Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Rotten Attitude

What’s horrid, dank, and ugly? A rotten attitude. Rotten attitudes are contagious. It’s an infectious, unseen disease that can spread rapidly. It can destroy any individual, group or organization. Some people go their whole lives with this malady. It’s not inherited; it’s learned. Those who have it are dreadful to be around.

On the other hand, we’ve all met some people who have the uncanny capacity to brighten the people around them. Lance Corporal Frantz, a giant young Marine here with an equally huge smile and perpetually optimistic attitude has such an ability. I’ve seen some of myself in him. We’re a lot alike…except for recently. What I don’t want to do is to change for the worse. I don’t want to have my experiences turn my thoughts, and my thoughts shape my character. One year is enough time to change a person—to create habitual thinking. That thinking can be either useful or destructive.
It’s difficult to change. No one becomes depressed in one day, nor do those with cynical attitudes wake up one morning completely healthy, happy and recovered.

One of my greatest friends killed himself when we were in high school. That was one of the most tragic experiences of my young life. Since that time I have attempted to do all the good I can do in life. Anytime I have had a thought or impression to say something or do something nice for someone, I’ve tried to go out of my way to do it. Why? because many people are depressed and because everyone, regardless if they’re depressed or not, appreciates sincere compliments.

Once I heard a woman speak of how she thought to tell a complete stranger in the grocery store how nice she looked. No, that’s strange, she thought, and avoided it. When the feeling came a second time she walked over to the lady standing in the nice red dress, tapped her on the shoulder and said, “I just wanted to tell you that I think you look very beautiful.”

The stranger turned around and soon had tears welling in her eyes. “Thank you.” Expressing her appreciation for the compliment, the unknown woman now with tears streaming down her cheeks proceeded to say words I will never forget, “today I wondered if life was really worth living.” The woman had thought of killing herself that very day.

Now, I’m not suggesting here that those who have suicidal tendencies can be saved by compliments alone, nor am I suggesting that everyone who is depressed wants to commit suicide. What I am saying, however, is that everyone has bad days, whether it’s in Baghdad, Boston, or Boise. Some people even have bad weeks, or worse, bad months. But don’t have a bad year! It’s possible and highly likely that we will have bad experiences and colossal trials. That’s the unfortunate part of life. (A coworker here, who is a firefighter back home, told me today that both parents of a dear friend and fellow fireman were murdered in their home just days ago. Imagine emotionally ‘surviving’ that trial!)

Change often causes us stress. But sometimes change is good, and sometimes stress is good. Consider the life of an oyster, beautifully described by an unknown poet.

There once was an oyster
Whose story I’ll tell,
Who found that some sand
Had worked under his shell.

Just one little grain
But it gave him a pain,
For oysters have feelings that are very plain.

Now did he berate?
Did he curse the government,
Call for an election,
And say that the sea should have some protection?

No! He said to himself as he sat upon the shelf,
“Since I can’t remove it
I think I’ll improve it.”

Well, years passed by
As years always do,
Till he came to his destiny, oyster stew!
But the small grain of sand that bothered him so,
Was a beautiful pearl
All richly aglow.

Now this tale has a moral,
For isn’t it grand, what an oyster can do with a small grain of sand?
And what couldn’t we do if we’d only begin
With all of the things that get under our skin?

I memorized that poem and many other inspirational poems and quotes years ago. As I said, when my friend killed himself, I committed myself to helping buoy and lift the hearts and minds of others. I studied and wrote extensively about positive attitudes and finding happiness in life. I taught it. Oftentimes, even at a very young age, people would tell me I should become a motivational speaker. Since then, I have spoken to a variety of audiences in a variety of places all over the United States and the world. And, I’d like to do it even more.

You’ve heard the saying, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Not so! That’s a reckless assumption. If it doesn’t kill us physically or emotionally, it can maim, paralyze, and crimple us.

Larry, a paraplegic friend of mine whom I’ve lost contact with over the years, fell two-stories from the outside stairwell of an apartment building in the mid-90s. He was at a party and had become quite inebriated. When he landed on the concrete ground below, his life would change forever. Now, Larry’s bound to a wheelchair. The amazing thing is Larry told me one day while we were out to lunch how fortunate he felt for falling that night. His life took a turn for the better, he said. He steered clear of a destructive path he was on, and he has since engaged in helping others who were handicapped. Larry isn’t depressed; he is happy; he is productive; he helps others and enjoys life.

For the warrior, killing can be more traumatic than living. The psychological impact of the dreaded things done in combat can fester and burn the soul. I won’t tell you his name, but one of my best friends in the whole world had to use lethal force more than once when he was here in Iraq, shortly after the initial invasion. After his safe return home, he quietly told me about his most difficult experiences. One situation stood out as the worst. His actions were just and tactically prudent, but not without the remorse and pain that would follow. My friend and I share different faiths, but like most Americans, we share Judeo-Christian ethos. He thought of the commandment, Thou shalt not kill, and then he painfully confided, “I lost a little bit of Jesus out of me that day.”

I didn’t know what to say.

In the mid-90s I volunteered as an ordinance worker in the Los Angeles temple of the Church of Jesus Christ—the church I belong to. During a peaceful, quite moment I picked up a book titled History of the Church. As I read along, I found the most terrific words. I quickly penned them down and began to memorize the words which follow:

Unquestionably every experience is of value to an individual or an organization. Some experiences may be sad, and accounted at times as disastrous; but are they really so? The rough wind which shakes it helps the young and slow-growing oak; for by reason of this very shaking the tree takes firmer hold of the earth; wider spread the roots; deeper down into the soil are they thrust, until the sapling, once so easily shaken, becomes a monarch in the forest, mocks the howling tempest, until its height and frame become worthy of the land and atmosphere in which it grows a giant tree... Profitable if not sweet are the uses of adversity. (History of the Church, per. 1, 1948, Intro. Calamitous events, p. XXXII.)

I could only suppose that those words were the words of the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith. As I began memorizing, I couldn’t help but to think about his life.

As a small boy (in the early 1800s) he had an ailment which the doctor’s said was cause for leg amputation. Instead, his parents opted for a newfangled surgery using crude medical instruments. Young Joseph asked his father to hold him down, and without drinking any alcohol to numb the pain, the doctor sliced open his leg and scraped the marrow from his bone! He would experience unfathomable pain and a prolonged limp.

When he told others he had seen a heavenly manifestation—a vision—he describes in his own words,

I soon found…that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself. (Joseph Smith History 1:22-23)

Many of his children died very young from illnesses. One night a group of men broke into his home and beat him viciously. They ripped his shirt off and one man scratched him horribly. One of his baby twins died as a result of that home invasion. The church leader was tarred and feathered. Men held him down and tried to make him drink poison, which broke his tooth. He received scars on his face he covered up by combing his hair forward.

His life was threatened. His friends betrayed him; some of them swore an oath to murder him. As a result of those who wanted to kill him, he had friends and bodyguards who would travel with him. The followers he called Saints were illegally driven from their homes in Missouri and elsewhere. Some were massacred, some were ravished and many lost nearly every earthly possession they had.

The false reports and rumors were rampant. Much of that went across the nation in the printed press. Joseph Smith was arrested and acquitted 37 times. My own great-great-great grandfather, Parley P. Pratt, was arrested with him. Each of them spent many lonely, forlorn nights in prison and their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the country were denied more than once. Alas, Joseph Smith was arrested on false mittimus and committed to jail in Carthage, Illinois where an armed mob disguised with “faces painted as black as Cain,” as my grandfather described them, overran the small jail and murdered him after killing his brother.

To give some merit to the facts outlined, not too long ago the Illinois and Missouri State governments officially apologized to the Church of Jesus Christ for the heinous crimes, abuses and illegal actions of officials from both states against the Mormons.

When I think of trial faced with optimism and tenacity, I think of growth. Joseph Smith organized the LDS church with only six members in 1830. Today there are 13 million members and it’s one of the fastest growing churches in the United States. Something can be said for any man who believes that “Profitable if not sweet are the uses of adversity.”

1 comment:

Motivational Resource Sheldon Mydat said...

Hi Jeffrey,

Very interesting, thought provoking blog. I enjoyed reading it. I'll be sure to read up on more of your material.