Are You Suffering from Hardening of the Categories
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“Are You Suffering from Hardening of the Categories,” Ensign, July 1978, 27

Are You Suffering from Hardening of the Categories

Bill Johnson is an unhappy man.

His business is thriving; he’s not yet forty-five; his children are doing well in school; and his wife Carolyn is happy and affectionate. They hold family prayer and family home evening regularly. They pay a full tithing and contribute regularly to the budget and building fund.

This is unhappiness? Yes. Bill is constantly upset about something or other. Their oldest daughter Susan is dating Hans, who is going to leave on his mission in a few months. Han’s parents are Scandinavian immigrants who still have an accent—hasn’t seemed to hurt their successful real estate business, though. Bill keeps asking Susan why she can’t find some “American” boys to date.

It about drove Bill crazy last year when he saw one of his employees with a bumper sticker endorsing the candidate who was opposing Bill’s. Outraged, Bill demanded, “How can you endorse an idiot like that for commissioner?” He hasn’t gotten along with the employee since.

Women drivers bug Bill. His four-year-old ties his shoes so clumsily that Bill almost can’t stand helping him dress. It irritated him when the bishop called him to teach Sunday School and then waited three weeks before having him sustained in sacrament meeting.

When Alma said, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10), he gave us a clue to understanding why we’re discontented, dissatisfied, and upset. If we’re not happy, is it because we’re involved to some extent with sin? or ignorant about the dimensions of sin? Certainly Bill is not guilty of gross wickedness, but like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, is he omitting “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith”? (Matt. 23:23; italics added.) Bill is faithful in paying tithes and offerings, in attending meetings, in home teaching his families, and in putting in his quota of hours on the welfare farm. All of those things are easy to count and measure.

But judgment, mercy, and faith aren’t. How do you compute charity? calibrate compassion? or calculate kindness? Yet the scriptures tell us that ultimately charity is the most important thing; without charity we are “nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2; Moro. 10:21.)

If one of the reasons any of us may feel dissatisfied with life is because “all those people” are getting in our way or annoying us, our benevolence, our charity, our mercy, our judgment may be at fault. Here’s a quick self-quiz. Check the statement which most accurately describes your own thoughts and behavior, then see what conclusions you reach about yourself.

My Benevolence Barometer

1. A family in our ward has a foreign exchange student staying with them. He stumbles through scripture reading in Sunday School class. Am I irritated and impatient? Am I interested in his progress and excited to see the growth of our worldwide church?

2. Every Sunday in the gospel doctrine class I attend, Sister Brown’s baby cries loudly and long. Do I turn and stare at her? Do I think of ways to help her?

3. I no longer have any children at home, and the bishop just asked me to teach the four-year-olds in Primary. Am I happy to be away from lively youngsters? Can I think of them just as I would my own grandchildren?

4. When Barbara came into the meeting last Sunday with that long-haired boy, was I aghast that someone would come to church looking that way? Did I go out of my way to make him feel welcome?

6. Last November I saw a “Vote for Williams” sign on Brother Smith’s front lawn. Was I surprised that Brother Smith, a high priests group leader, could support someone I considered a liberal? Was I glad that Brother Smith was following Church counsel to become involved in civic affairs?

7. When a nonmember family moved next door to us, did we warn our children not to play with their children? Did we welcome them and encourage our children to be friends with their children?

8. Am I uncomfortable when Wilma, who weighs 250 pounds, sits beside me in Relief Society? Have I tried to think of ways to help her with her weight problem?

9. Am I resentful or uneasy when new converts take up most of the testimony meeting time? Can I share their joy in learning about the gospel?

10. Do I wonder why Bill can’t clean the grease out from under his fingernails before he comes to church? Do I admire his skills, aware that he can fix or create almost anything with his hands?

11. Did I resent it when our neighbor, a divorcee, asked my husband to help her move some heavy furniture? Was I glad that she felt like she could call on us for help?

12. Do I get tired of hearing newcomers speak in sacrament meeting? Do I make the most of this opportunity to get to know new members?

13. In our ward are many well-educated people. Do I sometimes think they act as if they are better than the rest of us? Am I grateful for this stimulating environment in which to rear children?

14. The Schmidlap family takes up an entire bench in sacrament meeting. Do I sometimes question the wisdom of having such a big family? Do I consider it a blessing to watch these youngsters grow in the gospel?

15. When my neighbor said he got his suit from Deseret Industries, did I conclude that they must be hard-pressed financially? Was I reminded that I should patronize D.I. more often myself

16. When my close friend, Susan, lost her husband, I told her we would always be there for her to lean on. Why am I often at a loss for something to say to her now? Do we try to do things with her just as we always did?

17. When my wife showed me Sam’s letter to the editor, did I call him a closeminded fanatic? Can I still support him wholeheartedly in his calling as elders quorum president?

18. It was announced in priesthood meeting that one of my neighbors had been excommunicated. When I met him in the grocery store later, did I avoid him, feeling awkward? Did I show an increased concern and love for him?

19. Because the former bishop said Brother Frederikson had turned down every call extended to him, did we decide not to bother him? Did we recommend another call to serve, thinking he may have had a change of heart by now?

20. When Sam lost his right arm in an industrial accident, did I avoid shaking hands with him because it was awkward? Do I still look forward to his home teaching visits to us?

How would the Savior have responded to each question?

By the way, Bill’s daughter Susan married Hans after he returned from his mission. Bill insists that they give their children Scandinavian names. “It’ll help preserve that rich cultural heritage of theirs,” he beams proudly.

  • Spencer J. Condie, chairman of the Department of Sociology, Brigham Young University, serves as bishop of the Provo Twenty-sixth Ward, Provo Utah North Stake.

  • Phillip R. Kunz, professor of sociology at BYU, serves as Sunday School teacher and magazine representative in the Edgemont Eighth Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont Stake.