There is an often quoted statement by Elder Boyd K. Packer that, particularly in my field of study, has provoked conversation.
Studying in the behavioral sciences, this is often a source of contention and debate. If studying behavior doesn't help, then why do we do it? Should all psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists just quite and teach the gospel instead? It's a little bit demoralizing sometimes."True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."
Or at least it was, until one of my blessed 111 students today shared the rest of the quote with me. (It's from Elder Packer's October 1986 General Conference talk, entitled "Little Children"
"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.
When I read this, it was as though dozens of the feelings I've been having and things I've come to understand all of the sudden clicked together. Studying behavior is good, it is helpful, and it is necessary. But we need to be wary of preoccupation with problematic behaviors without constantly remembering the solutions to the problems- which are always eternal solutions.The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel."
Let me give an example. For a long time, my favorite show was Criminal Minds. It's a very, very dark show. Nevertheless, often I would get off of work at 1am and then eagerly watch as twisted criminals were understood and investigated. I dreamed of understanding the way their minds worked, and then of finding ways to "fix" them. But the problem was this: I was only focusing on the problem, not the solution. The only way to truly help men and women this scarred would be to treat them as the divine sons and daughters of God that they are- to teach them true principles and expect them to live up to them.
And so it is with many social ills- abortion, poverty, violence, etc. As we become preoccupied talking about school shootings and horrific abuse and gang violence and homelessness, we unwittingly support its increase. Alternatively, as we teach true doctrine, help others understand true principles, and become examples of truth and light in our own lives, these ills will slowly fade.
Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that we should ignore wrongdoings that occur in our world. Absolutely not. They should be taken care of by the proper authority. Children should be warned, cautiously, about the dangers of the world they live in. We have to be practical. But we don't have to live in fear. Doing so only results in more reasons to fear.
I'm coming to understand that the answers to most soul-wrenching questions aren't as difficult as they seem- although they can be difficult to implement. The solutions aren't fiscally expensive, nor do they require many social groups to set in motion. They are in fact, very simple, and all contained within one simple doctrine: Love one another. The difficulty here lies not in the finding of the answer, but in the constant and steady changes made in the hearts of individual people.
Toward the end of his address, Elder Packer shared this truth:
"Secular doctrines have the advantage of convincing, tangible evidence. We seem to do better in gathering data on things that can be counted and measured.
Which, I guess, brings me back to the theme of the year: Faith. I've known for a while that focusing on the negative doesn't bring good. Even in personal mistakes, the hurt caused by others, and everyday problems- the answer rarely, if ever, lies in focusing on the wrong. Instead, peace and joy comes in recognizing the power of the Atonement to forgive, heal, and help us move on. When I make a mistake, I feel bad, but only long enough to remember the beautiful gift of the Christ's sacrifice. From that point on, I must put all my efforts into becoming better, aided by the grace granted to those who repent. When I am hurt by others, at some point focusing on the pain only blocks my ability to be healed. Much like the ancient Israelites, we are often too preoccupied by our pain to look to the source of healing- when the dramatic irony is that if we would but look, we would be healed.Doctrines which originate in the light, on the other hand, are more often supported by intangible impressions upon the spirit. We are left for the most part to rely on faith."
This post has been a bit of a word vomit, and I apologize. But it's also a synthesis of so many things I'm coming to learn.
When we sin, mess up, get hurt, or do or feel any of the silly human things that we do- Remember:
Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.Focus on the good- the hope, the truth, and the light. When we do, it will come.
...if you build it, they will come. :-)