back this up with some scriptures and quotes.

Also in the Book of Mormon it states, " are that they might have joy" -2 Ne 2:25

This answer to the purpose of life is not very satisfying. It leaves us with almost a sense of disappointment that it is not something greater. But what greater thing could we ask for?

Now the question is what makes you happy and how will you find and maximize happiness? I hope to address this in a later blog post but as I am finding out the path to happiness is not quite as simple as deriving our purpose.


What do you live for? What do you get up for in the morning? What makes you feel important?

In a very vain sense, I value my worth based on how I value the lives of others. I am fascinated at what some people have accomplished in their lives. I read with great curiosity how J.R.R. Tolkien created a masterpiece throughout the course of his life. I see how people like Mark Zuckerberg change the world with a project. These people have something they are passionate about. They spend thousands upon thousands of hours writing books, developing software, creating music, and etc. For the most parts, these endeavors make up a great deal of their lives.  It gives them something to work on and a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. So what is it that I have? I honestly don't know.
I feel I lead a good life and I am extremely blessed at where I am at in my life. But my life greatly consists of going to work and coming home and having no idea how to fill my freetime. I'll go running, I'll go to social events, I'll play some sports, I'll watch TV, I'll read, and other things. But I feel as if I waste so much time. I feel as if I could be doing so much grander things.
The lives of those who do great things are most often in the limelight. We see them change the world and it makes us feel useless that we'll most likely never get out of the middle class. But why do I feel like I have to be always actively pursuing some new goal and learning some new skill.  Can I not be content leading a simple life?

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Talking it out

Dating and relationships have been a perplexing and difficult thing for me in the past few years.  I have been in a few relationships, I have had my heart broken a couple of times, and I have broken a few hearts myself. I've concluded that dating will never be easy and free of pain. However, there are ways to ease the pain of the dating process. It's as simple as being honest and open. This is especially true if you are prone to be a worrier and become anxious like me. The following dating experiences have helped me to come to this conclusion and it has been a long and slow process.

For some reason many young adults still suffer from what I call the Jr. High syndrome. Jr. high is the time when most youth have finally come to terms they like the opposite sex but yet they are still embarrased by it.  Some kids move past the embarrased stage real quick and soon teen pregnancies ensue but for most youth like me, the embarrased stage doesn't quite go that quickly.

In Jr. High and High School I liked my fair share of girls and wanted to date them but yet I never did.  Why? Because I was too scared to openly tell them I was interested and take the necessary steps in order to develop a relationship. Simply put, I was scared and I let that fear prevent me from action.  My senior year was the most poignant example of this. At the beginning of the year I started liking a beautiful girl. We had many classes together and I got to know her pretty well. I eventually was honest to myself and admitted I liked her and eventually I told some of my friends. Then I got word from one of her friends that she liked me too. That is a marvelous day in the life of a teenager. Yet it's the scariest day ever. What am I supposed to do now? Yeah I know it's as simple as asking her out and letting my interest be known to her but I was terrified.

As I remember I just played it cool for a while. I did make some effort and I called her home (back before everyone had cell-phones) and I was going to invite her to some party my friends and I were having. She was not home when I called and what was already a nerve-racking experience became kind of dissappointing. So I just kept playing it cool and I made no more attempts at directly going to her.  Eventually she started liking other people but yet I didn't. I grew frustrated that nothing was happening.  I analyzed every moment I spent with her at school. I resolved a hundred times to man up and be more direct with her.  Yet I never did. I did manage to work up the nerve to ask her to Prom and it was terrifying. I made my friend drop off the "invite" at her doorstep because I was hiding in the back of his car like a coward. Nothing ever happened between us but yet I spent months of countless hours agonizing over the whole ordeal. I was relieved when we graduated and I no longer had to see her on a daily basis.  Even at the time I knew it was pathetic and looking back on it I realize even more how pathetic it was. Those months of frustration could have been solved a lot earlier on if I had just talked to her.

Years passed and I started to like another girl.  We went on a few very casual dates and got to know each other.  We had many similar interests, mainly politics and I enjoyed talking to her. My interest was peaked really quickly. However, throughout the course of a few months I went through a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. There would be moments when I felt things were going well and then I wouldn't hear from her for a few days or weeks. It came to a point where I remember sitting in my room one Sunday morning thinking about life and my situation with her. I was frustrated and sad. I broke down crying. I had put so much emotional stock and hope into the potential of a relationship with this girl and when things weren't going well, it crushed me. Another month of analyization and frustration went and suddenly one night things went extremely well, better than I could have even hoped.  I was on cloud 9. One week later we had a talk and she explained her feelings and we went back to being friends. It hurt and I was heartbroken. I went home and cried but yet I moved on. As much as it hurt, it was a lot less painful than the months of uncertainty and frustration. I am so grateful she addressed me directly and in a timely manner. We are still good friends to this day.

This leads me to my next experience. I started dating another girl already after a lot of drama and miscommunication. We started under the pretense that it would end after a couple of months. Huge mistake already and of course my feelings grew as we dated. I moved away for a while and we maintained communication but eventually the long distance took its toll. I was more into the relationship than she probably ever was and she needed to move on.  She became distant and stopped talking to me. I was left in the dark. For about 6 months, I was frustrated and mad at her. I was slipping in and out of a mild depression. I felt blown off and mistreated. I struggled to not let the frustration get the best of me. I wanted to respect her space but I still wanted to talk and I tried to reach out a couple of times.  Each time was met with either a lackluster response or sheer rejection. Eventually I moved back and we talked briefly, which helped.  However, we never became friends again. Those 6 months were some of the worst of my life and they could have been a lot better. I have no ill-feelings towards her anymore but it took a while to overcome those.

More recently I became mildly interested in a girl and I pursued it a bit.  I soon realized she was interested and I was very much on the fence. I continued to pursue it because I felt I at least owed it a chance. Eventually it hit me that I wasn't interested in pursuing the relationship any farther. I wasn't sure what to do. We weren't officially dating but yet it had progressed enough to set up some expectations and develop emotions. I rationalized that I didn't need to talk to her about it since we never even officially dated. So I kind of avoided her and became less and less responsive. She eventually got the hint and after a couple of weeks I talked to her briefly about it saying I wasn't interested in a relationship. That conversation came way too late and I can only imagine the grief I caused when I left her in the dark. I have apoligized since and thankfully we are still friends.

Most recently I was interested in a girl and things started progressing just like the last told experience.  I had a hard time correctly reading her though. I would get information from my roommate who would talk to her friends. Most of this information was good news. So I played along accordingly. Eventually I became frustrated because things weren't necessarily going as planned. I was in a really really bad mood and it got worse because I was mad that I was in a bad mood for such a ridiculous thing.  I realized that it was time that I needed to talk to her. I arranged to talk to her and I went over with the intention of figuring out where she stood. However, when I went over I felt like I had been overreacting and I didn't want to scare her off and so we just talked about life in general. I left feeling things were going great. However, she had realized by this time a decision on her part needed to be made and it wasn't in my favor.  Throughout the week she became less responsive and more distant. I became really worried and my friends information from her wasn't matching her actions. So I did something I have never quite done and I just flat out told her I liked her and wanted to know where she stood.  We arranged for a time to talk about it and I felt so much better. That time came and I didn't hear from her.  Again I was frustrated and mad and cursed dating. We did eventually talk soon after and even though we resolved to be just friends, talking about it was rewarding. Yes it hurt a bit but it hurt more being in the dark wondering what was going wrong. Again with the last situation, a relationship was never technically formed but one party made a decision and it wasn't communicated very quickly.

This last experience has fortified my evolving belief in the virtue of being open and honest in our communication with those we like and don't like. We are so afraid of admitting our own interest because we are afraid. We are afraid of rejection, of what others will think, being labeled a "creep", or losing our friendship.  So we remain secretive and hide our true feelings. We spend many nights analyzing the situation and we have countless conversations with others about it. We end up trying to pick out information from the other party by using misdirecting tactics and having others interrogate them discretely. We play a cloak and daggers game. All the while we are filled with anxiety, fear, and unresolved feelings. We do talk about it but rarely with the person it actually deals with. Roommates and friends can offer many words of comfort and advice but they will never actually resolve the problem.

I have experienced times when girls have been very direct with me and leave me no room for questioning if they like me or not. It's super refreshing and very flattering. It usually only serves to increase my interest in them even if I had no interest at all. Even if it doesn't work out, my friendships with these people doesn't deteriorate but actually improves. I have seen others directly express their feelings to those they like. I have never seen it come away negative. Not all the time does it work out in a relationship but both parties come away edified and better off. That is if you are dealing with courteous people.

We are also scared to talk to someone we know obviously likes us because we don't want to hurt their feelings.  We are afraid of expressing our own feelings and approaching those situations.  Yes I know it's going to be an awkward conversation and it seems so much easier to just avoid it. We feel that if we avoid it they will eventually get the hint and that all will be alright. We feel that telling them directly is maybe unnecessary or simply just rude. Experience has taught me though that even though the person left in the dark will be alright (in the long run) and you yourself are spared from some uncomfortability, more pain is actually caused. That person left in the dark is not given any respect and is left hurt and suffers a slow heart break. It's like the difference between ripping off a bandaid slowly and quickly. There is less pain and the person actually heals faster and more completely. If this does happen to you, be kind and courteous.

So are you tired of sleepless nights, frustrating journal entries, depressing evenings by yourself spent in speculation and wonder about someone else, and just simply playing the dating game? Well just stop it and overcome your fears and get out of Jr. High. We're adults and we don't need to feel any shame or fear. Just be direct, open, honest, and nice. You'll spare yourself and others a lot of heartache and frustration. At the same time, be careful to not talk too much.  No one likes have a DTR(determine the relationship) talk every couple of days. Finding the balance is key but still don't be afriad to talk it out!