About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

Misunderstanding v. Stupidity

Detail from Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther

In 1980 a Mr. Hanlon wrote, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

“Stupidity” is such a modern and offensive term. As I dug into the history of Hanlon’s Razor (as it is now called), I tumbled across a much earlier version, written by Goethe in 1774:

Misunderstandings and lethargy 1 perhaps produce more wrong in the world than deceit and malice do.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774). Die Leiden des jungen Werthers or The Sufferings of Young Werther (in eng). Translated 1907 by Bayard Quincy Morgan. p. 14.

Do we give each other the benefit of the doubt, allowing that there might be a mere misunderstanding rather than intentional malice? Are we too lazy to find out the underlying details?

This matters to me because I care about Joseph Smith. I find that the root of today’s “faith crisis” fad within the Church of Jesus Christ can be found in what people think about Joseph Smith. In my view, these sufferors and those wishing to minister to them fundamentally misunderstand what happened in Nauvoo in the 1840s and they don’t bother trying to really find out the details. Using a facile and unchallenged version of Church history, then, many attribute malice and deceit to Joseph Smith.

I assert that when one understands the full history of Nauvoo, it is impossible to see Joseph Smith as either malicious or deceitful.

Returning to Hanlon’s Razor, it is widely accepted that “you can’t fix stupid.” When we are guided by Hanlon, we are led to depair when seemingly malicious incidents occur. But if we are guided by Goethe, misunderstandings can yield to information. In Goethe’s world It becomes possible to exert oneself and overcome lethargy or sloth.

We can fix the wrongs of the world. It isn’t easy. But it can be done. So whether your challenge involves misunderstanding regarding the restored gospel, disagreements over climate change, or inability to speak civilly about anything with family at the holiday table, we can change this world from a cesspool of hate and anger towards a concensus of understanding and love.

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Notes:

  1. The German term in the original is Trägheit, meaning “possessing the property of being slow.” I think a better word in the translation would have been sloth.

Change…

Screenshot of browser interface to Scriptures at ChurchofJesusChrist.org

No matter what change occurs, someone will complain. I try not to be one of those people.

Other times change is amazing and awesome. For example, a recent purchase of a new TV gave us much easier access to all kinds of media, including an internet browser (the Silk Browser) we could use on our TV. Things were great, being able to bring the scriptures and Gospel Study aids up on our relatively large TV screen. It was pretty amazing. We could read while the audio read aloud to us. When there were embedded videos, we could click and play them. When the study guide suggested we read something, we could click and have the reference pop up on the screen for all to see.

No fumbling through fragile pages. No worry that someone in the room was using their phone or device for something else. Ability to scroll through content in a manner to ensure the less-able members of the group could follow along.

Then three things happened.

First, we got to May in the “Come, Follow Me” guide and I realized there was no way to scroll the left side. I quickly realized I could work around this for our continued study by signing in (the TV auto-filled my username and password) and using bookmarks to keep my place in both the “Come Follow Me” guide and the scripture reading. [Today I noticed this same “feature” when I use the website interface of a laptop computer, hence the post.]

Second, someone put a “Feedback” box on the middle of the right side of the screen. That would normally be fine, except that is where the next page arrow lives. After sufficient anger to prompt at least one instance of attempting to comment using the awkward TV remote “keyboard” interface, I figured out that I could click on the “Related Content” icon at the far upper right corner and open the side window, pushing the next page arrow out from under the “Feedback” box. After several days, I noted that the Feedback box had shifted off the next page arrow.

I was feeling like I had mastered things. Then came the day when I attempted to scroll down the page. And nothing happened. By this time the orange “Feedback” box had disappeared.

Now, this could all be a subtle way of getting us to use paper copies of the scriptures and manuals. Unfortunately, other websites or TV-provided media work just fine, so these “features” don’t succeed in dissuading folks from plastering their faces to the TV screen for other content.

I’m moderately sure that someone thinks the updated interface is wonderful. And maybe it’s just that I am slow and technologically backwards. If you know how to make the Church website sing and disgorge content on devices that don’t have a touch screen, please share!

If you have also run into challenges, please share what you do to study scriptures in light of the challenges. For example, my husband (who didn’t really like me using the TV for family scripture study) reads his verses from the Thomas Wayment edition of the New Testament. My daughter reads from her mini-quad with several ribbons. And I use my phone or tablet or (gasp) paper scriptures.

Partners

Washington DC Temple at dusk, 2011, by Joe Ravi (CC-BY-SA 3.0 )

Decades ago now a young man of my acquaintance told me he’d been prompted to ask me to marry him. A few days later we agreed to meet at the temple so the question could formally be asked and answered.

After the endowment session, the question was asked and answered. We parted to change for an activity later that evening. After I was ready I waited. After a while, I went downstairs, suspecting that there had been a miscommunication about where we were to meet. But my young man wasn’t there either.

Eventually my young man emerged from the dressing room, and we went out to a bench on the hill near the temple, where for many years couples have sat together to talk of things. It was there where my young man presented to me the delightful note he’d written to me in the changing room:

To my partner in the body,
Whose gaze fills me with love,
In whose arms I am blessed with peace;

To my partner in the heart,
With whom I share the delights in life,
With whom my voice and feelings sing;

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Balancing Truth and Propriety

The Three Wise Monkeys, Tosho-gu Shrine, Nikko, Japan, photo by Michael Maggs

Oh say, what is truth? The hymn claims it is the fairest gem the world can produce, an eternal and priceless treasure, the greatest prize to which mortals or Gods can aspire.

And yet not all truths are deemed appropriate to share.

One sort of truth that is not shared are truths which would endanger those we wish to protect. For example, true details related to communications and transportation of a head of state are typically not shared, to protect the person of the head of state.

Another sort of truth that is not shared are truths that would harm the consumer of the truth. For example, John Taylor did not share the truth that the protein-rich mash which so many pioneers ate to survive the winter of 1847/8 was derived from mashed crickets.

A third sort of truth that is not shared is unseemly and unnecessary detail. For example, it wasn’t really necessary for the child-me to tell my mother’s visiting teachers that my sibling had pin worms, given that this was not a detail my mother had chosen to share.

We live in a world where the Church has often deemed it appropriate to omit mention of select facts in lessons and visual media. Beyond the Church itself, those catering to either believers and those catering to traditions significantly opposed to the “Utah” Church curate their content to suit what they feel is appropriate for their respective audiences.

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Inspiring Stories

In 1957 then-Senator John (Jack) Kennedy published Profiles in Courage, biographies highlighting integrity and bravery which inspired a nation.

Some two years later, a boy named Huan Nguyen was born in Vietnam, a land that had been torn by war for many years. When Huan was still a child, Huan and his entire family were gunned down by Communist guerillas in their home outside Saigon. Huan stayed with his mother for hours until she died from her wounds. Huan himself had been shot in the skull, arm, and thigh. Yet Huan, alone of his family of eight, managed to survive. Following the death of his immediate family, Huan was taken in by his uncle, a Colonel in the Republic of Vietnam Air Force.

In 1975 Huan and his uncle were among the thousands who fled Saigon and were taken in by America. Huan remembers arriving at Camp Asam in Guam, watching as US Navy sailors and Marines toiled in the hot sun setting up tents and a chow hall, caring for Huan and his fellow refugees with respect.

Huan said, “I thought to myself how lucky I am to be in a place like America.”

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