Sunday, August 12, 2018

Seeking Correction

God called Moses the meekest man. We don't have his full story, but we do know that this man was accomplished in whatever he did. In the first 40 years of his life, he managed to become the greatest hero of the world's most powerful nation. He was a military and civic leader. We don't know much about his spiritual growth in that period, but he knew something both of the Hebrew religion and the purpose God had for him. After his exile from Egypt, Moses took up a career as a shepard--a vocation that was considered an abomination in the Egyptian culture in which he was raised. And he was an undershepard at that--in the service of a man who was no doubt many times the inferior of his previous socioeconomic position as prince of Egypt. Then Moses met God, went to Egypt, and worked many great miracles.

This man who had dwelt in heaven for 40 days, parted the sea, etc., was approached by his father in law--who had had none of these experiences as far as we know--with advice. What was Moses' response? "So Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he had said." (Exodus 18:24)

What would your response be? It turns out that our response to correction is perhaps the most important factor in how close to God we grow in this life. If salvation is a function of knowledge (and it is), and if correction from others is the primary mechanism for conveying light and truth (and it is), then how we respond to criticism is the key upon which salvation hinges.

11 The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
12 Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law;
(Psalm 94)

What is the role of correction in the gospel?

5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.
11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
(Proverbs 3)
Every second of life is an opportunity to test the accuracy of your models. Every experience will either support or refute your principles--your way of simplifying and making sense of the world. Your simplifying model is how you operate without engaging your active brain. As an example of this, have you ever driven to work without consciously thinking about what you are doing? You turn the key, back out, pull into the road, and so on, until you get to work. This is what you've done every day, and since you've never encountered an exception where your behavior proved to be insufficient, you don't have to think about it. Compare this to the first time you drove to your job. You were thinking the whole time. Even with a GPS, you had to actively map the GPS instructions to your visual experience.

When your model is supported, you feel great. You don't have to use your active brain. When your model is refuted, you are robbed from the comfort of passive thinking. There is a hole in your model: either you are missing something or something is wrong. The pain of being wrong is magnified beyond the direct application. Were you to drive to work one day and find that the main road does not exist, you would not only be very confused about how to get to work, you would wonder how you could be so sure about this and be wrong and still be confident in the passive models that make up the majority of your life. This is why those who are going through a faith transition get so much negative response from their spouses. Their spouses are thinking, "if they are willing to change this fundamental, never-changing thing, what else might they change?" Suddenly, all of these things they took for granted--your vocational stability, your living condition, maybe even your marriage--are no longer passive guarantees.

Correction is the discovery of weakness in your model. These are opportunities to discover how to have a more accurate view of reality. Whatever is more accurate is better, without exception. Illusions can bring pleasure or comfort, but always with interest. The bill always comes due, and when it does, it will always cost far more than acting according to a more accurate estimate of reality would have.

Here is an example to illustrate my point. My kids are scared of heights. Maybe all kids are. There is a fire escape staircase outside of the building I work in. I always leave via those steps. The steps are made out of metal grates, and my office is a few floors up. The kids always freeze when they go outside, and I have to hold their hands and show them it is safe to walk on the grates, even though they can see the ground. If somehow I could put cardboard over the floor, they wouldn't be scared. But the reality is they are high up from the ground, and they ought to be more careful. Closing your eyes on a tightrope might ease your fear, but it won't make you safer, and might be the last decision you make.

Humility as the measurement of how much we seek to be corrected

Most adults get excited at the idea of going to a party, a baseball game, or some other social event. How excited do you get when you are corrected? We ought to love correction.

There is a famous experiment where rats' affinity for wrestling each other was measured. Rats have a good variation of strength, and strong rats tend to always win wrestling matches. Scientists expected the strong rats to win every time. Yet, what they found was that, as long as the big rats let the little rats win about 30% of the time, the little rats would continue to enthusiastically initiate wrestling.

Humans are much the same way. We have a ratio of wins to loses that has to be maintained before we quit. I know people who have to be right 100% of the time. I know people who need to be right 90% of the time. What is your ratio of willingness of being wrong? Marriage scientists John Gottman says that humans require 5 positive interactions for every correction, so maybe that is the average. By this account, humans are far worse than rats at seeking further light and truth...

But what difference does it make? Who cares if we need to be right 95% or 70% of the time, right?Wrong. "And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (D&C 130:19) What difference does 10 or 20% make? All the difference in the world, and in the next. 

Correction is always a good thing. "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty." (Job 5:17) Every time anyone accepts correction, they are better off than they were before.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:11)
What does it mean to reject correction? It means that we would rather trust in ourselves than God. It means we think we know better than God. It means that we prefer to wallow in our own ignorance than accept a higher path provided by a God who loves us perfectly and knows better than we do what will lead to our greatest happiness.
31 The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.
32 He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.
33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility. (Proverbs 15)
Humility is a word thrown around a lot. What is real humility? It is how much correction you can take before you quit!

How much correction can you take before you quit? We should love correction, and get as much of it as we can. Jacob is a great example of humility. He didn't quit at 0% (see this post). Jeremiah was a good example of humility. In spite of his awful life, he said:
23 O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
24 O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing. (Jeremiah 10)
We ought to seek 100%, no holds barred correction. Those who are not at this state cannot achieve Zion:

And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself. (JST Genesis 9:21)

We ought to beg and plead with God to correct us, and be diligent in seeking every interaction with others as a potential correction. "Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish. (Proverbs 12:1)" We ought to feast on the scriptures and other materials that could expose our weaknesses.

I have previously taught that as an individual grows in light and truth, they become less capable of reaching those lower on the truth spectrum. One reason for this is that the more spiritually intelligent a person is, the more often their interactions with someone will be correcting in nature. It is easy to imagine a situation where one person has something to teach another person more than 70% of the time, let alone more than 10% of the time. Most humans are less willing to learn than most rats, so that is a problem, and why those who are close to God spend their time as outcasts from society. People don't want to learn, they want to be left alone. That is, until the bill comes due, at which point they seek a consequence mule to take up the burden they were unwilling to anticipate.

When is it good to correct others?

Salvation is an individual affair. While this means that the righteousness of another cannot save you, it does not mean that you have no responsibility to others. In fact, if you don't also teach others what you God has taught you, even perfect obedience to those instructions will not save you:
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
Part of having light is letting that light shine, which requires sharing it with others.
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 5)
You are responsible for the consequences of another's actions until and unless you ensure that they are aware of them.
When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. (Ezekiel 3:18)
The only exception to this rule is when you have already given that person a lesser invitation and they have rejected it:
7 He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.
8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. (Proverbs 9:7-9)
But is it kind to correct others? How is it kind not to correct someone? If a principle is true, and someone doesn't have it, and you withhold it from them, you are exposing them to all the negative consequences of not having it. Is that kind? No, it is selfish. Kindness is doing what would lead to the greatest good with the person. Giving them what they want is not kindness, when you know better.

Paul taught that one way God shows his love is through correction.
5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
(Hebrews 12)
Anyone can give a person what they want. Only a real friend will give you what you need, whether or not they are wise enough to know it.

A lot of times, they don't know it, and correcting them is going to offend them. They will say that you are wrong, that you are judging them, or that what you ask is impossible.

Maybe you are wrong. An honest introspection should produce a great rebuttal, and maybe you will learn something.

You are certainly judging them. This isn't a bad thing, as long as you are right.

As far as impossibility goes, God never commands what we cannot do. When it comes to self-improvement, awareness is a guarantee that it is possible:
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7)

It seems that everyone seems to have a line in the sand. Should they? No. But they will. Sometimes, even that small correction will make the person so offended that they will cut you off. Jesus said that laying down your life for your friends is the highest sign of love. Is losing your friend easier or harder than giving your life for them?

Should a person's line in the sand prevent you from correcting them? No, but start with the smallest possible correction. If a person can't accept a small invitation, they will reject a larger one as sure as the sun rises each morning, because light cleaves to light and those who turn away from a little light will always turn away from more.

How should you correct others?

Here is a question to contemplate: How did you come to the knowledge you are about to share? Chances are, you acquired it at a great price, with much time and effort. It takes an immense amount of skill, or at least deliberation, to package what required a great deal of time and effort to acquire into a bite-sized package that will be instantly digestible to someone else. An analogy: suppose it took you 15 years of education to get to the point where you learned the ins and outs of integral calculus. Suppose you come across a young teenager who has a problem calculus can solve. Can you get him to the point where he understands enough about calculus to get the job done in, say, 15 minutes? Of all those who know calculus, what percentage could simplify it to practicality instantaneously? This is the meaning of the verse: "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." (2 Timothy 4:2)

The mission of the army special forces is to train indigenous rabble into functional soldiers. Each member of the unit is capable of training and leading a platoon of indigenous pseudo soldiers. The level of skill they impart is not overly sophisticated, and yet the Green Berets are recognized as the most highly trained soldiers of all. It takes a great deal more knowledge to masterfully impart a well-constructed invitation to advance than it does to actually make that advancement. This is a case of the tip of the iceberg vs. the underwater mass.

You don't just dump what you know on someone. You learned these things slowly, over time. God gave these things to you not so that you could vomit them onto someone else, but so that you can exercise your faculties to construct a suitably controlled experience crafted to ensure the highest likelihood of acceptance in the person you are correcting.


Jesus gave the disciples an out. He asked them whether they would cloak themselves in willful ignorance, saving themselves from the ever more apparent difficulty of their discipleship in the illusion that he was not who he claimed to be. He asked them who they thought he was. Peter's reply must be our own: he is the Christ, and no matter how difficult his path may be, what other path is there? He alone gives the words of eternal life. And what are those words? They are the corrections we receive.

In this life, we can hide from the truth. We can shield our ignorance with illusion and thereby avoid correction. But 1) this does not shield us from the consequences of ignorance, and 2) when we die, we are fully exposed to things as they are, with no shield of ignorance. In a sense, we are in a pit, and no amount of wishing is going to get us out. The path out is long and brutal, but staying is far worse.

One day soon, you are going to die. You didn't come to this world to be comforted in illusion. You came here to acquire greater light and truth. The sand is running through the hourglass. Your satisfaction here and hereafter will be determined by one thing: how hard did you try to acquire further light and truth? You control the flow, 100%. Realize that the more you constrain that flow, the less joy you will have in this life and after this life.