Of Demagogues and Ideologues

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The demagogue has ever been the bane of democracies.  By definition, democracies rest upon the choices of the people.  When wisdom guides, democracies prosper.  As history shows, wisdom does not always prevail, and it never does when demagogues do.  Since the demagogue seeks his own power by taking power from others, once the people give him their voice they will be hard-pressed to get their power back; the democracy deteriorates into dictatorship, invoked in the name but never the reality of the rights of the people.

So I wrote some time ago.  Experience since then has reinforced the points I raised.  I wish that it had not, as such experience is painful.

On the early side of Summer an insightful essay in the June 2021 edition of The New Criterion illuminated the companion to the demagogue, the ideologue (see, David Guaspari, “Ideologists amok”).  Sometimes they can be the same person, as ideologues frequently employ demagoguery.

Reflecting on demagogues and ideologues, I more recently imagined a conversation with someone who displays characteristics of such a one.  As with a similar conversation of which I wrote in the past, I refer to my interlocutor as Burning Cynders, to preserve the fanciful nature.  I will leave it to you to imagine whether this reminds you of anyone.  It went something like this.

WAA:  I understand that you consider the United States to be a horribly oppressive place.

Cynders:  Horribly oppressive, and practically everyone is a victim.

WAA:  How can everyone be a victim?  If there are victims, there must be oppressors.

Cynders:  There are, but they are victims, too.  The oppression is systemic, that we all inherited.  Even the victims help maintain it.  I pause to allow you to grasp the vastness of the subject.

WAA:  Thank you.  Does that mean that you help to perpetuate the system, too?

Cynders:  I did, until I figured it out.  Now that I understand, I am trying to liberate people from it. 

WAA:  Are the millions of people immigrating to the United States coming here to be liberated from this oppression?

Cynders:  They are coming here because they know that I and those who are with me are working to throw off the oppression.

WAA:  Like why the Founders first came here.  I thought that people want to come to America for a freer, more prosperous life.  Which problems did they miss?

Cynders:  You don’t understand; your thought is distorted by the system.  No single problem can be solved without solving all problems.  You are part of the problem.

WAA:  That might be debatable.  How about we discuss what this land offers that attracts so many people.

Cynders:  The debate is over.  I’m here to teach you.  I know why they are coming.  They sense that I am working to throw off the oppression, to change the system, to change America.  Traumatized by their journey, the trauma raises their consciousness to the need for transformation.

WAA:  What key reforms do you have in mind?

Cynders:  I’m not interested in reform.  You cannot reform this system.  It is fundamentally corrupt and oppressive.  It must be torn down and built anew.  There will be a new system, without oppressors or oppressed.

WAA:  It seems to me there was a lot of tearing down in the twentieth century by the Lenins, Stalins, Hitlers, the Mussolinis, the Maos, Pol Pots, and many others.  History shows us the ruins, but I don’t see the end of oppression in the experiments in bread-rationing socialism.

Cynders:  There were bold efforts, but they didn’t try hard enough or long enough.  As I said, oppression is in the whole system.  It’s in our culture, our religion, our laws, our families, our healthcare, our schools, in the language we use. 

WAA:  What will this new world look like? 

Cynders:  No one knows.  No one can tell you.  It may take generations to break down and build right.  This generation may not see the fruits of its work; still, it will bless future generations.  But can there be any sacrifice too great for a world without any oppression, with no victims, no oppressors?

WAA:  Sounds like you are out to alter the very nature of humanity.

Cynders:  You are not as hopeless as I feared.  Maybe you can be educated yet.

I pause the conversation there.  Time to play with my grandsons.

Of Sincerity and Talking with God

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In the 1700s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, referring to times of personal stress, wrote, “I turned with my request to my Invisible Friend.  I was received so kindly, that I gladly came again.”  Speaking with God is simple.  It may not always be easy.  A basic requisite is sincerity.  When we share with our Heavenly Father a sincere message from the heart, He is eager to listen. 

That is also a basic criterion for us to hear God.  Our Heavenly Father is eager to speak with us when we are sincerely listening.  That means sincerely wanting to know what our Father wants us to know, and being sincerely willing to do what He asks us to do. 

This is prayer and revelation.  Such prayers are answered, and our lives can be made happier.

Can that happen now?  Can I speak with God and get a personal answer?  Yes.  The Lord has given us a prophet today, Russell M. Nelson, who reminded us, as prophets have often taught, that the “privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to His children.” 

The Lord has never desired that His prophet be the only one to receive revelation.  When Moses led the children of Israel through the desert, he replied to a complaint about someone in the camp receiving revelation, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29).  Our Father does not want us to wander in the dark, not knowing how to cope with life’s problems.

We are all in the process of dying.  That is why this existence is called “mortality.”  But until we reach the end of that process, we are also in the process of living.  Our Father likes to help us to live well, so that when we die we will be able to live with Him eternally.  He will show us how if we sincerely want to know.

When I was a child, I wondered what it would be like to live in the day when Apostles of Jesus Christ walked the earth.  Some years later I came to know that I was living in those days, that once again Jesus Christ has called Apostles, from ordinary professions, to follow Him in teaching the Father’s children how to live with joy. 

One of these Apostles of Christ is David Bednar.  He recently spoke with a young man whose wife, just a few months before, died from cancer.  The man asked, “What can we do to understand God’s will for us in our personal life?”  With great tenderness Apostle Bednar addressed the question.  He said that he knew that the man’s departed wife was “a righteous woman, and no righteous man, no righteous woman passes before his or her time.” 

Turning to the question of God’s will for this young widower, he recounted a similar conversation with a young girl at a funeral for an older brother.  She had asked, why would God let this happen?  This Apostle of Christ candidly said to her, “I don’t know, but I know God knows, and because I know God knows, I’m O.K. not knowing right now.”  So, he invited this son of God to listen to the revelations from the Lord and, while yet in this life, press on to do what his loving Father inspires him do. 

The gift of personal revelation continues available to this young man.  It is available to each of us, too, as we sincerely seek it.

Of Civil War and National Unity

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At a sesquicentennial distance the Civil War can become too easy to romanticize.  We can be tempted to envision some charm in it.  From a prolonged study of the Civil War, via many sources and a variety of formats, I find little romance in it.  The brutality and misery of that war have not been overstated.  Fortunately, there was work that was noble and heroic, such as the ending of slavery.    

A more peaceful solution, in hindsight, was available and likely, as the operation of the Constitution was steadily bringing about.  Perhaps it took a civil war challenge to that Constitution to make people recognize—the slaveholders especially—that a peaceful end to bondage would have been preferable.  Abraham Lincoln, a casualty of the war, perceived in a few words at the Gettysburg commemoration, that the Civil War was “testing whether [our] nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

To what conception and dedication did Lincoln refer?  “A new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

It must be understood that Lincoln observed that this nation had not fully achieved those principles.  He called it “unfinished work.”  Building on how well that work had begun, Lincoln praised how far it had been “so nobly advanced.”  Our nation, conceived in liberty, embraced a dedication to which our Founders bound themselves and their posterity, to achieve the proposition that each of us was created equal.  As the price in blood and suffering mounted, he was asking whether such a dedicated nation, still in its adolescence, could continue.

Through the 21 months following Gettysburg, the price would grow higher and more horrid while the people of that day persevered and demonstrated that the nation would endure, as it has to our day.  Further headway was made to fulfill our founding principles.

Today is a time for our dedication to be tested, as such a nation will always be.  Loud, magnified voices—there were those in Lincoln’s day demanding to end the effort (he nearly lost his reelection to some who preferred a compromise with the slavocrats)—today parade the obvious that our nation has not yet achieved all of our Founders’ ideals, and so demand that we abandon those ideals.

They prescribe a return to the age old pattern whereby in exchange for our liberty the self-selected few are elevated to mold the rest, prescriptions that somehow end up profiting the new bosses.  As in the past, while dressed in varieties of costumes, the chieftains, kings, czars, fuehrers, commissars, and other ugly monsters reshape societies that eventually devolve into ruin.

Their “modern” strategy is similarly old:  divide and conquer.  Rhetorical crossbows aim darts first at the failings of the very human Founders, to whom they assign blame for anyone unhappy with himself.  Next they guide their unhappy victims against our founding ideal, “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Their bizarre assertion is that any failure in the ideal’s complete achievement justifies its trashing, the more violently the better.  Upon the ruins of civil disorder, disunion, and violence, they would build in the name of “equity” where they have destroyed fundamental equality. 

That is the program of those positioned to claim to be more equal than others while they rake in a bigger share of the proposed “equity.”  It is all old naked ugliness when denuded of the costumes.  In time it has always failed, but not without putrid fruits of misery.

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln appealed to his hearers for increased devotion to ensure that our nation, governed of, by, and for the people, should not perish.  Succeeding generations have united to nurture the nation.  It is our task to answer the divisive calls with our dedication to advance the work so nobly begun.

Of I and We

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Perhaps you have been chary of letting other people speak for you.  I know that I have.  I tend to bristle when someone announces what “we” are going to do without consulting with the “I”s in the “we.”  I feel much the same when I hear someone declare what “we” think without caring to learn what I and the other components of “we” think. 

Sometimes it is necessary or unavoidable to have someone speak for me.  I think of representative government.  A Congress of 330 million people will either get nothing done, or it will devolve into rule by a dictator who has, as an effective demagogue, arranged for enough of all of us to cede to him their will.  The city states of ancient Greece experienced both failings of genuine democracy—mob rule and dictatorship—and displayed how it never worked for long.

The Romans, inhabiting a city state governed by a king, threw off their king and created a democratic republic that flourished for several hundred years.  They elected Senators to represent them.  The Romans did not like a king who spoke for them without asking, but they thrived under a system of Senators who spoke for them, but only after obtaining the Romans’ permission.  That worked for centuries until the process of gaining permission—elections—became corrupted.  The Senators concurrently became corrupted, unwilling to face blame for making decisions.  The democratic republic was replaced by a government of emperors and Caesars.  Rome afterwards oscillated between civil strife and dictatorship on the way to collapse and invasion.

In the years following 1776 we, as a people of free individuals, united to shake off our king who claimed the privilege of referring to himself as “We” when speaking.  In 1787 “We the People,” through our chosen representatives, also established a democratic republic.  That followed the formation of democratic republics in each State.  Both sides in the debate to ratify the new Constitution emphasized keeping representatives tied closely to the represented.  Skeptics wondered whether that would actually happen or long endure if it did.

Individual people, representatives and represented, are imperfect, as the Founders understood.  We each prize our individuality and the liberty to live it.  We each can also be tempted to exert our will over others.  Consider the occasional neighborhood “WE BELIEVE” yard signs.  Are these an expression of personal faith or a declaration that you and I ought to consider ourselves included in the “WE”?  I wonder about the latter when I see decrees by federal officials, state governors, and local mayors extending government force to the seemingly anodyne slogans ornamenting the signs.  The man who today sits in the oval office, who would not dare to call himself a czar, has appointed a man (previously rejected by a national election) to be the nation’s “Climate Czar.”

We are scheduled to reach 250 years of our democratic republic when the 17-year cicadas next return.  Will they emerge in a nation still governed by “We the People”?  Or might they come out of the ground where the voices of the I’s have been subsumed by other Czars who announce what We think, do, and say?  Creeping political correctness, which has been chastising free speech for decades, telling us what not to say, has lately become enforced by governments, workplaces, media, and schools.  As the prophet Isaiah warned, a man is made “an offender for a word” (Isaiah 29:21).

By the way, the titles “Czar” and “Kaiser” are derivatives of the Latin title “Caesar.”

Of Firearms and American Democracy

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A commentator on a Washington-D.C. area Spanish-language radio station was declaiming at unusual length against private gun ownership. What caught my attention that morning was his expression of wonder at the deep and widespread interest of people in the United States in owning firearms. He could not understand or explain it. He was lost. The interest in private gun ownership was a new cultural phenomenon to him.

No doubt it was, but he was correct to identify the passion for gun ownership as an element of the cultural life of the United States that is not only deep, but deep-rooted. Those roots go back to the very founding of North America by the first colonists, reinforced by subsequent waves of immigrants. The very first North American colonists had guns, as essential to survival as seeds and shovels. As Germans joined the English, the Scots, and the Dutch in the new land, followed by Irish, Swedes, Italians and others, guns traveled with the pioneers west.

Western European society invented common firearms and spread them among the commoners. By means of firearms the commoners won their new land. With their firearms those commoners also won their freedom from the lords and ladies who could no longer control the armed rabble, particularly in the English colonies, and particularly in the colonies that became the United States. Guns in the United States have been instruments of survival, physical and political.

What the kings and nobles of Europe could not know was that there is something powerfully democratizing in gun possession. Firearms ended the reign of the mounted knight and made it hard for kings and emperors to keep their thrones. No aristocrat in any palace was invulnerable to the meanest peasant armed with musket and ball. Guns have been an historically powerful equalizer and defense against tyranny and pillagers.

That democratizing process worked further and faster in America, where courage and a gun could tame a wilderness and provide freedom for the family. Far from the reach of government, and unanswerable for the pretended protection of the manor house, the typical American could take immediate responsibility for himself and his own security and that of his wife and children, backed up by the very real ability to assert that security. No one seems to know the origin of the proverb, “God created men, but Sam Colt made them equal,” but the armed nation builders of the American West understood and believed it.

That is to say that, in the United States at least, people have not needed government, and especially government protection, all that much. Gun ownership has always been at the core of American independence and democracy, essential from the founding up into modern times. It is a symbol of American freedom, but more than that, ownership of firearms is a tangible expression of the independence and self-reliance that are at the core of American citizenship, a culture of freedom sometimes new to people hailing from other parts of the world. It is not accidental that not only the right to keep firearms but the active right to bear them is recognized in our Constitution as fundamental, alongside freedom of expression, free exercise of religion, the protection of private property, trial by jury, and other cornerstones of our liberty.

As the dangerous frontiers of violence encroach again on families beyond the timely protection of law enforcement, that innate American self-reliance is reenergized, and well it should be. The examples of people saved by their guns from robbery, murder, and worse, are legion if little noted by the establishment media reporting from their armed security zones. In the face of increased violent criminal activity—whether from terrorists or thugs—why does it make sense to weaken the defenses of law abiding citizens? Why would the government of a free people impose regulations to expose those who live peacefully to the barbarous cruelty of those who consider a regulation no barrier to preying upon the disarmed? I do not understand it. As an American, I do not understand it at all.

Of Good Leaders and Society’s Safety

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The story is told in The Book of Mormon of a society in ancient America that was under constant threat and frequent attack from another people who were fierce and far more numerous.  They were also related, which made hostility acute and seemingly ineradicable—save one should eradicate the other.

Like everyone in the western hemisphere their roots were planted by immigration.  These immigrants from the Old World were largely from two interrelated families.  They barely got along while the founding patriarch, Lehi, lived.  When he died, leadership succession threatened bloodshed.  Rather than fight it out, one group, led by a younger son, Nephi, left.  The other group, which over time became larger, was led by the eldest son, Laman.

The two societies could hardly be more different, because their leaders, though brothers, could hardly be more different.  Laman was opposed to emigrating from the Old World.  Lehi was given a prophetic charge to leave.  God told Lehi (who like his contemporary, Jeremiah, was a prophet of Christ) that his city, Jerusalem, was doomed, descending into social disorder and vulnerable to predictable conquest.  Laman doubted the prophecy.  Nephi, supporting his father, was given divine confirmation of the Lord’s warning.

In Lehi’s day the differences were occasionally resolved, but only superficially.  Laman, and those who listened to him, having little faith in his father’s prophecies, only with reluctance cooperated.  Nephi believed.  With that faith, confirmed by his own communion with the Lord, Nephi was instrumental in facilitating the pilgrimage to what the Lord vouchsafed Lehi and his family would be a promised land.

For centuries following Lehi’s death, both sides tried, in their characteristic idioms, to bridge the schism.  The people of Nephi, according to the record, devised “many means to reclaim and restore” the people of Laman “to the knowledge of the truth”.  Their record reports, on the other hand, that the people of Laman “sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually.” (Jacob 7:24)

Which would prevail?  In terms of reunification, neither succeeded for more than four hundred years.  Measured by prosperity, the people of Nephi flourished.  While the chronicle is brief, it describes a society as advanced as any global contemporary of the fourth century B.C.:

And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich in gold, and in silver, and in precious things, and in fine workmanship of wood, in buildings, and in machinery, and also in iron and copper, and brass and steel, making all manner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war. . . and all preparations for war. (Jarom 1:8)

Compare that with the description of the people of Laman, who fell into degradation:

. . . they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat . . . (Enos 1:20)

By one gauge, the people of Laman exceeded the people of Nephi, “they were exceedingly more numerous”.

The moral of the story is this.  The people of Nephi prospered, not only materially and socially, but they also succeeded in holding their enemies at bay, enemies whose hostility was implacable, constant, and fierce, and who were “exceedingly more numerous”.  How so?  The crowning message inscribed in the ancient records of the people of Nephi was that their kings and leaders “were mighty men in the faith of the Lord”.  Thereby the people were led in safety.  That is a vital message for our society, or any society.

Of Inflation and Borrowing

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Inflation is good for borrowers?  Really?  So some say.  The case goes like this:  when the borrower receives his loan for so much, he promises to pay it back with money that would buy so much, but after inflation the money he uses to repay the loan will buy less.  He repays with cheaper money.  The lender gets his money back, but it is worth less than it was when he lent it.  Hold that thought, because that is the weakness in the case.

This inflation “benefit” may work for borrowers who already have loans, with a fixed rate that they can handle.  For all others, however, inflation raises the costs of everything, including borrowing.  How long will lenders be willing to lose value in the loans they make?

Think of it this way.  Does inflation work for people who sell things?  Maybe for their current supply, but their new supply will cost them more, eating into what they earn and raising the cost of what they try to sell to the next potential buyer.  The same reality is true for people who “sell” money, which is what lenders do. 

As we buyers know, inflation does not work well for buyers.  We face ever higher prices for the same things.  The same is true for people who “buy” money, which is what borrowing is.

New borrowers will find interest rates, the price of borrowing, rising with inflation, too.  That could put borrowing out of reach for some, just as it does for buying a house, a car, or work tools.  Businesses that need to roll over their existing loans could find the new loan more expensive, maybe even too expensive.  People who want to refinance their mortgage may find the new rate makes that much less attractive.  Floating rates, like credit card rates, will rise, so the cost of the products charged to the card will not be the only higher costs that card users face.  In short, only some borrowers, a declining some, may benefit from inflation, and only for a time.

Today’s money rests on trust, whether we talk of paper money, coins, or financial accounts.  We sell our time, our goods, our services in exchange for money.  That money is a promise that we can use it in trade with someone else for something of comparable worth.  When we accept money in payment, we in turn are making a loan to someone who has already received our goods, or services, or time.  All we got was a promise, which we trust we can exchange with someone else.  Inflation undermines that trust.  We receive a $100 payment of money which because of inflation may soon buy only what $95 used to buy.

Even governments will face the challenge of higher costs.  Sure, they will be paying back existing government debt with devalued money, but their new borrowings will carry a higher price tag, as will the things that governments buy.  I was going to say, look in the mirror if you want to know who will pay that higher cost of government debt, but if you do, have your children looking with you.

Of Slavery and the Constitution

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Slavery in America was doomed under the Constitution, and the slavocrats knew it.  For more than four score years they had been fighting and steadily losing ground to preserve slavery.  When Abraham Lincoln was elected President, the slavocrats understood that things would not get better for them.  They saw getting out as the only way to continue slavery.

They pushed their states to leave after the election of 1860 not because they disputed the results.  They recognized that Lincoln had been duly elected.  What the slavocrats feared was that under his administration and his support in Congress their ability to preserve slavery would be irreparably eroded and eventually ended.  They sought to exit the Union before that happened.

By necessity, forming a “more perfect union” under the Constitution required compromise to accommodate diverse peoples and experiences.  The miracle of the Founders was to bring all the states in.  Compromise and accommodation are at the heart of a republic. 

There is an art to compromise.  I saw that during the days of the Reagan administration.  President Reagan was a highly principled man, yet he often compromised.  I marveled how, in his compromising, he resisted compromise of principle.  Again and again he advanced his principles while accommodating on details.   

The Founders establishing a Constitution sought to preserve essential principles by which a government of liberty would act.  A key example was the slave trade.  Some vociferously argued for its end.  Slave state representatives argued for the matter to be left to individual states.  The Constitution enshrined the national principle that the slave trade must end.  Placing regulation of trade in general with Congress, the compromise set 1808 for the complete end of the slave trade.

A similarly important example where compromise embraced the principle was the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives.  The number of a state’s representatives was based on population.  Representatives from slave states wanted to count slaves.  Others objected that if your state treats these people as property, then they should not be counted any more than other property.  The principle in the compromise was to recognize the humanity of people held in slavery, but to count a person only as three-fifths for congressional apportionment so long as he was held in slavery, reducing southern congressional representation.

With these two compromises, resting on anti-slavery principles, all the states came into the union, accepting a Constitution that would progressively lead to abolition.  As the reality of that became abundantly clear to the leadership of eleven of the states, they tried to renege on the deal and leave.  The slavocrats failed.  Rather than let the Constitution end slavery peacefully, they forced a horrid war that ended it all the sooner, but at the cost of more than 600,000 dead, greater than the total of Americans killed in both World Wars I and II. 

The power of the principles of the Constitution continued its work.  Amidst a Civil War that, in the words of Lincoln, tested “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure,” elections were held.  The voters chose liberty and the nation endured.

The American Founders were sober people, sobered by a long and difficult war of Independence followed by several years of economic and social confusion.  They understood that people were flawed and make mistakes.  They believed that people are also good, who can and do make good decisions.  The Constitution on which they established the United States recognizes and is designed to offset the bad and allow good to succeed, which it more often than not does.  

Tested by myriad difficulties and unparalleled prosperity, the Constitution has worked better than any other system of government on earth.  That is why enemies of freedom hate it and why so many people want to come here to live.

Of Helping God and Helping Fathers

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When I was twelve my parents moved us to an old farm house.  It was basically solid, but it was old.  The house had not been occupied for a decade or more, other than by varieties of wildlife.  It needed a lot of work.  My father moved in about a month before us to begin the restoration, bringing it close to livable when we all moved in.  Still, it was a bit like camping out inside the house for the first several weeks.

Being a fixer-upper brought the house within my parents’ price range, though the $90 a month mortgage was still a strain.  My father did nearly all the restoration work himself. 

The roofers, called in to repair numerous leaks, were particularly interested in the slate shingles.  Once they had taken those off, we never saw them again—roofers or shingles.  Our wonderful neighbors helped us with an emergency roof replacement when the hired roofers left us high but far from dry in the midst of a thunderstorm. 

My father, who had been a public works inspector where we lived before, knew a great deal about ceilings, walls, carpentry, electrical wiring, plumbing, and other very practical things.  He tried to pass some of that knowledge on to me. 

I remember helping my father replace pipes.  He did not need the help.  I am quite sure that I slowed him down.  He had me participate in the work so that I could learn something about plumbing, and maybe even something about working.  I remember many details about plumbing, carpentry, and electricity that my father taught me.  I learned what was between walls.  He taught me many of the little details that you need to observe to make something work right and last long. 

My father did not teach me everything he knows about keeping a house in good repair, but he taught me everything that I know.  He did it by showing me.  He taught me about tools by putting them in my hands.  I experienced what the right tools did and how using them properly made the work easier, made impossible work suddenly doable.

My father often explained the principles behind what we did.  When he helped me move into my new house he noticed that we had a two-car garage, but only one car.  He told me that was a problem.  Why? I asked.  “Because you will fill one side up with stuff.”  He was right.  When we could finally afford a second car, we had a lot of work to do to clear the garage to make room for it.

Our Heavenly Father gave us earthly fathers to teach us much about Him.  As do the fathers of our flesh, the Father of our spirits allows us to learn by helping Him with His work.  He revealed that His work is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)  The Father often does this important work by getting us to help Him.  He calls upon us to help our brothers and sisters, His children. 

The Lord does not need our help.  “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Nephi 27:21), He said.  Our Father often does that work by giving us the tools to help one another, teaching us how to use the tools, and then working with us.  He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to show us how by example (and to fix our mistakes).  By doing that helping work we become more Christlike.  We learn to love each other as the Father and His Son love us.  We learn to become like Them.  We also learn to teach and love our children, as the Father loves us.

Of Mothers and Sons

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Just a few years ago, which after this last 12 months seems like another era, I witnessed an event at Penn Station that still moves me.  I was seated at a crowded food court.  With time on my hands before my train, I was enjoying a little something that I hoped was gluten-free (a diet prompted by genetics rather than preference).

A dozen steps away was a man behind a counter selling ice-cream snacks.  With shuffling steps a gaunt, old, grey panhandler approached.  His hand pulled something from the pocket of his ill-fitting battered trousers.  I could see that it was some change, which he was counting as he shambled toward the counter.  There was a look of desire in his eyes, which took on a saddened cast as he paused, counted again, and turned away, just a few feet from the ice-cream counter.  His sum of pocket change was short.

I was not the only one watching.  At another end of the counter was a mother, enjoying ice-cream with her two teen-age boys.  A quick word from the mother to the older and taller son sent him on his way.  A couple of minutes and a brief conversation later the boy returned, escorting the old man.  In short order the man left again, with joy on his face and a tall, full ice-cream cone in his hand that just a few minutes before did not hold enough change.

That was it.  That was the end of the story.  Or was it?  A small expense became a rich lesson from mother to son.  The mother could have done nothing, or she might have called out to the disappointed man.  She sent her son and gave him a personal experience in kindness that the boy may long remember into manhood.

The service was not requested.  It was spontaneously offered.  The gift, the effort, the quick initiative, was a small event converted into a teaching moment by a mother drawing from ready wells of charity.  I feel confident that the mother did not know that I was a witness, as her attention was on both sons and on a man who could have a moment of disappointment, reinforcing his penury, converted into a bright memory of happiness.  Which was sweeter for him, the ice-cream or the friendly attention?  I suspect that the mother and her sons gained a happiness, too, sensing how their simple act of humanity toward a fellow child of God connected them all in a moment of goodness.

This was charity.  I do not refer to the price of the ice-cream but to what made it a gift.  The scriptures define this charity as the pure love of Christ, which can well up from our hearts in precisely the method and moment when it is needed.  There was nothing premeditated in the event.  It was just a mother from her fountain of love, blessing a luckless man, a son and his brother, and at least one witness who will hope to remain vigilant for when such opportunities cross my path.

Surely there are greater acts of love than this.  Yet millions of such small personal kindnesses are a contagious mortar that builds a community.  I am grateful for mothers who feel to teach that to their sons.

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