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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  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.

Live In Thanksgiving Daily

Image result for gratitude

I feel like this year has been a slog thru the trenches of life for me and my family. One of the things that has helped me this year as I have navigated some pretty big trials is to be grateful and to show gratitude is hand writing thank you notes. I bought a big box of thank you cards in the spring when I was recovering from a broken foot and spent time each day writing thank you notes to people that had come into our home to serve me and my family. It felt good to hand write a card, to stick a stamp on it and wait for the mailman to take it away. I love a well written thank you note. Its something we need to bring back, don’t you think? (The only answer is yes here).

Sister Bonnie D Parkin, former Relief Soceity General President said of gratitude,

“Gratitude is a Spirit-filled principle. It opens our minds to a universe permeated with the richness of a living God. Through it, we become spiritually aware of the wonder of the smallest things, which gladden our hearts with their messages of God’s love. This grateful awareness heightens our sensitivity to divine direction. When we communicate gratitude, we can be filled with the Spirit and connected to those around us and the Lord. Gratitude inspires happiness and carries divine influence. “Live in thanksgiving daily,” said Amulek, “for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.”

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to concentrate on gratitude in our family — even more than I already make my kids do — they roll their eyes most days, because I won’t let them complain until they’ve told me three unique things they are thankful for. Usually by the time they get to the second thing, their gripe is dampened, or gone altogether. I hope you will join me and my family in our daily thanksgiving, and comment here on my posts as I make them. I’m inviting you to reach deep inside and think and ponder on the things you are thankful for. I’m also inviting you to share that gratitude with those in your circle — and beyond just social media, which is fine, but let’s take it to the next level which is connecting with people. Reach out to the people in your life and share the spirit of gratitude with them I feel like if we can be grateful ourselves and encourage others to also be grateful, we might be successful in diffusing some of the angst in our respective circles, with the hope that we might all be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit in the process.

Happy November!


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.

Turning Something Very Good Into Something Very Bad

Jacob Z. Hess

This is the fourth of a seven-part series, “Recruiting Alma the Younger” (see earlier essays on attachment injury, the pain of separation from the Saints and historical claims against the Church). Appreciations to Public Square Magazine and Meridian Magazine for sharing this previously. 

When a divorce takes place, something else almost always happens before:  whatever had once been earnestly, easily embraced as good and beautiful comes to be experienced as definitely not good and anything but beautiful. In the place of previous preciousness, new feelings of aching animosity often arise, alongside a new understanding of one’s partner, the relationship, and its history – as old memories are swapped out for a very different story.    

This happens with a dissolving marriage. And it does with the end of other kinds of unions, including in relation to faith communities. 

In a talk earlier this month, Russell M. Nelson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, outlined some of the humanitarian work the Church had been able to accomplish in a single year with the help of member contributions, including:

  • 400,000 food orders given out to hungry individuals
  • 300,000 people in 35 countries receiving vision care 
  • 50,000 people in dozens of countries receiving wheelchairs
  • Thousands of mothers in 39 countries receiving newborn care
  • Over 100 disaster-relief projects around the world helping victims of hurricanes, fires, floods, earthquakes, and other calamities

Since these efforts began, hundreds of communities in 76 countries have also received clean water, with a total of more than two billion dollars provided in aid to people throughout the world independent of “church affiliation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender, or political persuasion.”

To many observers—even those who wouldn’t consider themselves religious—such efforts would be reliable markers of a people and an organization that is “good.”But especially over the last decade, more and more have come to see this faith community (along with other religions) in a very different light. 

How does something good on its face, come to be experienced as bad?  

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