Sunday, January 3, 2010

Passing Opportunities

In keeping with my focus last week, I made a new friend this morning. What a great way to start the year! It was a remarkable encounter. At my request, this new friend gave some advice to me, as well as his gratitude for my wife whom he has never met. He passed on some of his experience and I was uplifted. He offered to help me with anything, and I believe him.

Yesterday, I received word that a friend of mine had just passed away after struggling with cancer. Gratefully, my memory of him has not yet passed. It warms my heart to have known him, to see his strength, and to have shared common experiences. I am grateful for the time I could be in his home.

Another friend recently went through the process of taking and passing the examinations to become a licensed architect. I was happy to congratulate him on his successful accomplishment. I knew what that was like, to prepare and to achieve. What a great feeling to pass!

Thinking about each of my friends this morning prompted me to consider a tangential thought that has been on my mind of late. Passing. I have found that the word pass is used in many varied contexts. In fact, a quick internet search led me to identify over eighty-five different uses for the word “pass.”

Passing is often an action that I may do or allow. To pass can mean to go by, across, over, or beyond. It may also mean to let go, or allow something to go, such as passing on or declining an invitation.

I think it is ironic that one word can have two related meanings and yet be opposites. If I pass on some sort of information to another person, my actions suggest that I approve enough to give it to them. But, if I pass on an opportunity, this usually means that I don’t approve enough to accept. It is this duality that makes me curious – to “pass something on” or to “pass” on something is a choice between allowing and declining.

Looking at the children my wife and I have, there is tangible evidence that we have passed on more than good looks (and I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not we have done that.) Our kids have picked up our habits, interests, humor, sarcasm, likes, and dislikes. Perhaps they haven’t picked up all of them, but they have caught enough to know that there is more to passing than genetics. This leads to another definition of the word.

Pass can also mean circulate, disseminate, spread, convey, transfer, or transmit. Intentional or not, this meaning has a lot to do with what we communicate to others, or what we think valuable enough to share. I recalled another childhood memory the other day that seemed to fit this meaning so well that I hope you can relate. It is all about the Parker Brothers’ game of Pit.

One Christmas when I was small, I remember receiving a magnificent gift. My grandparents had given me a toy helicopter with multiple spinning propellers. It was a wonderful present in my eyes, but it hasn’t lasted as long as the memory of what happened next. After we finished unwrapping presents at their home, Grandma had pumpkin pie waiting in the adjacent room. We ate and then proceeded to play a game of Pit that was totally unfamiliar to me. If you haven’t played, let me sum up.

Pit is a card game of exchange. A deck of cards marked with different grains (flax, hay, oats, rye, corn, barley, and wheat) are dealt to those playing the game. Each player attempts to trade their cards to acquire a hand of a single commodity. In this game, there are no turns. Once the game begins, players begin making offers with anyone who will trade cards with them; three oats for three barley, or two flax for two wheat. The person making an offer has to find “value cards” that are of some worth to another player, or they will find themselves short of making any deals. The first player to acquire all nine cards of one grain rings a bell ending the round.

In addition to these commodities, there are two other cards that are shuffled into the deck and dealt as part of the game. One is a bear, and the other is a bull. The bull is a wild card. If a person has the bull when they acquire all nine cards of one grain, they double their points for that round. However, one left with the bull who is not successful at obtaining a full hand loses points. Similarly, anyone left with the bear cannot win the game, and they also lose points. While the bull may be of value, the bear never is. When a player trades the bear or the bull to someone else without their knowing, this is referred to as “slipping the bear” or “slipping the bull.”

Now that I have told you how to play the game, you can forget most of it. What I hope you will remember is that the players are about to exchange cards with other players. Everyone is looking for something, particularly cards that are of value to them. Everyone is looking for someone who will trade those cards with them. It feels good when you make a good trade, but not so good if someone slips you the bear. The former makes a good friend, while the latter is less so.

I didn’t really see the point when I first played the game. In fact, I was probably a sore loser because someone slipped me the bear and I didn’t know what to do with it. To be honest, I can’t remember. Since then, the point of the game has increased in value to me as I think about the opportunity of sharing things of value with others.

Consider two people who engage in a conversation. Both hope to gain something by sharing. The conversation may not last very long unless both people feel rewarded, that is, if they both feel they gain something of value for sharing. The difference between the game of Pit and the game of conversation is that I don’t feel like I have to acquire a full hand of the same card in order to talk to someone. Instead, I am merely looking for valuable cards. In fact, I am often willing to trade five of my valuable cards for a single card that is of value to a friend. The card they have to offer may not even be a card I have seen before, but knowing the card is of value to them makes a lot of difference to me. I prize it more because they were sharing something that meant a lot to them. The more important the card is to the person I am talking with, the deeper I value the conversation. I don’t mind offering more as long as I know the cards I offer will be well received.

Occasionally you may meet someone who wishes to talk to you who intends to slip you the bear. They may not be interested in sharing something of value. Instead, they may only be looking for someone who will listen to their complaints. I don’t mind hearing about someone’s complaints if they are looking for help, especially if I can do something about it. However, when someone shares something just so they can get it off of their back and onto mine, I feel like I have been “slipped a bear.” This is a frustrating moment when the bell rings, the conversation is over, and you are left holding a yucky card. I have decided that I don’t like playing that sort of game.

Since the game of life has different rules for winning than the game of Pit, namely the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – I have made a personal decision to only play cards I think will have value to someone else. I look for ways to increase the value of the conversation. I hope I can offer more than I expect in return because I know that what goes around comes around. Besides, the Savior taught, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) I try to be careful not to slip someone else the bear.

It seems funny to me that in some settings common sense is more common than others. For instance, most people with any consideration will use caution if they have a contagious illness. Someone with a common cold will refrain from shaking hands or touching someone else if they are carrying germs. They are careful not to pass on something that may harm a friend or a stranger. There are times, I believe most often unintentionally, that we are less cautious with information that may be compared to a common cold.

The headlines of newspapers are full of sensational information. The story may be unique, or it may even be strange or unusual, but this does not always equate to valuable in my book. News does not always mean valuable. New only suggests current. It is not uncommon to pass on information that we refer to as current events without consideration to whether or not it will be of value to the person we are sharing it with.

This idea of news may also be applied to gossip, rumors, or even things that may be true but will have no positive effect on others. Just because something happened doesn’t mean it was entirely helpful. Sadly, though, we are more careful about passing a newly acquired illness, such as a cough or a cold. In fact, it is not uncommon to wash one’s hands clean of the germs to make sure that contamination is not spread. For times such as these, it may be prudent to have your own little container of hand sanitizer to help wash your hands of contaminated information, no matter how true it is.

The Lord gave Joseph Smith instruction on how to share with others most effectively. His way always includes an invitation for the Holy Ghost. While His pattern was specific to sharing His message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is some application in every conversation of His disciples. The Lord said, “Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.” (D&C 50:13-14)

There are some truths that merit the witness of the Holy Ghost. Truths about God, His plan for His children, the divine role of the Savior Jesus Christ and His atonement, or truths that are taught by His servants all invite the divine witness of the Holy Ghost. While there are other facts that are true, such as the color of the sky or the injustice committed by a stranger, these truths may not merit a divine witness. Here then is another meaning of value.

The Lord continues, “Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:21-22)

Valuable information should uplift and edify both the one offering the information and the one receiving it. The beauty of sharing cards of greater value, especially spiritual value, is that there is a greater likelihood that we will invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. When we do, our lives become better.

Jesus continues with a warning and a charge, “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:23-24)

As we learn to play this game the way Father intended us to play, we will find that our cards are replenished. As we offer cards of value to others, we will not run out. On the contrary, the cards we have to offer are increased. As we focus on Him, our cards become more valuable and more desirable. Jesus refers to this value as light, or His light, the light of Christ. We gain more light as we seek it and as we share it. The light of the Son is always available unless we shut our eyes to it. But we can only focus on one thing at a time. We can focus on the strange and unique, or we can look to God and live.

A true disciple will be careful of what he or she receives. This same disciple will then be careful what he or she imparts to others, to make sure that a brother, a sister, a friend, or a stranger has every opportunity to win the game. It’s a nice game when everyone can win without having to have a loser. This doesn’t mean that all players settle for sameness. Each can have a perfect brightness of hope with every opportunity for a brighter day.

Passing through life comes with the opportunity to pass on what makes us happy. A passage often refers to a way or connection from somewhere or something. What will you allow yourself to be connected to? To whom will you trade things of greater value? What kind of game are you interested in playing? It is a choice of allowing things of value and declining those that aren’t. The question, “What will you pass on?” can have two meanings. Personally, I prefer passing opportunities to others rather than slipping the bear. I would rather accept the opportunity to do good rather than pass. A game with “high value cards” is my kind of game. It results in relationships that are deeper and more meaningful.

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