Several months ago, I ran into a former seminary student and the younger sibling of two other former students. Both offered flattering words about their disappointment that I was released a few months earlier. We were having a lovely exchange when the former student mentioned an incident when we had Krispy Kreme doughnuts. He managed to get icing everywhere—and I do mean everywhere. It was on the kitchen counter, microwave, floor, and tracked into the dining area. He laughed and said, “We never had doughnuts again—everyone said it was my fault.”
One minute I was a rock star and the next I felt like scum. It was like a punch to my stomach.
I remembered too clearly the ribbing and teasing he received for making such a mess. I also remember quite clearly that I did nothing to intervene. I could have and should have hugged him and enlisted everyone to help clean up and made it a funny-for-all situation. I did not. I could have been a builder.
I have since played that exchange over and over in my mind and I get sick to my stomach when I do. It brings to mind this poem “The Wrecker” by Charles Benvegar:
As I watched them tear a building down
A gang of men in a busy town
With a ho-heave-ho, and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and the side wall fell.
I asked the foreman: “Are these men skilled,
And the men you’d hire if you wanted to build?”
He gave a laugh and said, “No, indeed,
Just common laborers is all I need.”
“I can easily wreck in a day or two,
What builders have taken weeks to do.”
And I thought to myself, as I went my way,
Which of these roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Am I shaping my work to a well-made plan
Patiently doing the best I can?
Or am I a wrecker who walks to town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
“O Lord let my life and my labors be
I was sitting around a dining table chatting with girlfriends the other night. We were on the topic of traveling, specifically, with young children. One told of flying with children who have nut allergies. In advance, she alerted the airline and they assured her that the rows her family were seated in and surrounding ones would be fastidiously vacuumed prior to their boarding.
That did not happen. In fact, it was quite the opposite. There were nut fragments in and around the seats. With anxiety levels already running high, she whipped out her disinfectant wipes and set to work sterilizing the seats, arms and all surrounding surfaces to protect her children from an allergic reaction. This was a mom in full throttle protection mode.
Apparently there came a point during this cleaning exercise where her children kicked or knocked the back of the seats of the passengers in front of them. To this, the passengers laid back their seats. Soon, an exchange ensued that involved them telling her to control her children and her pretty much telling them what they could do with their advice.
Most of my friends all seemed to rally around the mother-bear protecting her cubs.
On the other hand, I never had young children (we adopted a 16-year-old) and until this conversation, never fully considered what it might be like from the mother’s perspective to travel with little ones. I am usually that business traveler who looks forward to some peace and quiet, possibly catching up on some sleep before running off to meetings after the flight lands. I know I have given an unruly child’s mother the evil eye on occasion.
When our friend reenacted the confrontation, I actually told her I would probably have phoned the frequent flyer desk demanding they move me to a better seat or that she be taken off the flight. I know, it’s really ugly writing that, but I really was that type of person. And, in hearing her story, I was a little freaked out at how quickly I returned to that person I used to be.
Seriously, it is hard work teaching myself to be nice at all times. How did the Savior do it—always building, never wrecking?
During His sermon on the mount, Jesus said:
“For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” (Matthew 5:46-48).
It’s easy to show love and have compassion for my friends and family. Much harder when people annoy me or get in my personal space. However, if I am going to become more like Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father, which is the ultimate goal, then I need to learn to put myself in the shoes of people who are not like me and who sometimes annoy.
Elder Marvin J. Ashton said:
“Be one who nurtures and who builds. Be one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart, who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them,” (General Conference, April 1992).
I have rerun my friend’s airplane story in my mind. What if some other passenger had said to her, “You seem to be a little stressed out, can I help you?” What if someone had enlisted the annoyed passengers to help? The moment might have taken on an opposite dynamic.
It is amazing how quickly tempers can escalate when we are more worried about our well-being that that of those around us. How different this woman’s experience would have been if a Spencer W. Kimball type showed up on the scene like he did this time:
“A young mother on an overnight flight with a two-year-old daughter was stranded by bad weather in the Chicago airport without food or clean clothing for the child and without money. She was … pregnant and threatened with miscarriage, so she was under doctor’s instructions not to carry the child unless it was essential. Hour after hour she stood in one line after another, trying to get a flight to Michigan. The terminal was noisy, full of tired, frustrated, grumpy passengers, and she heard critical references to her crying child and to her sliding her child along the floor with her foot as the line moved forward. No one offered to help with the soaked, hungry, exhausted child
“Then, the woman later reported, ‘someone came towards us and with a kindly smile said, “Is there something I could do to help you?” With a grateful sigh I accepted his offer. He lifted my sobbing little daughter from the cold floor and lovingly held her to him while he patted her gently on the back. He asked if she could chew a piece of gum. When she was settled down, he carried her with him and said something kindly to the others in the line ahead of me, about how I needed their help. They seemed to agree and then he went up to the ticket counter [at the front of the line] and made arrangements with the clerk for me to be put on a flight leaving shortly. He walked with us to a bench, where we chatted a moment, until he was assured that I would be fine. He went on his way. About a week later I saw a picture of Apostle Spencer W. Kimball and recognized him as the stranger in the airport” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball)
The truth is: I don’t want to be the person who gets annoyed any more. I want to be a builder, not a wrecker.
In one of the Savior’s parables He says, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
We generally think of this scripture in terms of showing service and love (or lack thereof). Let me rephrase it for this situation, “Inasmuch as you have unleashed your anger and frustration on one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
I would never speak to my Heavenly Father the way I have to some of my fellowmen.
I need to learn to treat everyone as I would like to be treated, even during stressful moments. I need to learn to recognize those moments when I could step into a situation and diffuse it before the wreck.
I wish I had a magic answer for how this is done. I don’t think there is one. Part of my journey through life is to learn and grow. I hope that in the future, more often than not, I can be seen as a builder and not remembered as a wrecker.
The Apostle Paul gave this advice to his young friend Timothy, that applies here, “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, and in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (Timothy 4:12).
President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
“No man or woman proceeds alone. All of us are largely the products of the lives which touch upon our lives.” (Stand A Little Taller, 295.)
Today, I tried to build and uplift. It’s progress.