Art of possibility

January 5, 2010

Last night we had a Concert Choir “Family Home Evening” with our illustrious conductor, Sister Hall. She taught an inspiring lesson on a theme that is treated frequently throughout scripture, but which can be hard to understand in its real and practical sense:

For with God nothing shall be impossible
–Luke 1:37

The Art of Possbility


She referred to a book she read long ago that changed her vision on this topic, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. They postulated that almost everything we do in life is bound to some sort of measurement system. Those measurements could be in terms of money, social standing, popularity, ability, time, or any other such thing. Within the confines of these measurement systems, we’re always striving for “enough.” To have enough money, enough friends, enough time, enough talent. To be enough.

But the ironic thing is that as long as we let ourselves be bound by such a system, we will constantly be laboring in the realm of “not enough.” We never have quite enough, or we never are quite enough. That can be an incredibly discouraging and crippling thing.

Thinking outside the box


The well-known nine-dot puzzle illustrates this very well. When given the challenge of connecting these nine dots with four straight lines connected at their endpoints, many people struggle to find any possible solutions. Indeed, within the imaginary square confines of the nine dots themselves, the puzzle is impossible to solve. Those boundaries, however, were never specified in the original challenge–that is, they were artificially created by the person attempting to solve the puzzle. By removing these superfluous restrictions, the solution becomes possible, as illustrated here.

While none of us will ever quite be able to escape this world of measurement, one thing we certainly can do is create our own reality (or perception of reality, if you prefer). If 97% on a test doesn’t satisfy your parents, you can choose to get discouraged about it and draw those imaginary boundaries to that effect around your nine dots. But you can also decide that 97% is “quite good enough,” as Sister Hall put it, and be happy with it by refusing to confine your nine dots to someone else’s perception of success. While you may still be measured by other people, you have the ability to decide for yourself what kind of a reality you wish to have. Removing those unnecessary boundaries enables you to find greater satisfaction and happiness in your achievement at whatever level.

This comes, however, with a cost. Venturing outside the supposed boundaries makes you vulnerable to failure or ridicule if it turns out you were, after all, incorrect in your assumption. But the important thing to remember is that the greatest rewards come at the cost of the greatest sacrifices, and the more you work toward an end, the more valuable it will be to you after the struggles. Extraordinary people are willing to take those risks in order to (perhaps not without falling a few times first) reach higher levels of achievement than they had ever before imagined.

How you draw those boundaries around your nine dots is really only between you and the Lord, not anyone else if your life. While it may be (and often is) valuable to take advice from your loved ones, you are ultimately the one who must live with the reality you create. And you can choose to make that a happy and fulfilling reality or a confined and crippling one.

Sister Hall’s father gave her some excellent advice when she was struggling with an important life decision, simultaneously laboring under that realm of “not enough.” He said, “Why don’t you stop thinking about what you are not and start concentrating on what you are?” That loving counsel changed her life and made possible the career she now vigorously and successfully pursues.

Pursuing the art of possibility is a worthy, indeed, an essential endeavor if you wish to become an extraordinary person and achieve the levels of success you desire. Allowing others to circumscribe your nine dots only limits you. And while there are risks in casting off those artificial shackles, the rewards of success far outweigh the sacrifices.


Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize?

October 9, 2009

Now, I don’t usually write about politics, but this is an intriguing subject.

Are we awarding Nobel Peace Prizes on credit now? As cited in this article, the committee awarding the prize had a two-fold motivation: to praise the change in focus Obama has had on the world’s political outlook and to point out some of his initiatives “that have yet to bear fruit.” This sounds like the vice that keeps crashing the stock market.

Obama had only been president for two weeks before the nomination deadline of 1 February this year.

Thorbjørn Jagland, chariman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee since 2009, is quoted here as saying this: “You have to remember that the world has been in a pretty dangerous phase. And anybody who can contribute to getting the world out of this situation deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.”

While America does stand at the forefront of these issues (and Obama ostensibly stands at the head of American foreign policy), there are many political figures in the world who can potentially “contribute to getting the world out of this situation.” Shall we start awarding multiple Peace Prizes for all those people, too?

At the same time, I have no intention of criticizing Obama. I think he’s doing the best he can, and he’s accomplished some laudable things in the short months he’s already been president.

I only wonder a bit about the Nobel Peace Prize committee…

Rude awakening

September 5, 2009

A friend and I went to the Provo Temple tonight. We left that quiet, peaceful place about 9:00 pm. As we were walking down the busy street to get back home, countless cars were driving past, honking their horns and screaming (at us, I presumed). Having been a missionary, I was accustomed to having people yell at me, an awkward boy in a white shirt and tie with a black badge on my chest. You stick out in a crowd. So based on that previous experience, I was not fazed by the people screaming at the these two boys walking down the dark road wearing church clothes on a Saturday night. I thought sarcastically to myself, “Wow, these people sure are mature.”

At about this point I recalled that there had been a BYU football game earlier in the evening. It had started about 5:00 pm, and could logically have ended not too long ago. I looked at my cell phone and read a half-hour-old message from a family member joyfully informing me that we had beaten OU 14-13. My friend and I finally put two and two together and deduced that this raucous celebration was staged in honor of our football team’s victory.

Now. This was all certainly not in my taste. But of course, I give these college students their liberties to celebrate as they wish. I have good reason to believe these students are not drunk, so they won’t hit me with their cars, try as they may to bombard me with their horns and shouts. As long as I can go on with my life as normal.

But now imagine a different someone. This person knows (and cares) little about college football. She has never experienced a drive-by honking before, let alone one after an obscure victory which seems so insignificant to her and yet so important to everyone else. How jarring and unsettling is such an experience for such a someone? What an odd culture we have! Driving about the city for hours honking your horn because your favorite team has won a game. How futile it all seems!

On the other hand, word has it that resistance is futile. Perhaps we shall just let the world run its merry course….

Microcosmic intersection

July 17, 2007

A microcosm is a self-contained world, a subset of one’s experiences. But for a microcosm to be completely isolated from all others is hardly possible. In our everyday lives we move in and out of various microcosms, each containing its own people, places, circumstances, and associated ideas. It is this intersection of microcosms I wish to study here.

The most obvious contrast is that of work and home. My work is a much different environment than my family life, which isn’t a bad thing. The people I know at my job are great, and I very much enjoy working with them. And my family is wonderful (which goes without saying :-)). But my family has never met my coworkers, and my coworkers have never met my family. However, I have met all of them; both of these microcosms form a part of my experience.

Now, I look at each person around me and must realize that I am only seeing the part of them that fits within the microcosm in which I know them. My work supervisor has a family life, and certainly many hobbies and interests not related to information technology. And sometimes he does tell us about them. But the perception I have of him is largely defined by his knowledge, behavior, and idiosyncracies as they emerge on and relate to the job.

A similar statement can be made of the friends I roomed with last year in college, the people in my classes, or acquaintances I made in various other situations. I may only have seen a small part of their character or merely scratched the surface of their depth of knowledge. Much more would be evident if I were to see a larger cross section of their lives.

In the same way that I see only a part of someone’s character in light of one microcosm, I understand the people and the world around me through the lenses of all the microcosms that comprise my life experience. One of my friends has taught me a tremendous amount about friendship. I only know as much about him as he has allowed me to see, but I know he has had a great deal more experience than I. As he has patiently shared the knowledge he has gained from his microcosmic intersections, he has expanded my view and helped me better understand myself and others. He is a part of my microcosmic intersection.

My family, of course, has taught me much about life, responsibility, and respectability. Both of my parents are well educated and want their children to be so, too. They have had many experiences that have defined them and made them the wonderful parents they are. I have benefited from their experience and knowledge as they have taught me and helped me become the person I am today. They are a part of my microcosmic intersection.

Reading and writing in the blogging community has taught me much about technology, current opinion, and writing. Certainly the bloggers with whom I interact (however indirectly that interaction be) form the most diverse microcosm of which I am a part, as they span the globe and run the gamut of political and religious belief, interest, and experience. They are a part of my microcosmic intersection.

Religion has always played a major role in my life and has helped me develop the beliefs and values I hold dear. I have met so many good people through my involvement in this microcosm who have taught and nurtured me. The unifying power of religion has brought our separate spheres and ideas into focus and shaped our lives. Religion is a part of my microcosmic intersection.

I think it would be well for us to look around ourselves and recognize the people and the microcosmic intersections that define our views of life. Each person has his own ideas and opinions, beliefs and values, defined by his microcosms. These microcosms contain other people who have their own views and goals. Thus we see the great circle: the macrocosm of the human race is viable only because each of us has vitality and individuality and yearns for interaction with others.

Life is defined by microcosmic intersection.

Can religion help deal with addictions?

July 11, 2007

Of course it can! I have long believed religion is crucial to helping people overcome addictions and deal with the challenges of life. I read this article today on Tantalus Prime that indirectly lends support to my opinion:

If you ascribe to the dopamine theory of reward, then you should also contend that replacing drugs with something else that activates dopamine release (a chat with a loved one, taking the kids to an amusement park, strolling through an art gallery) would be essential. Economic opportunity, a sense of community, recreational activities and generally something more to live for than a temporary high would do more to abate drug use in this country than many of the other methods used today. Which I think goes along with Ms. Satel’s opinion that addiction needs a behavioral rather than medical solution.

Trying to reform behavior directly is often ineffective, but helping the people change their environment will have a much more lasting effect. President Boyd K. Packer has said this:

I have long believed that the study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than talking about behavior will improve behavior. –Boyd K. Packer, Ensign May 1997

Another quote is fitting:

The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. –Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign July 1989