Tag Archives: skeptics

The Wisdom of the Sunflower

We were driving through the desert, passing by the dry bed of an alkaline lake in the Great Basin. Fifty feet from the roadway, there was a forbidding desert landscape full of sagebrush and cactus. And yet, at the edge of the pavement there were tall, palm-of-the-hand-sized sunflowers.

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I love sunflowers. I never cease to admire the way they can thrive in harsh environments. Their welcome splash of bright color stands out against the muted browns and greens surrounding them, and as a foreground for hazy blue mountains in the distance.
No matter how forbidding the environment in which they grow, they are always seeking the light.
Do you know people like that? I do. Some grew up in very harsh, unloving, even dangerous environments, and yet they thrived. The reason? They sought out the light. They have made productive lives for themselves and made important, lasting contributions in other lives as well.
Does that sound like a Pollyanna outlook? Once upon a time I might have said so, but living with an unfailing optimist for 50 years has changed my thinking. I have learned that always expecting things to turn out darkly does not accomplish anything and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of expecting the worst, why not work toward the best possible outcome?

A very wise man I respect as a prophet of God used to repeat this advice from his father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
I may be a natural-born skeptic and something of a pessimist, but experience has taught me this: the solutions to my problems in life are found not in lamenting the darkness, but in seeking out the light.

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We love the dawning light.

Our eternal spirits crave

the constant illumination

that comes from Heavenly Father.

No one can take His light from us.

Sometimes we give it up

for lesser, faded things,

until we find ourselves

locked in lives of darkness. 

But when we choose the light

we can see with sharpening view

the everlasting glory

He wants to share with us.

“Save the government”

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When our third- and fourth-grade grandchildren come over to visit, they like to play in the unfinished room in our basement. Sometimes they set up the card tables and chairs to play “school,” or “store,” or “city government.” I was a bit shocked and saddened a couple of days ago to find two signs they had posted on the wall: “Save the government,” and “Make it so terror does not become the government.”

I wondered: Are we adults responsible for this? Have we somehow instilled in them such anxiety about what is going on in the world that they fear for their freedom? Is this the legacy national leaders are leaving to children—doubt and fear?

Children should not have to worry that their way of life—freedom as they know it—is going to disappear.

They hear, and they know. Times have been tumultuous recently, especially in the political arena. Our resolve and our commitment to a democratic republic have been tested, and the tests are ongoing.

Integrity seemed to be an early casualty in the 2016 election campaign. Honesty and civility suffered severe setbacks. Freedom of speech and thought are under ongoing attack.

But I still have confidence in the right to think and speak what we believe to be right. I have hope that in the end this freedom will prevail.

Now, I am a natural-born pessimist. I tend to believe Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” I live prepared for people to disappoint me, seeking their own welfare first and foremost, ignoring the common good. (And how often, I have to ask, am I guilty of this?)

Fortunately, my wife–ever the optimist in our home–balances me out.

But as I have gotten older, I have become more optimistic. I have come to realize more and more that living in expectation of trouble is no way to build a worthwhile life. If you want happiness, look for it, seek it out, and if necessary, make it yourself. If you don’t want to be weighed down by gloom at the end of the day, look for happiness and joy along the way. They are there when you pay attention. Did you find them in the slant of early light through the trees this morning? In the mother at the store with a young child, or children, curiously and delightedly getting to know the world around them? In a quiet opportunity to read and ponder great ideas?

More and more I have tried to implement in my life the counsel of a man I accepted and honored as a prophet of God. Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “There is a terrible epidemic of pessimism in the land. . . . I come . . . with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.” He shared this counsel from his wise father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.”

We can all learn from our mistakes, of course, and we all have need to repent of our sins and errors. But when we look at those mistakes, do we also consider the good that may have come from our more selfless actions?

Struggle in this life begins when we are very young, and it will continue as long as we live on earth. After more than 70 years of facing it, the only useful approach I see to dealing with this struggle is simply to keep going on. Move forward. When you keep moving forward, you eventually reach your goals.

Again, I have come to rely on the counsel of Gordon B. Hinckley: “Keep trying. . . . Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.”

That is a lesson I hope to help my grandchildren learn.