Sunday, October 17, 2010

Passions and Toilet-Ditching

Watching an incensed eight-year-old can be quite amusing. Listening to her is another matter. It takes a great deal of patience when passionate words are expressed with great animosity the way they were in our house this morning. The reason? A harmless gesture of friendship, I think. The culprit remains unknown, but rumors are spreading among those who know our oldest son. The victim? Our youngest daughter, or more accurately, her injured pride.

Snow came early to our house this year, or so it seemed. No one else on the block appeared to be affected by the fresh white stuff that was delivered to our address in the middle of the night. Our yard was lightly flocked with rolls of streaming toilet paper. It actually looked quite festive, I thought. In fact, it brought back some fond memories of when I… was the age of our oldest. Back then, we referred to such an event as being toilet-papered. This morning I was corrected, or brought up to date.

“I can’t believe someone ‘toilet-ditched’ our house!” Exclaimed our eight-year old. “They’re so mean! I hate them! I don’t wanna leave the house until it’s cleaned up. It’s too embarrassing! They even got our plants!” I had a very hard time holding back the laughter, especially since she is often not inclined to clean up anything. I had no idea that she would be so bothered by such a token of friendship. “It’s not funny! It’s mean!” She retorted.

Apparently she had recently been informed about toilet-ditching by a good friend who had witnessed the same phenomenon occur across the street from her house. That was enough reason for our daughter to be indignant. Having also heard about the previous event, our next two children in line by age had somewhat milder reactions. They asked, “Why would someone do that?” When we explained how teens often view toilet-papering as a gesture to demonstrate friendship and get some attention, they seemed to be okay with it and thought it was funny, too. But not our youngest. Nope. She simply responded, “I DON’T CARE!!”

I was intrigued by how quickly an eight-year-old can make a judgment based on perception and hearsay. Intent wasn’t even taken into consideration. Immediately, walls went up and she put herself on the defensive. Reasoning didn’t seem to have any effect. The strange thing was that her emotions were real and acute. It was as if she had been personally wounded by the toilet paper, no matter how many plies of softness it had.

Like many previous instances, I found myself doing some self-examination. Am I ever too quick to judge? Do I ever disregard intent and choose to hear the parts I want to hear? Do I blow things out of proportion over something silly? Do I ignore all the good things I know because something small offends me? The answer is yes. I would dare say that most people, if not all, are sailing in the same boat on that one. Though you may not recognize it, my eight-year-old and I have a lot in common. Hopefully a few more years of experience have given me some added sophistication, but I would still admit to doing the same things in smaller ways where my judgments have a little less bite.

This pattern is worth examining more carefully so that we are not overpowered by loud voices around us. Isaiah the prophet warned, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21) Becoming angry about a display of toilet paper in one’s yard may seem a trivial thing, and indeed it is. Failing to recognize the seeds of ignorance because of our own passions and interests is not so small of a concern. Anytime I make a judgment based on limited information, and then proceed to defend it based on even more limited understanding, I engage in the process of becoming ignorant. I begin to ignore another point of view in spite of the fact that the whole scene is before my eyes, if I will but look. I can listen if I so choose. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)

Compelling emotions such anger, love, fear, and lust become passions as they enter our hearts. Making room for good passions is not wrong. Allowing unwholesome passions to dominate our thoughts and feelings, both, is a serious concern. If our passions go unchecked, regardless of whether they are right or wrong, they become a prominent voice that can lead us toward ignorance. We ignore things that we should pay attention to. It is then that our passions override our reason and sensibility.

The prophet Alma cautioned his son, Shiblon, in his efforts to serve others with regard to passions. He said, “I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things. See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength. Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love….” (Alma 38:10-12) Alma did not tell his son to suppress his passions, or deny that they exist. Instead he told him to bridle them and control them. He instructed him to use caution by being moderate and balanced where he could maintain control. Depending on our choices, desire can become love or lust. Anger can lead to hate or positive action. If we can steer our divinely given passions, we have greater motivation to do good. It is when we allow our passions to bridle us that we become increasingly ignorant.

In my daughter’s defense with the case of toilet-ditching, there is a significant difference between ignorance and innocence, though both may result in the same outward behavior. If anything, I admire her absolute honesty in expressing feelings that she does not yet know how to control. Those who don’t have a full understanding of truth, but make the best decisions with the knowledge they have may be considered innocent. But those who have an opportunity to see and choose not to because they are empowered by their passions choose the path of ignorance. The danger of this path, the more we become familiar with it, is that we become less able to bridle our passions. As we choose to ignore truth and defend our passions, pleasure reinforces our ignorance as though it were a good behavior. We give up our innocence for ignorant pleasure.

Speaking of the mysteries of God, Alma taught the people of Ammonihah, “he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.” (Alma 12:10-11)

Like our passions, our choices will take us in one of two directions. Choosing the path of the innocent will allow us to come unto Christ and follow Him. Choosing to be ignorant will lead us further away from the truth. At whatever level of ignorance we are comfortable with, our choices will lead us that much closer to the devil, causing us to follow him and become his children instead. If we truly know this, and then declare, “I DON’T CARE!” we demonstrate our own ignorance. Faithful innocence leads to intelligence, while fervent ignorance does not.

In His teachings to the Nephites of our passions and false self-justification, Jesus said, “Behold, I give unto you a commandment, that ye suffer none of these things to enter into your heart; For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.” (3 Nephi 12:29-30) If these things have entered into our hearts, it would be best if they become dispensable and disposable like a roll of tissue paper. If we are going to ditch anything, it should be our bad habits, our unrestrained passions, and our self-justifications; not the Lord who has already cleared the path for us to follow Him.

On the matter of toilet paper, there are a few other things that are worth consideration. For right or wrong, our attitudes towards our passions, and the passions of others, can greatly affect our judgments. A favorable attitude towards someone we love deeply can sway our decisions to be more like them. A less favorable attitude with someone we do not see eye to eye with may cause us to misjudge their intent. In both cases, our integrity should not be disposed of like tissue paper. If it is to be dispensed, then care should be taken to share our integrity and not trade it. Once it is lost, it is hard to get it back. That’s not to say that you can’t.

In discussing our toilet-ditching with my wife this morning, she told me of a woman in the neighborhood where she grew up who had a unique attitude towards toilet-papering. There was a period of time in her family where, due to the popularity of her children, their house would be toilet-papered every other week. Instead of being angry, the mother simply tasked her children with the responsibility of gathering the toilet paper from their yard, like manna as it were, and then they would use the reclaimed tissue in their house. Consequently, they didn’t have to buy tissue paper for a long time. This mother chose to see this gesture of friendship, not as an intrusion, but as an opportunity.

What a difference it would make in life if we could harness our God-given ability to judge righteously in pursuit of intelligence instead of ignorance. When someone leaves you with a mess of toilet paper to deal with, figuratively speaking, it’s good to ask yourself, “What was their intent? Am I reading their intent correctly? Is this worth getting worked up over? How can I communicate more effectively to see their point of view?” So many problems in life would go away if people could learn how to communicate and see the point of view of someone different from themselves. Whether discussing something as trivial as toilet paper or a topic that is personal and sensitive, more can be accomplished when we are willing to have a discussion at all instead of saying, “I don’t care!”

Most situations in life have at least two perspectives. Except where eternal truths are involved, so much of what we disagree on is a matter of choice. Learning to see the point of view of others gives us a more complete picture. It’s closer to the whole picture. When we learn to see the way God sees – without bias, fear, prejudice, selfish ambition, pride, or self-justification – then we can enjoy the peace that is His, the peace that He so freely desires to give us when we turn our hearts to Him.

The cost of happiness is integrity of heart. This integrity is earned when we are willing to do the right thing for no other reason than because it is right. It comes when we are willing to put aside our differences and defend truth more than our point of view alone. This is a path to lasting happiness. Once you get a good taste, you will want to ditch any substitutes and dispose of them with your tissue paper.

Our passions, when bridled and used correctly, are powerful motivators for good. Governing our passions with integrity, to ourselves and to others, helps to maintain a focus on the things that matter most. Repeating this kind of behavior is my favorite kind of intelligence.

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