"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
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September 26, 2014
The Value of Optimism
by Jeff Lindsay

Mormons tend to be optimistic people. Although we recognize that we will face a load of trouble and pain in this life, we believe that the Atonement of Christ can conquer all in the end and that through Christ, our bitter moments here can be swallowed up in endless joy and opportunity.

Death has been conquered, forgiveness has offered to all who will, and our tears can be wiped away. We also understand that the trials of this life frequently can have meaning, in spite of the randomness and seeming senselessness that can be found in a world with chance and free agency.

In one area, though, we could use a touch more optimism in our lives. I refer to the daily opportunities we have to speak of others close to us. This includes our bosses, our coworkers, our cousins, our neighbors, our children, and friends, and perhaps especially our enemies. When you speak of someone else and are tempted to say something unflattering, consider these two questions:

  1. What is the price of being optimistic about that person? Would anything important be lost by giving the person the benefit of a doubt, or simply withholding criticism, or offering the possibility that seemingly bad actions have been misunderstood?

    Would optimism and kindness cause any real harm? Often there is no need to add to the unkind words of others, and sometimes great good can be done with kindness.

  2. What is the price of being negative about the person? Those engaging in gossip or backbiting rarely consider this question seriously, but there is often a price, especially if your comments get back to the target in some form, as they often do. Given the potential price, is there really any point to joining the backstabbing?

The price of unkind comments can be great. People have lost jobs over them. Relationships have been permanently damaged. Years of grief have resulted. This would rarely be the case if the person speaking behind someone's back recognized that whatever is said has a high probability of getting back to its target.

Is it 10% of the time? 30% of the time? It depends on your social circles and other factors, but it is surprising to me how common it is for a stray remote backstabbing to eventually be delivered straight to the person you discussed.

Sometimes it is deliberate, sometimes it is accidental, but it happens so frequently that the wisest course in your conversations is to assume that what you say will be heard by people you did not want to hear it — and that was true even before NSA began its current business model of protecting citizens by vigorously spying on them.

A great story illustrating that principle is on the LDS.org website in a section for youth. "Choosing Not to Gossip" by Brett Schachterle shares his story of being on the technical crew for a high school musical.

The crew at one point began chatting among themselves using their radio headsets, sharing progressively unkind gossip about the cast members on stage. Brett was tempted to fit in with the group and add some of his own comments, but he knew that gossip was wrong and he chose not to participate.

I felt sick hearing some of the comments, but I was afraid to stand up against my new friends. I wish I had, because as I tolerated their jokes, I was eventually tempted to laugh and make my own comments. I began to rationalize why it would have been fine. Nobody but the tech crew would have heard me, and I wanted to fit in with the people around me.

As hard as it was, I knew that backbiting about those onstage wasn’t right, and I chose not to gossip.

After the rehearsal we learned that everything we had said over the headsets had been broadcast backstage. All 60 or so of the cast members had heard us talking. Some were angry, upset, or embarrassed. No one was impressed.

Later, while I was talking with one of my friends about what had happened, she said, “Everyone knows you’d never say anything like that.” Her comment shocked me, and I realized the significance of the choice I had made. If I had chosen to join in with the gossip, what would that have said about me? What would that have said about the Church?

I’m grateful for the choice I made in that dark, little theater, even when I thought others wouldn’t know, because it has opened blessings of friendship, peace, and confidence that I would have lost had I chosen to gossip.

Many of us, whether we realize it or not, speak in settings far more open and public than the dark little theater that Brett experienced. Our comments can be spread to thousands via social media, surreptitious recordings, or other means.

When we speak of others, may we be as kind as possible, even when tempted to be harsh. I've often regretted my harsh comments and have rarely regretted kind ones, even when my optimism for others was sorely unfounded. There are times we need to be critical and speak harshly, but in general these are far rarer than our episodes with harsh words.

Finding the good in others can sometimes do much more than just help us avoid an unpleasant price. Sometimes hearts can be softened and little miracles can be achieved with kind words and a touch of healthy optimism.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.


About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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