Monday, 14 November 2016

A Recent Sacrament Meeting Talk on Sheep

Good morning Brothers and Sisters.  It is good to be with you today.  In fact it is always good to be with the Saints on Sunday in Sacrament meeting.

Before I begin my talk I need to tell you something about me so that you can put my remarks in context.  Prior to retiring I worked in Human Resources and my degree is in psychology.  This means that I tend to act and think like a psychologist.

While studying for my degree I found that not all psychological theories held the same interest to me.  I would like to tell you about one of the most controversial ones.  It is called Nero Linguistic Programming or NLP for short and it was developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, two psychologists at the University of California.  One of the theories of NLP is a communication technique called layering whereby the author or speaker embeds a story in a story.  In some examples multiple stories are embedded.  The Book of Mormon is a classic example of this technique.

Part of the development of NLP was based on communication theories.  I used some of what I learned about NLP years ago when I was gave a talk in Sacrament.  I would like to tell you about what I said in this talk and the reaction I got.

In my talk I borrowed a story from one of the first books Dr. Grinder published on NLP.  In his book John told about a talk he gave to a group of therapist who were interested in learning NLP.  He told them of a visit he made to a friend of his who was a sheep rancher.  In the course of their visit John asked the man how he came to be a sheep rancher.  The rancher then told him how when he was a young boy he met a transfer student from Israel named Eli who inspired him to go into sheep ranching.  John asked what was it about Eli that meeting him had such a profound impact on this life.  The rancher said that Eli's life on a kibbutz in Israel, which was a communal farm where they raised sheep sounded so romantic that he knew that this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.  One of the most important things Eli told the rancher was something he learned from an old shepherd who taught this young boy all about herding and tending sheep.  Eli said that the old shepherd said that the two most important things he learned about tending sheep were that sheep are very lovable.  The second was that sheep were tipesh which is Hebrew for idiots.

As I reflected on this story I couldn't help but think of how often the Savior referred to us as his sheep.  So I went to my wife and asked "When the Savior says that we are His sheep does that mean that He thinks we are lovable idiots?"  She laughed and said, "Of course, take you for example!" She then proceeded to pull out a three ring binder full of all the idiotic things I had ever done in my life to prove her point.  Somewhat crest fallen I slunk away to lick my wounds.  As I was commiserating by myself I decided to phone a good friend hoping he would cheer me up.  And what he said made me feel a little better.

While he agreed with my wife because we are all idiots in one way or another, he explained that what my wife was calling an idiot was only one definition.  He said what my wife was referring to is all the little things we do in life that for the most part are an unavoidable part of life, things like forgetting your wife's birthday or your wedding anniversary.  These things, he said, don't make one an idiot in the strictest sense.  He said a real idiot is somewhat different and asked me if I wanted to know how he defined the word idiot.  I replied yes.

He said that idiots come in four degrees each progressively worse that the proceeding one.

A first degree idiot, he said, is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't.

A second degree idiot is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't and acts accordingly.

A third degree idiot is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't, acts accordingly and then shares his or her option with others.

A fourth level idiot is someone who thinks something is true when it isn't, acts accordingly, shares his or her option with others, and does all this in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

After my talk a few of people came up to me and asked a number of questions.  One person asked what I thought was the most critical question of all.  He said, "It seems like you have set an impossible task for yourself because if you think something is true, how do you know it isn't?

I said that what I did to ensure that I wasn't an idiot was to cultivate the habit of looking for disconfirming evidence.  To explain what I meant by that I shared the following example from the Scriptures.  It is in Moroni chapter 10 verse 4.

4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

I then asked them, what is the best question you can come up with that follows this injunction exactly.  This is the question they came up with.  "Is the Book of Mormon not true?"

We then discussed the difference between this question and the one that I'm sure most missionaries would recommend which is, "Is the Book of Mormon true?"

The first thing I pointed out to them was that both questions are logically equivalent.  In other words they mean the same thing.  And if they mean the same thing then it doesn't matter which you use.  Either way you will get a correct answer.

The next thing I mentioned is that while both questions are logically the same there is a huge difference in the long term use of a question with negation.  The most critical difference is that you can ask and re-ask a question with negation because it indicates that you admit to yourself that you might be wrong, even on things that you strongly believe in.  We call this trait humility.

I then mentioned the fact that the Lord uses negation a lot in the Book of Mormon.  Here is a good example from 2 Nephi 27:23.

23 For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.

I explained that this type of syntax makes reading the Scriptures much more difficult than if the negation was omitted but that I believe that this wouldn't be as effective because negation leads to the process of looking for disconfirming evidence.

I then shared an experience Elder Holland had with disconfirming evidence.

He and his seven year old son were on a day trip to explore some the country where Elder Holland grew up as a boy.  As they were returning they came to a fork in the road and Elder Holland didn't know which fork to take so he and his son prayed.  They both received the same answer and took the fork to the right.  Ten minutes later they came to a dead end.  They then turned around, went back to the fork, and took the other turn which lead them safely home.  As soon as it was evident that they were on the right road Elder Holland's son asked, "Why would the answer to our prayers send us down the wrong road?"

Elder Holland explained that if they had taken the left turn on a road, which was unknown to him, his doubts would have eventual got the best of him and he would have turned around, gone back to the fork in the road and by then it would have so dark that getting home safely would have been an issue.  Going down the wrong road was the quickest and surest way to ensure they returned home safely.

By then it was time for us to hustle off to Sunday school so let me end my story here but there is another chapter to this story if anyone is interested.

Brother and Sisters I believe that as we come to understand the techniques God uses in his communications with us we will come to know Him and His son better.  And as we understand the techniques He uses we will come to better understand the content of His messages and how they pertain to our lives.  And as we do these things we will become better servants in His hands.  Looking for dis-confirming evidence is one of those techniques.  It leads to life long learning.  If you learn to apply this technique it will bless your life.

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