Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wise words

"Galdarag" over at "Zelophehad's Daughters" posted her notes from a talk that Cheiko Okazaki gave at the Missionary Training Center in Provo nearly a decade ago.  Good food for thought.  So I'm saving them here.  Enjoy.
(Referencing Adam and Eve): “There are ways in which we remain children morally instead of developing adult faith and maturity if we don’t break some rules.
“Jesus could denounce the pharisees as hypocrites because He was Divine. We are not, so we cannot.
“Hypocrisy starts on the outside and stays there. Goodness can start either way. Doing our duty, even with a grudging heart, can still teach us.
“Jesus is not as concerned with the details of our behavior as he is with our hearts. Therefore, if being good is more important than doing good, how can we not be hypocrites if we act good but don’t feel good?
“The answer: You are not your feelings. Your feelings are not you. What do you do with feelings? Give them to God, and do your duty.
“It is not hypocrisy to act cheerful if you feel badly – as long as you don’t mistake the way you feel for who you are. However, depression and abuse are exceptions to this general rule. In both cases, seek professional help and help from the Savior.
“In Ephesians 6:11 we are told to ‘put on the whole armor of God.’ Job 29:14 states ‘I put on righteousness and it clothed me; I was robed with judgment as a diadem.’ Garments are symbolic. Clothing signifies affiliation, protects our modesty, and enables us to do work. We are not different without our clothing.Armor gives us strength and protections. Is it hypocritical? No, it is wise.
“‘Let us walk honestly as in the day …  Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Romans 13:13-14). Let us live the right way. Clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Remember, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek … there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Galatians 3:28)
“Are we hypocrites in our attempts to ‘put on righteousness,’ even if we stumble on the hem in a few steps? No! Because part of who we are is the desire to be better.
“He loves all of you. He loves you even if your past has been sorrowful and painful. Not just in your moments of strength and joy, but also in your times of despair and self-loathing.
“Remember Colossians 3:14-15: ‘And above all these things put on charity …And let the peace of God rule in your hearts.’”

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The light of the body is the eye. So then, if your eye be single thy whole body shall be full of light.

Last night as I was reading through parts of William Barclay's commentary on Matthew 6 I was struck by the following and its correlation to the cognitive distortions that I've been reviewing.  See what you think.

Barclay writes, "The eyes is regarded as the window by which the light gets into the whole body.  The state of the window decides what light gets into a room.  If the window is clear, clean and undistorted, the light will come flooding into the room, and will illuminate every corner of it.  If the glass of the window is colored or frosted, distorted, dirty or obscure, the light will be hindered, and the room will not be lit up...
So, then, says Jesus, the light which gets into any man's heart and soul and being depends on the spiritual state of the eye through which it has to pass, for the eye is the window of the whole body."

Barclay goes on to describe the distortions of prejudice, jealousy and self-conceit that can distort our view of reality, others and ourselves and then he adds

"But here Jesus speaks of one special virtue which fills the eye with light..."

He then explains that the word translated as single is the Greek word haplous, the corresponding noun being haplotes.  He points out that in other places in the Bible these same two words are translated as generous, generosity, liberality.  The footnotes in my edition of the Bible also translate it as sincere, and without guile and healthy.

All of those definitions point to a way of seeing reality through an eye that is clear and open-hearted, based upon truth, reason and an open generosity of spirit.

Cognitive distortions are the opposite of that.  They overspread our window, our view of ourselves and others, with false assumptions and false extrapolations, misperceptions, distrust, illogical conclusions, and bleak judgment.

No wonder we feel "how great is that darkness" when we fall into patterns of using them.

Fortunately there are ways to learn how to change those patterns of thinking into clear, truthful, generous lenses that let in light.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #1, All-or-Nothing Thinking

For my own personal reference while my library is in storage as our house is repaired, I'm listing David Burns' excellent list of cognitive distortions that often clutter the brains of all of us and make clear thinking more difficult.  Many thanks to Dr. Burns and his book, "Feeling Good, the New Mood Therapy" from which these ideas were taken.  After I finish this, I plan to post ideas for combating them.  

This first cognitive distortion, all-or-nothing thinking, occurs when you take one failure and translate it into total failure.

For example, you are unable to get your child to respond positively to your best efforts at getting him to exercise regularly.  You brain tells you, "I am such a failure as a parent."

Or, you surprise your spouse with an unexpected night out together and though the food is good the conversation is bland and you both are tired and you think, "I am such a loser at this whole marriage thing."

One failure immediately translates into complete failure.

All-or-nothing thinking, among other things, forms the basis of perfectionism.  It causes you to fear mistakes or imperfections because then you will see yourself as a complete loser, and you will feel inadequate and useless.

This way of evaluating things is unrealistic because life is rarely completely one way or the other.  For example, no one is absolutely brilliant or completely clumsy all of the time.  Every person, and every thing is a combination of excellent and average and not-so-good.  If you tend to push all of your experiences into absolute judgments you will be constantly discouraged and discredit yourself endlessly because no matter what, because of your God-given mortal state, you will never measure up to your exaggerated expectations of excellence.

You see everything as black or white.  If it's gray, it's black.  Thinking patterns like this leave little opportunity for recognition of progress or celebration of what is good as every black or gray experience blankets everything in black.

Recognizing this in yourself and teaching your brain to see your less-than-perfect experiences with the same kind of love, clarity, and encouragement and perspective that God does, rather than with the judgmentalism of a pharisee, is a major first step in overcoming this cognitive distortion.  And it helps your ability to do better and improve a zillion times more than does the blanket of black.

In my next post maybe I'll talk about ways to talk back to cognitive distortions with truth once you recognize them in your own head.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #2, Overgeneralization

Overgeneralization is a pretty easy one to spot.  It's when you see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat, that failing at one point means that you will continue to fail and fail and fail over and over and over again.
You fail a pop quiz and your brain says, "I always fail pop quizzes.  I'm never going to be able to do them."

You put in a job application and get turned down and your brain thinks, "I'm never going to get a job.  No one wants to hire someone my (age/size/sex/background/experience level)."

Your family doesn't enjoy the meal you prepare for them and your brain says, "They all hate my cooking.  I don't see why I even keep trying."

You are trying to keep your living room tidy and once again it's messy and you say to yourself, "Just face it. This room will never be clean."

You are struggling to overcome a sinful habit.  Once again you fail to reach your standard of behavior and you think, "I am such a loser. I'll never be able to be as good as I want to be.  God's going to be so totally disappointed in me."

You are going through a rough patch in your efforts to pull together an activity for the teenagers in your congregation and as you drive home one night reviewing what you've done and what you have yet to do you hear your brain say, "This is never going to work."

Whether it's a response to a one-time event or a continued response to an ongoing struggle that will likely take a long time, that cognitive distortion habit of overgeneralization can be a real hope killer.  It's also one of the first cognitive distortions that, when I learned about them,  I recognized as one I had going around in my own brain. Becoming aware of it and of how it skewed the truth in my mind, taking a temporary set-back and reinterpreting it falsely into a prediction of ultimate failure, was eye-opening to me.  Learning how to talk back to it with truth either out loud or in my mind made a huge difference in my capacities and vision and sense of light.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cognitive Distortion # 3, Mental Filter

Mental filtering is akin to "discounting the positive" (distortion #4).  Have you ever played a  game and missed a goal you were positioned well for and then kicked yourself mentally for days over that missed shot?  Or sung in a choir and come in loudly a measure too soon in one of the pieces and cringed for weeks afterwards as your mind reviewed it again and again?  Or served as a missionary for a couple of years and, like most young missionaries, made a couple of really bad cultural faux pas in the course of your mission that still come leaping back to the forefront of your mind every time you reflect on your time there?  Or made a presentation where most people responded positively but one person made a mild critique of it and you just can't stop feeling constantly awful about the thing he pointed out?  Or had a medical procedure that was painful and then healed and all you focus on is how horrible the pain was?  I know I have done some of those things.

When you have an experience that has a single negative detail and you dwell on and suffer over that one detail more than any other aspect of that experience you are doing mental filtering.  I do it sometimes. It's hard to get my mind off that one negative.  I think that's partly due to the fact that I, like many people, have grown up in a culture that teaches us to try to eliminate failures and mistakes in our lives, so we tend to notice and focus on them.  However, there is a difference between noticing a mistake enough to change and avoid making it again and focusing on that mistake and beating yourself up about it for days, weeks, months or years afterwards.  The former is being clear-eyed and on the road to improvement.  The latter is called identifying yourself by your errors.  

I think it's clear that identifying someone we know by her errors is one of the heights of disregard and cold-heartedness, that doing so makes it even harder for that person to have hope she can change or live an error down.  We know that for the vast majority of people, including you,  loving-kindness, not error-rehashing, is what enables them to change for the better.  But those of us who wouldn't dream of doing that error-rehashing to others often easily do it to ourselves.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #4, Discounting the Positive

Mental filtering (above) is when you focus on one negative.  Discounting the positive takes that one step farther, not only focusing on the negative but also actively rejecting the positive.  It is when you reject positive experiences by telling yourself they either don't count or that they are not genuine.  Here are some examples:

You are baking cookies for fun .  You make five batches of chocolate chip cookies.  The last batch burns because you were distracted by something else.  You tell yourself  "What a mess.  I stink at making cookies."   You have totally discounted the fact that you made four good batches of cookies and identify your success rate only by the one batch that burned.  The positive has been completely discounted in the face of one negative.

Or you have accepted a new job with a new company and you are understandably a little nervous about this  new chapter in your life .  Your cousin tells you he's been reading up on that company and that he is really excited for you to be able to work there.  He thinks their work is good and their company policies enlightened.  And he says that he thinks you will really like working there.  You tell yourself, "He's just saying that to make me feel good."  You discount the positive observations and you also discount the value of the opinion of your cousin who is honestly expressing what he really thinks.  

Discounting the positive not only brings you down but it also can sadly stifle your relationships with the people whose words you discount in your cognitively distorted thinking as well as prevent you from learning truths when they are spoken.  Fortunately, when you recognize what you are doing you are on the first step to eliminating this nasty source of depression.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #5, Maginification and Minimization

Magnification is when you blow negative things way out of proportion and minimization is when you shrink good things down to almost nothing.   For example, you are trying hard to reduce the amount of time you spend reading news and social media on the internet and you end up, one Saturday morning, spending 45 minutes online instead of the 30 you planned and you think, "Agh!  I blew it!  This is terrible!  How awful!  This is so, so, so disgusting I can hardly stand myself!   That afternoon you spend three hours helping a young family move their furniture into their rented moving van, including wrestling their upright piano with five other guys down a flight of stairs.  And when the mom in the family stops and expresses appreciation for all your help you say, "Nah.  We didn't do much," and on the way home you berate yourself for being such an ineffective help when you are sure there are so many other people in the world who do so much more than you do to help their neighbors.

If you magnify all your errors and minimize all your good work, of course you are going to go through your days feeling like a loser or a failure, or at the least, quite hopeless about your ability to become who you wish to be.   But the problem isn't you.  Most of us, including you, fall within the normal range in our mixture of good choices and not-so-good ones.  The problem is the lens through which you are viewing your particular mixture.

And that can be fixed.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Sermon on the Mount for 8 Year Olds

A brief respite between cognitive distortions.

While preparing my Sunday lesson it occurred to me that it might be helpful for me as I went about that to synopsize the Sermon on the Mount in a more accessible vocabulary.  So I did.  Here's the first draft for the first chapter, Matthew 5, starting with verse 16:

When you know a good and right way to live, live that way. That helps other people to see goodness and recognize the goodness of God.

You may get angry sometimes and that anger may make you want to do stupid or bad things. Anger can cause you to make very bad choices  Be very wise.  Be sure your reasons for anger are good ones.  And no matter how much anger you feel, do good things because of it, not bad things. And certainly do not ever let your anger cause you to put down other people, no matter who they are.

Just don't make fun of other people, period.

So...instead....when you have a disagreement with someone or you are mad at them, work hard to find a solution that works for both of you.  Working on that will make it much easier for you to hear and understand God's words when you worship at church.

Keep your thoughts focused on what is good, not on what feels exciting and pleasurable, because your thoughts are important as well as your actions.


Speak the truth plainly.

Don't swear.

Don't try to make things right by getting even.

When someone makes you give away something or to do extra work, be nice about it and generous too.

Love your neighbor.

Love your enemy.

Be good to people even if they are nasty to you.

Pray for people who are mean.

Do your good deeds quietly. Don't feel like you need to get other people to praise you for doing good things.

Pray privately.

When you pray, say what you think and be respectful.

Be thankful.

Ask Heavenly Father for help and for forgiveness and for the things you need.

Forgive others.

When you fast, don't complain and groan about it.

Be focused on being and doing good, not on getting stuff.

See life clearly and recognize goodness.

Put God ahead of money in your heart.

Be merciful.

Don't judge unkindly.

Worry about your own sins, not other people's sins.

Treat sacred things with respect and share them wisely and with wise restraint.

When you need God's help, ask for it, seek it. You will find it.

Treat others the way you like to be treated.

Seek to live the way God wants you to live and to do what he wants you to do. Doing that leads to eternal life.

Watch what happens when other people make choices and do stuff. That will help you to tell whether or not they are honest and true and good and whether or not their ideas can be trusted.

Be sure that when you are doing something in Jesus' name that it really is what he wants you to be doing.

When you learn Jesus' teachings don't just listen to them, actually do what he teaches.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #6a, The Fortune Teller Error

There are two cognitive distortions that fall into the category of "jumping to conclusions", ie: jumping to a negative assumption that is not justified by the facts of a situation..  One of these is the fortune teller error.   This is when you imagine something negative that might happen and you jump from imagining that it might happen to being pretty convinced that it will.  

For example, you leave a couple of messages for a parent of one of the children in your Sunday school class, asking her to call you back and let you know whether or not she can come help with the class the following Sunday.  Days go by and you don't hear from her.  You assume that she didn't call you back because she's avoiding you and hates helping in Sunday school (see mind reading, distortion #6b below) and when you start feeling bitter and disillusioned by what you perceive as her evasiveness and unwillingness to help you decide not to try to call her again because you are sure that she will only avoid and dislike you more and you will feel like a fool.  You believe this prognostication, which leaves you disappointed, disgusted and resentful and you don't call her.

A few days later you find out that she never got your messages.  You had done all that stewing over the yucky things that you predicted would happen if you tried to contact her again, for nothing.

Fortune telling.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cognitive Distortion # 6b, Mind Reading

The second cognitive distortion that falls into the category of "jumping to conclusions", ie: jumping to a negative assumption that is not justified by the facts of a situation, is mind reading.  This is where you assume that others are disappointed in you or looking down on you and you are so convinced of that that you don't bother to notice or ask or investigate whether or not that is true.

For example, you are giving a talk in church and a fellow in the middle of the center section is falling asleep.  You immediately assume that it's because you aren't a good speaker or because he thinks your talk is boring.  In this case, it's actually because he was up late the night before driving kids home from a dance, but you don't know that.  You just automatically assume that it must be because he finds you lacking.

Or your co-worker passes you in the parking lot without saying hello because he's absorbed in trying to memorize a bunch of facts he needs for his next presentation .  You erroneously conclude that his silence is because he doesn't value you as a worker or that he is mad at you because he doesn't like your last report.

Or your spouse is watching television and doesn't answer you when you ask her a question.  Your heart sinks as you assume that your questions are not as important to her as they used to be.  And you feel your levels of frustration rising.

Or you commit a sin and your mind tells you that God must be totally exasperated with you, or, at the least, completely disappointed in you, ignoring the facts that though he does not condone sin he also completely understands why you did it and totally and lovingly wants to help you do better.

The biggest immediate problem with this mind reading thing is that most of the time it propels you unnecessarily into actions of either a) withdrawal or b) resentment or of c) counter attack.  Not only do these responses worsen relationships but it's a stark tragedy when you are propelled to make them based on assumptions that aren't true.  So when you are mind reading, you are not only misunderstanding in ways that discourage you, but you also are more likely to respond in ways that make things worse.

Whether dealing with God, your grandmother, your neighbor or anyone else, mind-reading can take you quickly into the frying pan and from there into the fire.  So much better, when you catch yourself mind-reading, to ask a question or two and find out what's really going on and then respond to that reality, instead of your mind-reading assumptions.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #7, Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning happens when you take your emotions as evidence of truth.  For example: " I feel like this job will never get done, so it won't."  Or, "I feel overwhelmed and hopeless, therefore my problems will be impossible to solve."  Or, "I feel angry at you and misunderstood by you therefore you must be an insensitive jerk."  Or "I feel like a failure, therefore I am one."

Because you feel things are negative, you assume that they must be negative.  And the fact is, emotions are simply emotions.  They are not "things as they really are" to quote a very wise man*.

Perhaps you will recognize this phenomenon in your life.  Most of us have it to some degree.  One of the most common manifestations in my life is when I walk out into the garden and see all the weeds in it.  My first reaction is discouragement at the work that will be involved to weed the garden.  It feels like a disheartening, never-ending task which makes me feel lousy and want to put it off.  But actually, when I finally get past my emotional reasoning and go do it, it's not disheartening work, it actually goes pretty well and I end with a sense of satisfaction.

The challenge is to be able to discern your feelings about things and separate those from your comprehension of things as they actually are.

*Thank you, Neal A. Maxwell

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #8, Should Statements

This is where you try to motivate yourself by saying "I should do this" or "I really ought to do that.  Such statements to yourself generally cause you to feel pressured and guilty or pressured and resentful.

Similarly, when you direct should statements towards others it increases your sense of dissatisfaction and frustration.  Thinking to yourself "he really should stop typing and pay attention to what is being said" will invariably increase your dissatisfaction and give room in your mind  for further statements of resentment of the other person and discouragement about creating what you want to happen.   (One of the most common ones to follow this are the "always" and "never" thoughts that are part of cognitive distortion #1.)

Should statements can generate a lot of unnecessary turmoil in your daily life and actually decrease your progress towards becoming the sort of charitable, loving, patient person that you should want to become.  They have great power to create loathing, guilt and discouragement about yourself or bitterness, disillusionment or self-righteousness in your reactions to the human failings of others.

Ultimately, you have to realize what God realizes; that people, including yourself, are imperfect and make mistakes and that He expects that.  It's part of the plan.  And the thing to do instead is to expect the imperfections of reality gracefully, respond wisely to them when you encounter them, and love and appreciate in spite of them, not reduce your reaction to a bunch of frustrating "shoulds".

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #9, Labeling and Mislabeling

Labeling is when you create a self-image based just on your errors.   For instance, you put your foot in your mouth during a conversation and you say to yourself, "I'm a fool."   Or you eat three pieces of fudge and you think, "How disgusting.  I'm a pig."

You can also fall into the habit of labeling others.  Your roommate never makes her bed and you think, "she's such a slob."  Or your boss is often abrasive and short tempered and you label him as an "insensitive chauvinist" and complain about him every day.

Labeling yourself is depressing and labeling others makes you feel helpless and alienated.  And it's also irrational. Your self and your value cannot be equated with any one thing you do or don't do.  And neither can anyone else's.   You, and every other person you know, is a complex, multi-faceted conglomerate of a multitude of learning, responding, thinking, ebbing and flowing, progressing and regressing, flow of emotions, responses, thoughts and actions.   I believe that knowing that is one of the things that God sees and that makes it so easy for Him to see the worth of each soul. He, as well as we, can see that some of us are sometimes more in control of ourselves than others but none of us, even the worst of us, are just one thing and it is irrational to define any of us, in any moment of time, just by our inadequacies.

Labeling involves describing yourself,  another person, or an event with words that paint a broad swath of emotionally laden negativity, instead of seeing and acknowledging the nuanced and intricate complexity and multi-faceted nature of human life.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cognitive Distortion #10, Personalization

Personalization is when you assume responsibility for a negative in your life even when there is no basis for doing so.  For example, your coworker, whom you've been mentoring, fails to receive any recognition awards at the department banquet and you feel guilty because of the thought "It's my fault that he didn't earn any recognition.  It was my responsibility to see that he earned it.  This just shows how I failed."

Another example might be one where you invite your boss and his family to dinner at your house on a Sunday evening and and at the last minute they call and cancel because of illness and your brain instantly tells you, "They cancelled.  What did I do to foul things up?"

Or your eight month old wakes up three times each night for weeks on end and you hear, in your head, "She isn't sleeping through the night yet.   I'm such a lousy parent."

Personalization causes you to feel crippling guilt as you confuse influence with responsibility for and control of outcomes.  Certainly there are things that you can influence in the lives of those around you, but in the above cases you have confused that ability to influence (or not) with your control over others.  And, you don't have control.  Nor should you.  Ultimately every person you know holds the secret to the key causes for their own actions, not you.

Have you ever heard yourself speak to yourself in this cognitive distortion of feeling that the failure of someone else or some project you are involved in means that you, personally, are a failure as well?

Most of us have at one time or another.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fighting back against the C.D.s

Once you are familiar with cognitive distortions and recognize them in your own thought patterns, there are a couple of different ways to work on helping your brain move from cognitive distortion patterns to cognitive accuracy patterns.  One of these is talking back to them.  This involves three things:
1) Training yourself to recognize them, which you're well on the way to have done just by reading about them.
2) Learn why those thoughts are distorted.  You've already done this too, probably.
3) Talk back to them.

So, let's say you suddenly realize you are late for a rendezvous with friends with whom you are making a two hour trip.  Your heart sinks and you are gripped with panic.  First, ask yourself "what thoughts are going through my head right now?  What am I saying to myself?  Why is this upsetting me?"  

You may find that you've been saying to yourself "I never do anything right", or "I'm always late", or "they'll leave without me think I and everything I stand for is irresponsible and stupid", or "I'm such a failure" or "I really should have my act together better.".  Can you tell which C.D.s those are?

(all-or-nothing, overgeneralization, fortune-telling, mind-reading, labeling, should statement)

Just as fast as these thoughts run through your mind your emotions plummet.  They, not the situation, are the reason for your misery.

So, you consciously replace them, one by one with cognitive accuracies.  I actually find it helpful to do this part out loud.

"No, actually, sometimes I do do things right.  Everyone is a mix, including me."
"No, sometimes I'm on time. It's just this time that I'm late."
"Actually, they might be kind and wait.  They might be late too.  They might choose to denigrate me or they might choose to treat this with charity.  I don't know what's in their minds or how they will respond.  But I do now that my responsibility is to apologize and be gracious and I can do that.
"One mistake does not equal total failure.  I am good at some things and not so good at others, but I am working at doing better and can continue to do so."
"'Should' will only make me beat myself up.  'I plan to do better next time' is a better way of approaching this and I do plan to watch the clock more carefully and I can tell them so and do so next time.

As you scurry out the door.

Some people who find their cognitive distortions extremely discouraging find it helpful to actually write down the cognitive distortions and their talk-back cognitive accuracies either in the moment or later in the day.  There's something about writing it down and reading and seeing it clearly that makes it harder for your brain to believe "this talk-back stuff will never work for me".   (jumping to conclusions)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quick review

Quick review
The 10 cognitive distortions are
1. All or nothing thinking.  Everything's black or white.  One error means black.
2. Overgeneralization.  One negative means you can predict never-ending negatives.
3. Mental filter.  You pick out a single negative and dwell on it exclusively.
4. Disqualifying the positive. You reject positive experiences or comments because "they don't count".
5. Jumping to conclusions
                             a. mind reading. You assume someone is thinking negatively of you.
                             b. fortune telling.  You anticipate and expect things will go badly.
6. Magnification and Minimization.  You exaggerate the importance of goof-ups and mistakes and minimize the importance of the good things you do.
7. Emotional reasoning.  If I feel bad it must be bad.
8. Should statements. You try to motivate yourself with "shoulds", "musts" and "oughts" and the emotional consequence is guilt for yourself and frustration when you mentally use those words in connection with others.
9. Labeling and mislabeling. You attach negative labels to yourself and others.
10. Personalization.  You see yourself as the cause of an external negative event that you were actually not responsible for.

So, with that review, can you identify which cognitive distortions are in the following scenario?

You've been reading sections of "Teaching, No Greater Call" about classroom discipline and applying the principles in it to the Sunday school class you teach.  You've been doing it for several weeks and it seems to be making a difference.  Then, suddenly, things in the classroom take a turn for the worse as a couple of kids in your class start acting out and in three consecutive weeks you are back to where you started.  You feel bitter, disillusioned, hopeless and desperate due to thinking, "I'm not getting anywhere.  These methods won't help after all.  I should have things under control well by now.  That 'improvement' was a fluke.  I was fooling myself when I felt like things were going better, They really didn't.  I'll never be able to get these kids to pay attention."  Which of the following one or more cognitive distortions did you employ?

a) disqualifying the positive
b) should statement
c) all-or-nothing thinking
d) jumping to conclusions
e) emotional reasoning

scroll down

answer:  all of them.  Did you find some of them?  Good!  You could probably add "personalization" to the list if in fact the two kids are acting out due to chaos at home beyond your control.

Can you see how our thoughts and responses to a situation can create our emotions?  And how distorted thoughts can mess up our emotions?

The goal, then, is to learn how to think thoughts based in reality, things as they really are, not in distortions of reality.  And that can be done.  The first step is to start identifying those distortions.  And you just did that.

The next step is to talk back truth to them when they pop up in your brain.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Recalling an Adage

Thinking about things...

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack

Wise words

"Some things are more important than money.  And one of the things that is always more important than money is people."
~ E.  August 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Magnifying" a calling

Thomas Monson's message in this month's Ensign is about serving in our church callings which he equates with loving and serving as Jesus did and taking responsibility instead of seeking to be comfortable.

That article and its sidebar, of course, use quotes that refer to "magnifying your calling".  I've sat in on classes where teacher and students have discussed what that word "magnify" means or doesn't mean in that context where they have had a bit of a struggle creating a definitive definition.

Today I found this:

Magnify:  late 14th century, "To speak or act for the glory or honor (of someone or something)," From O. French magnafier,  from Latin magnificare, "esteem greatly, extol", from magnificus, "splendid".  Meaning use of a telescope or microscope is first attested 1660s.

It is relevant to note that the King James Version of the Bible was finished in 1611.

So, perhaps, if one is called by the Lord  to do some work in his Kingdom, then to magnify one's calling mostly just has to do with acting in that calling in a way that honors the divine nature of that calling thereby speaking and acting for the glory or honor of the Lord; speaking and acting in ways that reflect his way of loving and serving and that help turn others hearts to honor him, not making that calling bigger or clearer or more visible or detailed as later definitions of the word came to mean.

That makes sense to me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Florence Barclay

"To my thinking, offence has no possible place in a genuine friendship.  The one pained always forestalls offence by the realization of non-intention to wound on the part of the other."

~Florence Barclay, "The Broken Halo"

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Galatea and Pygmalion

√Čtienne Maurice Falconet: Pygmalion & Galatee (1763) Hermitage Museum, photography by abakharev, April 2006 
(public domain)

I found this in a very old book yesterday:

"True happiness does not come from marrying an idol throned on a pedestal.  Before Galatea could wed Pygmalion she had to change from marble into glowing flesh and blood and step down from off her pedestal. Love should not make us blind to one another's faults.  It should only make us infinitely tender, and completely understanding...Men and women, who are human enough to marry, are human enough to be full of faults; and the best thing marriage provides is that each gets somebody who will love, forgive and understand."              
 ~Florence Barclay

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Secular Liberals and Conservative Evangelicals: the root of their differences

Professor of Anthropology (Stanford) Tanya Luhrmann was interviewed about a book of hers that was recently published. You can find the resultant article here.

What struck me was her comment about her understanding of the root of the difference in political thinking between secular liberals and conservative evangelicals.  She said,

"Secular liberals want to create the social conditions that allow everyday people, behaving the way ordinary people behave, to have fewer bad outcomes. When evangelicals vote, they think more immediately about what kind of person they are trying to become—what humans could and should be, rather than who they are. From this perspective, the problem with government is that it steps in when people fall short."

One party wanting to change the effects of human beings' choices and the other wanting to change the causes that are behind the choices made.  No wonder that they have such a terrifically difficult time understanding each other's modus operandi and feel totally thwarted by each other at every turn.

It reminded me of this quote by Ian Buruma:

"Obama is neither a socialist, nor a mere political accountant. He has some modest ideals, and may yet be an excellent president. But what is needed to revive liberal idealism is a set of new ideas on how to promote justice, equality and freedom in the world."

I am old enough to remember the idealism and belief about what we Americans could become in terms of equality, justice and freedom  that rang through the rank and file of many Democratic Party members in the days of Martin Luther King Jr., George McGovern and others in spite of the political old-boy network that still controlled its upper echelons.  I recall that that idealism and belief were grounded in a vision of moral integrity and the brotherhood of man that carried its believers forward through incredible opposition, fear-mongering and  hate that also prowled the political scene. 

I think we could use more of that vision, both of moral integrity and universal brotherhood in all political parties.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Learning from the view

 (Dan's Sordid & Sundry Pictures) Tags: sky moon oklahoma grass reeds skyscape horizon lofi picture fullmoon explore moonrise simplicity ba tulsa minimalism hazy ok minimalistic hilltop brokenarrow topofthehill lowfidelity explored alittlehazy grayishgreenmaynotbenaturalbutitsacoolcolorfortheskyanywayandreallyithinktheskyoughttobegreenishgraysometimesyknowjustforvariety iwasgoingforsortofalomolookonlyicantdovignetting paleorb intentionallyhazy supermoon danwatsonphotography

Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon.

~Mizuta Mashide, 17th century Japanese poet

Monday, June 04, 2012

My Grandmother's Voice

When I was a girl, visiting at my grandmother's home, she would give me the task of using her nice teapot to water her houseplants.

"How much water?" I would ask.

"To about here," she would reply, smiling and touching a point on the side of the pot housing the plant.

This past week our house was hit by lightning and caught fire.  Today I am housesitting for a friend who has offered to let us stay here while she is away on vacation and we look for a temporary rental in which to live while our house is repaired.  So this morning I was on my friend's patio, watering her potted plants.

"How much water do these need?" I wondered.

And in my mind I heard my grandmother again.  "To about here."  And I remembered again the blessing she was in my young life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Creativity, Divinity and Work

“There is something about the creative process – and not just for solving design-related problems, but in all creative problem solving – that feels very good to me. It is as though when I am creating something – anything – that I am in a “sweet spot.” My soul tunes to the rhythm of the project and I pour my whole being into the process. The finished product often makes me happy, but it is the work of creating that brings me deep joy.
My belief about our ultimate origin resides in the existence of God. And if it is true – if it is true that He created the heavens and the earth, and at some point created male and female humans, describing us as being in His image - then we exist in the image of a creative Divinity. When we create – be it designs or paintings, lyrics or melodies, scripts or movies, short stories or lectures, campaigns or solutions to social issues, even lesson plans or to-do lists in their own right – we participate in the nature of God. We find a “sweet spot.” Our souls rejoice in the process because we were created to create.”  ~Russell Shaw

Also true in the everyday work we do.  When I am only responding to demands, be they the demands of others or the demands of my own preconceived notions of what is acceptable or laudable in the responsibilities before me, my work is just work and can easily become tedious.  But when I look at the daily work before me (be it housekeeping, childrearing, church work or paid work) with a heart open to reality and a mind free to learn, research, think outside the box and solve puzzles in creative ways my work becomes engaging and more deeply satisfying.  "We were created to create."

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Increased Understanding"

There was a query in February's Ensign Magazine about feeling confused about "increased understanding I hear Church leaders describe" as a result of temple worship and a sense of concern that one is not making attending the temple "a learning experience".  Actually I think that sometimes we get anxious that each temple experience fall into the category of "unfolding the mysteries of God" in order to be acceptable, when, actually, learning through temple worship is far more varied and subtle.

My experience is that temple learning comes to me in multiple ways.  Three of them are: 1) from contemplation of the various things I can learn from the symbols there, 2) from personal revelation about my personal concerns that comes more easily to my mind and heart in a peaceful place, and 3) from thoughtfully reviewing the principles of righteous living and blessings that I am reminded of there.  At some times in my life learning has come in one of those ways and at times in another.  So sometimes when I feel that my learning curve has slowed it is because I have been focusing on one of those three learning methods and its time for me to learn better how to increase my understanding from one of the others.

That third way of learning is one that we sometimes overlook or discount as “increased understanding” simply because it involves nothing “new”.  I have found that, on occasion, I will learn something from the Lord during my temple worship which he hopes that I, personally, will consider and implement carefully into my life.  That consideration and implementation can sometimes take a long time.  During that time my temple worship changes and becomes a time for the Lord to peacefully review what he has taught me, and for me to celebrate that gift and to recommit myself to that process of living in a way that I have already felt inspired by him to do.  I am not necessarily learning new principles or new symbolic meanings, but instead, at those times, my temple worship leads me to reflect and turn my heart to the Lord, which in turn helps me to remember that understanding which I previously received, recommit to incorporating it wisely into my particular life and to perceive, with divine help, how to better do so with love and courage.  That is also “increased understanding”.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Everyday family life fosters or hinders a child's spiritual growth more than any Sunday manual ever could."

Roslyn Welch posted, here, about her parents thoughtful education, both religious and secular, of their children.  It reminded me of my own upbringing for which I am ever grateful.  Among other things, she wrote:

"When it comes to family environment, I won the lottery. My parents are ordinary humans with ordinarily imperfect kids, but they created a family environment that equipped us extraordinarily well to meet faith challenges without fear, betrayal, or emotional crisis. Certainly I hold myself up as no paragon of faith or spirituality. But my own challenges with belief have brought me relatively little personal upheaval and no rupture of my relationships. Whether or not my parents' approach was typical, or whether it would work for everybody, who can say? Nevertheless, and on the strength of personal anecdote alone, here's what worked in our home.
"1) Teach your children to read critically. Reading with my parents was the defining experience of my childhood. They read to us and with us all the time: stories every night before bed, scripture every evening at dinner, Sherlock Holmes stories on long Sunday afternoons, anything and everything on the endless road trips to Utah. Every chapter was a covert lesson in critical reading. To read critically doesn't have to mean negatively or skeptically, of coursemy parents approached scripture with love and respect. But they showed us how to read a text as more than just words on a page: look for connections, make inferences, recognize different points of view, point out interesting contradictions, begin to historicize, suggest several different interpretations. A child can't find real value in scripture until she can ask real questions of it.
"2) Buy books, lots and lots of books, for them to read. My parents' personal library is legendary. They bought the best books in every category: Mormon studies, including critical and outsider treatments, and religious studies generally, of course, but far beyond that. Science, history, mathematics. Politics, biography, memoir. Literary criticism, social science. Philosophy and poetry. And shelves and shelves of children's fiction. There was a bookshelf in every room, but the bulk of the collection was shelved topically in the family room where we spent much of our time. The titles and subtitles lining the wood-paneled walls were an education in themselves, and their image still wallpapers the back of my eyelids. I've pulled only a fraction of those books off the shelf, but their presence in the home, their constant accessibility, and the silent conversation among those thousands of spines worked on us day and night. A library of books in the home builds a library of ideas in a child's mind, ideas that can make sense of challenges when they come. Kindle can't do that, folks.
"3) Take responsibility for your own children's spiritual formation.We attended church faithfully every week, but my parents did not rely on the ward to manage our spiritual education. Never directly undermining what was taught on Sunday, my parents personally introduced us to Mormon history, scripture, cosmology, sociology, and culture. They did this in family home evenings, in regular scripture study sessions, in Sunday family devotionals, and in special summertime seminars for the teenagers in the house my mother called "School of the Prophets." They gave us free access to their complete collection of Dialogue and BYU Studies—and they read the journals themselves. They did not parade us past every bit of challenging history or cultural gripe they may have harbored, but they gave us the tools to cope with them when we encountered them on our own."

Well said.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Jephtha and his Daughter

In the last two hundred years there have been multiple scholarly responses to the story of Jephtha and his daughter found in the book of Judges.  In a nutshell, Jephtha, was a military leader among the Israelites in a period of time when they, "again did what was evil in the eyes of God...they abandoned God and did not worship him. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites ..." (Judges 10:6-7).
Jephthah lived in Tob, east of Gilead where he, "there gathered around him some worthless ["empty"] men, and they went out with him." (Judges 11:3) The elders of Gilead asked him to be their leader in the campaign against the Ammonites, but he held out for a more permanent and a broader position, and the elders agreed that, provided Jephthah succeeded in defeating Ammon, he would be their commander permanently. So, Jephthah challenged the Ammonites and after the campaign began to be successful and the Lord began to help him, he made an oath:
"Whatever/whoever emerges and comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be God’s, and I shall sacrifice him/her/it as a burnt offering
The victorious Jephthah was met on his return by his daughter, his only child. Jephthah tore his clothes and cried, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low!" but is bound by his vow: "I have given my word to God, and I cannot go back on it" (Judges 11:35). The girl asks for two months' grace, "... that I may go down on the mountains ... and bewail my virginity" (Judges 11:37). And then Jephthah "carried out his vow with her which he had vowed" (Judges 11:39). The story ends by recounting how "the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite" (Judges 11:40).
Contrary to popular understanding of many modern Christians of the inerrancy of the Bible, the accuracy of the Bible translations was frequently doubted by believing scholars in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The most well known of these might be Benjamin Kennicott (1718-1783) perhaps the leading English Old Testament scholar of the period, who agreed with the deists, such as Voltaire who used the story of Jephtha as a catalyst for their arguments against the veracity of the Bible, that the Hebrew text was corrupt and unreliable, although he and the deists drew different conclusions from this shared realization.  His decades of work in collecting, translating and comparing ancient biblical texts to compare with modern translations was legend.
Scholars of the Christian tradition, both believers, and unbelievers, (as well as Jewish ones before them) have debated this story of Jephtha for centuries, mostly centering their arguments on the etymology and translation of the text.  Some declared that Jephtha actually sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering.  Others disagreed.   For example, there was much debate in the 17th and 18th centuries on what should be the translation of verse 31: “Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
One key to the scholarly, believing revisionist reading was that “and” (in “and I will offer it up”) could be translated as“or.” Robert Jenkin (1656–1727) who was a Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, for instance, wrote that, “it is well known” that the word “which they translate and in the Text, often signifies or.”
Addressing the problem of why, if Jephtha’s daughter had not been killed, it should have become the custom to “lament” her, Jenkin suggests a better translation than “lament” would be “to rehearse or speak”: “From whence it has been supposed, that she was not put to Death, but was obliged to live in a State of Virginity and Solitude.”  She would have been required to live the life of a Nazarite.
Samuel Humphreys, similarly arguing against the sacrifice in "Sacred Books of the Old and New Testament" (pub. 1735–39), also suggests that “or” is a better translation than “and” in verse 31 and criticizes the Vulgate’s reading “whoever” as inferior to the King James’s “whatsoever.”
Humphreys concludes that if the creature greeting Jephtha is human, “he or she shall be consecrated to the service of God as some sort of Nazarites were; or if it prove a beast, it shall be offered up for a burnt-offering.”
Whichever translation is most accurate, however, and whatever the ultimate fate of Jephtha’s daughter, the story still feels problematic to many readers.  As a teenager, in my first encounter with the book of Judges my response was “What!!??”   What was I supposed to make of this book full of stories of people who were ostensibly of God’s chosen house of Israel but who continually undertook, what seemed to me at best, stupid, and at worst, depraved actions.  In the years of Sunday school and seminary that followed I heard Jephtha held up as an example of the virtue of being willing to sacrifice anything to the Lord as well as the explanations brought forth about mistranslations, stating that his daughter bewailed her virginity because she was about to commence a life of nazarite vows.  The former sounded barbaric and the latter like a senseless imposition of submissive though misguided obedience to parental authority.  Neither sounded like an example of enlightened Godly life to me.
I have come, however, to believe that the book of Judges is best approached as a fine example of what can happen to people in a culture that has a history of belief in God, but who have lost their sense of a direct connection to God and for whom their religious orientation has become, at most, a part of their tradition and culture (and in some cases, see the last couple of chapters for example, is totally abandoned), instead of a breathing, living, daily communication with God.  The stories of Samson, Gideon, and Jephtha all contain examples of this slide into a sense of God as a formula or tradition or a force to make bargains with instead of a divine, loving, intimate, personal daily guide.  As such it is good to look at elements in the story of Jephtha one by one and then look at our own modern culture and relationship with God to see if we find parallels to be wary of.
First, Jephtha’s desire for a powerful position.   The man is asked to assist in the war against the Ammonites.  He refuses, holding out for a more permanent position of power beyond the immediate task at hand before he will join in the war.  His interest is not in the completion of the task being asked of him, but instead in the power and career it will afford him if he participates.  My question:  what are my motives when deciding whether or not to assist in an undertaking?
Second, having procured a conditional bargain with the elders of Gilead (“if you are successful, then we will give you the position you want’) he is willing to sacrifice ANYTHING to be successful.  My question: am I making the mistake of becoming the sort of person who will sacrifice anything, no matter what, in order to become “successful” in the eyes of those in power or those who will determine the course of my career?
Third, the Lord inspires Jephtha once he undertakes the work (yes, God does help further causes even when the leaders thereof are stupid) (vs. 29) and Jeptha’s response is not humilty or gratitude, but rather, bargain-making.  My question:  Do I fail to recognize God as a loving, daily, helpful, awe-inspiring guide, but instead see him as another political ally that I can make intermittant powerful contractual bargains with in order to achieve the good things that I want to have happen?
Fourth, once Jephtha makes an oath, he keeps it even when he discovers that doing so will be destructive.  We see this sometimes masquerading in modern culture as “honor”.  My question: When I make a promise and I later discover that it would be destructive to keep it, does my traditional sense of pride and “honor” prevent me from being humble enough to admit my mistake and do what is kindest and best?  Does my sense of pride and honor take precidence over my commitment to charity and justice?  Does it prevent me from communicating with God about making a change in my declared course of action?
Fifth, (and I realize that some will take issue with this, because it concerns the victim in this case and the phrase in question can have layered meanings) when Jephtha’s daughter realizes that she faces being sacrificed (either literally killed or given over to a Nazarite life) and that there is no recourse for her, the focus of her mourning is her virginity. I guess that this part of the story particularly jumps out at me because of the increasing and erroneous notion expressed in media for young people that, of all things that it would be tragic to die (or to live) without experiencing, the most tragic would be to not have experienced sex.  My question: If I were facing a medical diagnosis with a short estimated time of life left, or if I came to realize that I would be single all of my life, what would I mourn not having the opportunity to do?   Would my sorrow be selfish or selfless?  And would my faith in the recompense and mercy of God carry me through that sorrow?  
Sixth, if we assume the interpretation that Jephtha did in fact sacrifice his daughter we realize that he has offered a sacrifice that is, according to the descriptions given by God, repugnant to God.  God’s descriptions of acceptable sacrifice are very clear in the book of Leviticus.  Human sacrifice of one’s children was forbidden.  Sacrifice of one’s child was, on the other hand, a type of sacrifice that was acceptable in the worship of the god Moloch, a Caananite god worshiped at the time.  Thus we find that Jephtha has dictated the bounds of the sacrifice he will make, using parameters set forth in an aspect of society that does not worship God, instead of following the direction of the Lord as to what an acceptable sacrifice is.   My question:  How often do I determine what is acceptable to the Lord by looking to what the society around me sees as most noble or heroic, rather than seeking to find what the Lord asks of me?
Whatever interpretation of the story of Jephtha and his daughter one takes as most accurate, the questions are good to ask.

The Holy Bible KJV
Susan Staves, "Jephtha's Vow Reconsidered", Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 4, pp 651-669, University of California Press 2008.

Monday, January 16, 2012

One man's learning curve of life

My department at my alma mater has a  newsletter that it sends annually to each of us alumni.  This bit, amidst the various news items about various of us caught my attention.

"Neville W______ (MA 1978) died in October 2010 in K______, Maine.  According to his obituary, "W_______ was well educated, attending Kings College (Cambridge, England), Tufts University (magna cum laude, 1965), and Stanford University upon receiving a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in 1965-66.  After retiring from retail in 2002, Neville was able to return to his lifelong love and pursuit of painting and poetry.  He published his first book of poetry, The Early Morning Clapboarder, in 2007.  His poems remain a legacy of joy, love and wonder of life.  His life is well summarized in a quote he gave for a 2007 interview in the local Tourist News: 'It takes time to reach the center of who you are.  I found that life is ever changing, and there are no certainties, only possibilities.  Love is man's last great hope of peace and the source of all that's important.  The journey is what's important.'"