Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why Jews, Mormons, and Immigrants Prosper: Three Essential Traits

Yale Law School professors (and spouses) Amy Chua (of Tiger Mother fame) and Jed Rubenfeld say in this NY Times article that Jews, Mormons, and immigrants are among those with the greatest upward mobility in the US. All successful members of these groups share three traits, some of which can even seem "un-American."
"It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control."
Chua and Rubenfeld emphatically state that one or two of these traits is simply not enough to drive success. It requires all three. A lack of one or two of these factors or an improper balance of the three can lead to pathological behavior that would be antithetical to real prosperity.

Let's consider each of these three traits.
  • Superiority. The authors note that Jews have a deep history of seeing themselves as God's chosen people. Mormons do as well, considering themselves to be heirs with God. And although Mormon history is less than two centuries old as opposed to four millennia for the Jews, Mormon theology finds the religion's roots in a premortal life long before the earth existed. Many immigrants see themselves as exceptional compared to their cohorts in the old country. While superiority can be narcissistic and dangerous, "The United States itself was born ... with an outsize belief in its own exceptionality," so it should be a familiar American trait.
  • Insecurity. While insecurity is "anathema in American culture," it "runs deep in every one of America’s rising groups; and consciously or unconsciously, they tend to instill it in their children." The children of many immigrants are taught that failure to excel would dishonor the sacrifices of their elders. Despite their successes, Mormons are regularly the subject of popular derision. They also have a history of severe persecution in the 19th Century. Jews have been persecuted for millennia and were tortured and murdered by the millions in mid-20th Century Europe. While "In combination with a superiority complex, the feeling of being underestimated or scorned can be a powerful motivator," pressure to succeed can also make children feel like they can never please their parents.
  • Impulse Control. Self discipline — putting off immediate desires for long-term rewards — "runs against the grain of contemporary [YOLO] culture.... The dominant culture is fearful of spoiling children’s happiness with excessive restraints or demands. By contrast, every one of America’s most successful groups takes a very different view of childhood, inculcating habits of discipline from a very early age — or at least they did so when they were on the rise." Both Jews and Mormons, for example, have restrictive dietary doctrines and Mormons take chastity and service very seriously. Immigrants often feel pressured to work hard and save.
The culture in which one is raised is important (but not essential) to success. Culture can foster a general rise among the group or it can stifle such mobility. The authors state:
"Any individual, from any background, can have what we call this Triple Package of traits. But research shows that some groups are instilling them more frequently than others, and that they are enjoying greater success."
But "groups rise and fall over time." Some groups that were once prosperous have stagnated while others that once struggled have risen. "The fact that groups rise and fall this way punctures the whole idea of “model minorities” or that groups succeed because of innate, biological differences" the authors claim.

Moreover, today's prosperity can sew the seeds of decline for future generations. To "the extent that a group passes on its wealth" by inheritance "without hard work, insecurity or discipline," the group is "likely to be headed for decline." An old proverb states that a rich man's son is seldom a rich man's father.

Not to worry, the authors say. In America "prosperity and power had their predictable effect, eroding the insecurity and self-restraint that led to them. By 2000, all that remained was our superiority complex, which by itself is mere swagger, fueling a culture of entitlement and instant gratification. Thus the trials of recent years — the unwon wars, the financial collapse, the rise of China — have, perversely, had a beneficial effect: the return of insecurity."

This is actually a good thing, the authors argue. "America has always been at its best when it has had to overcome adversity and prove its mettle on the world stage. For better and worse, it has that opportunity again today."

Still the authors warn that the success they are discussing revolves chiefly around material measures. Focusing too heavily on "external measures" of worth such as "prestige and money" may not lead to the kind of success that breeds happiness, which is what each of us really wants in life. On the other hand, despite our human longing for comfort, complacency and mediocrity might not lead to real happiness either.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Doing Family History Work by Uploading Media to FamilySearch

I am officially at a frustration point with respect to my family history work. But I'm not that worried about it. I've been there before and breakthroughs have eventually occurred that have allowed me to progress.

Family history research (and if you're LDS, preparatory documentation for the work of salvation for the dead) has come a long way since I first started trying to do research as a teen. Back in the day most research work required travel to a location where actual records or copies of records were stored, hours of painstaking analysis, written correspondence, and lots of writing on paper. I still have the notepad I first used when I started doing research.

While this kind of approach is still sometimes needed, most people can now complete a great deal of family history work from their home computers. Clearing names for temple work has gone from using paper records to using floppy discs to using writable CDs (all of these formats required visiting or corresponding with a family history center) to selecting a few links in a web browser window on any internet capable device.

I am a big fan of the modern FamilySearch website. Content that was once stored on local computers (where it was often out of sync) is now managed centrally, where it is available to broad audiences and where contributions from users worldwide can be coordinated. The site's heavily graphical interface can sometimes be a little slow by modern standards. But it's not bad and the tradeoffs are worth the wait.

The recently enhanced ability to upload and tag photos, stories and documents particularly interests me. This has become my go-to place when I find myself temporarily unable to progress with research and submitting names, the condition in which I currently find myself.

I do have a nit to pick with the site designers. One of the ways to access this part of the website is through the Photos link on the top menu of the website (see image below). This would more appropriately be labeled something like Media, since it includes stories and documents (and perhaps videos in the future). Why would anyone think that they first had to click on Photos to get to stories?
FamilySearch top line menu
image of FamilySearch top line menu

A second way to access select media elements is by clicking on a person's name in Family Tree. This causes a panel to appear that shows information about the individual and along with links to the various media items have been tagged for the individual (see image below). Clicking on the various links takes you to pages showing those items.
image of FamilySearch individual information panel

Uploading and tagging photos can digitally preserve images that would often otherwise languish in storage until they were eventually tossed out following the demise of whoever had the photos. Or else photos are sometimes passed down with little information, since everyone that knew who was in the photos has passed on, diminishing the family value of the photos. Putting these photos online while information is still available preserves these pictures for the long term. Original documents, such as life event certificates or even old report cards can be uploaded.

Another valuable service is recording and uploading stories about family members. Tagging all those mentioned in the story automatically links the story to those people. Most family stories disappear with the passing of those who witnessed the events or who heard the stories told by those that did.

Recently I came into possession of a handful of pages handwritten by my grandmother many years ago, where she related various names and events. I have evidence that some of the information presented is somewhat suspect, probably due to the condition of Grandma's faculties at the time. But there are some great stories.

For example, I had no idea that my father's cousin was killed in World War II and lived to tell about it. The story goes that he was a casualty in a violent battle. His body lay in a morgue while his young bride was notified and was brought to the location where she could identify the body. Given the challenges of communicating and traveling in war torn Europe, nine days had passed by the time she arrived.

When they pulled back the cover on the body, the young wife said that she saw the body move. She insisted that a doctor be brought. The doctor was displeased to be pulled away from important work. He refused to believe the woman until he suddenly saw the body twitch. My father's cousin was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he underwent surgery and remained for many weeks of recovery. But he lived a relatively normal life after that.

Since the subjects of this story are deceased and the couple no children, I'm not sure that anyone would have been aware of this story had I not encountered it, written it up, and uploaded it to FamilySearch. Now it is available to anyone with interest in the matter.

When putting stories on FamilySearch, I have found it useful to first write, review, and correct the stories in a text editor. I have used Google Drive and Microsoft Word. The content of the text editor window can then be copied and pasted into a FamilySearch story frame. Bear in mind that reading content online is different than reading it on paper. Judicious use of white space, such as adding a line between paragraphs, can help a lot. Don't bother trying to indent paragraphs. When I tried this the results were not good.

You can associate up to one photo with each story. If you have multiple photos that could accompany a story, you might try breaking the story up into smaller parts. I have found it useful when I do this to number the parts of the story by adding numbering to each story title. This allows others to more easily read the pieces in sequence.

Others can comment on the stories you create on FamilySearch and you can respond to their comments. This allows for useful collaboration, such as when others have additional information that you lack. You can also edit the stories you add to the site if you discover new or different information.

Uploading photos, documents, and stories to FamilySearch may not help clear anyone for temple work, but it is still a valuable part of the important work of turning the hearts of the children to their fathers (Malachi 4:6).

What family stories do you know that could be preserved on FamilySearch?

Update 2/4/2014: The label of the Photos link that I thought ought to have been titled differently has now been changed to Memories. I see this as a most welcome change.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Diet of Blended Punishment

I don't watch much TV. We were recently told by a sales rep that we could get the premium cable package for $6 more per month than what we pay for internet access. (Well, that and the cable box rental, fees, etc. Probably more like $40/month.) We talked it over with the family and everyone voted against it. We've seen cable at other people's houses. They've got lots and lots of channels ... of stuff that we just aren't interested in spending our time watching.

Recently as I was reclining in a dental chair I became even more convinced that our decision to remain free of cable TV was the right choice. I couldn't help staring at the ceiling where a TV had been placed directly in my view field. It was either look at the TV or concentrate on the pattern of tiny holes in the adjacent ceiling tiles. I'm not much into staring into the hygenist's eyes at close range—an activity that I reserve for my wife.

Since I had declined the complimentary headphones, I was spared the audio portion of the TV program. Even without sound, trying to ignore the blender infomercial was like trying to look away from a gruesome traffic accident. While they were selling a mere blender (which clearly wasn't a Blendtec industrial strength model), they were hawking it as some kind of fountain of youth cure-all answer to all of your weight and health woes.

I watched as blenders full of a variety of carefully arranged, extremely choice and tasty looking produce items were presented. Then someone would press a button and wham-o! The gorgeous cornucopia was immediately reduced to a horrid looking slurry that closely resembled the consequences of consuming such a diet on an uninitiated intestinal tract.

The worst part was when they showed families of people drinking the stuff with smiles on their faces. The irony of people wearing store bought grins showing the teeth that they should have used to grind up the whole food instead of letting a machine do the work was apparently lost on the marketing folks. Some of the younger family members were obviously having difficulty maintaining their goofy smiles. I couldn't help but wonder how much they had to pay those people. And how much the mom and dad had to threaten their kids to get them to go along.

What's up with this whole blender fad anyway? Beyond simply providing nutrition, food is supposed to "please the eye and gladden the heart" (D&C 59:18). Reducing a meal to sub-baby-food gruel destroys the presentation, which is an important element of the human dining experience.

Like other food fads, people will rush to try the blender fad. Then after they realize how difficult it is to do, how unpleasant it is to consume (and to digest), and how little it apparently affects the health conditions they hope to resolve, they will revert to their standard diets. Their magic blenders will gather dust on the counter or else be relegated to some remote shelf for storage. Sure, there will be die-hards that stick with the blender diet (maybe because they're into self punishment). But they will be a small minority.

After my dental appointment I had little appetite. Not that the dental work caused problems. I was just a little queasy from the blender infomercial. Maybe my dentist should more carefully screen what is shown on the office's TVs.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Frustration Wonder of Children

Our son that is in high school is and always has been a remarkable individual. While he certainly regularly demonstrates many of the faults that are common to young men, he has always had a certain goodness of soul.

Still, this son has always been, well, a bit different than the mainstream. From the time he was tiny he has approached life differently than our other kids and from most kids we know. After spending part of a summer working at a Boy Scout camp, the camp director told me, "That one marches to the beat of a different drummer. But it's a good drummer."

This child has always been curious about things, forever asking questions to which I don't know the answer or that are not easily addressed. When he was still in elementary school my father gave him a book about quantum physics because Dad was convinced that our son could grasp such principles. Nowadays when our son asks deep questions about scientific matters, I tell him to research it for himself.

We have called this son our wandering child. It is common for him to become so interested in something—often something that might not catch the attention of most people—that other matters (that we sometimes think ought to be more pressing) seemingly disappear from his active cognition.

From the time he was mobile, this son has regularly wandered off to explore something that has caught his interest. This means that he has gotten lost more than the rest of our children put together. It's difficult to explain the sheer terror of losing your four-year-old in a sea of 10,000 people at a parade. Now that this child the tallest member of our family it's easier to keep track of him. Sometimes he will even answer his phone if we can't locate him.

Given my lifelong involvement in scouting, my sons have been involved as well. This son is my Mr. Reliable when it comes to scouting needs. He is also my go-to family member for hiking. Nobody else in the family cares much for hiking. We have pictures of this son and me on each of the major mountain peaks in our area. It is difficult to explain the emotions I felt when this boy instigated our last major hike in October.

This strapping boy is musically gifted. He regularly demonstrates finesse and nuance far beyond the average pianist his age when playing classical piano compositions. He can play the euphonium and is quite good on his ocarinas. He composes and records electronic dance music. But his favorite instrument at present is his voice. He has a good range for a bass. But it bothers him that he doesn't have perfect enough pitch to always precisely hit the note at the very outset. He can adjust within a fraction of a second, but he wishes for perfect pitch. He fantasizes about going into voice acting with his marvelous speaking voice.

Mr. Music was asked to prepare a musical number for church a few weeks ago. But he didn't do anything about it. Finally a week before the performance I pulled him to the piano and offered some options. Among other things I offered to dust off a piano duet we had played a while back. He seemed indifferent to all of my suggestions.

I finally pulled out an arrangement of Come Thou Fount (purposefully selected for its easy accompaniment) and insisted that Mr. Voice sing while I played. Here is where a well practiced voice that has often sung before audiences comes in handy. After reviewing the piece a few times he was ready to perform with beautiful tonal quality and well placed and wide ranging emotional emphasis.

We all get sidetracked on diversions once in awhile, but this seems to be more the rule than the exception for our smart and talented son. My wife and I are nearly apoplectic about how we're going to get him to graduate high school. It is not uncommon for students to have difficulty managing their assignment load. But our son has always had organizational challenges. He does fine with assignments and activities done together as a class, but he just can't seem to get organized when it comes to individual (or even small group) tasks, regardless of whether they are to be done at school or at home.

It is already clear that our son is going to be doing summer school again this year, despite our best efforts to prevent this outcome. We are working with him to implement some additional measures that we hope (beyond hope) will limit the amount of work he will have to do this summer. We have considered clinical interventions, but I'm not sure that I want to medicate the uniqueness out of my child.

Kids can be so wonderful. Kids can be so frustrating. Sometimes simultaneously. Sometimes simultaneously in the same kid.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Saturday Chores

House cleaning chores happen on Saturday morning at our place. Or at least, that's when they're supposed to happen. A motivated child can get through his/her assigned chores in 45 minutes. An hour tops. But our kids regularly tend to drag the chores out for 2½-3 hours or even longer.

I guess it's like when my mom used to make my brother eat vegetables that he really detested. We all had to eat them, but this brother had a particular dislike of certain vegetables. There was a time consuming ritual to arrive at the point where my brother would put the vegetables in his mouth. He would then reluctantly chew on them. And chew, and chew, and chew, while trying to achieve the fortitude to swallow them.

We used to chide my brother for his antics. We asked him why, if he disliked the taste of the vegetables so much, he didn't just wolf them down as rapidly as possible and get it over with. Why did he have to keep the distasteful food in his mouth for-stinking-ever? Our kids often (not always) follow a similar pattern with their chores.

I don't think that our family's chores are particularly onerous. While we clean the house every Saturday, our home isn't the cleanest place on earth. Far from it. When I lived in Norway I frequently saw little plaques on the walls of homes that said something like, "Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be home." That describes our house. Most of the time. When we err, it's on the side where being clean enough to be healthy might be questionable.

Our kids clean the bathrooms (including the toilets). They dust the furniture, wall hangings, curtains, blinds, fan blades, etc. Or these things at least get to see the duster. They vacuum. To a certain extent. They empty the wastebaskets. And that's about it. Each of these children started doing these chores when they were still wee tots, so they all have plenty of practice.

You might commend us for having such (janitorially) well trained children. But you must understand that we have developed an odd tradition that has become sacrosanct to our children. In the dim ages when the older children were starting out with chores, we discovered that we couldn't get them to be productive until they finished watching their beloved Saturday morning cartoons. We ultimately settled on 10:00 am as the time for starting chores.

Only the youngest still bothers with TV on Saturday mornings. The others tend to sleep, do stuff on the computer, play video games, etc. until the stroke of ten. Or for a few minutes thereafter until my wife or I get on their case.

Given the 10:00 am chore start time, you'd think that the chores would be done by 11:00 am. But no. Because the children are expert at finding things that absolutely must happen at the moment chore time arrives. "I haven't had breakfast yet," says one. "I'm going to take a shower first," says another. "I have to use the toilet," says another. Each of these tasks seems to take the better part of an hour. Plus another 30-45 minutes to get dressed. By the time a child finally gets ready to start on a chore, the child says, "It's lunchtime. I need to eat," despite having eaten breakfast only a short time earlier.

When the chore activities finally get underway, our children seem to have developed great expertise in taking as long as possible to complete their chores. Not that all of that time translates into thoroughness. It translates into much lolly-gagging and complaining about not being able to get to other more desirable activities.

A favorite tactic is spending copious time finding, setting up, and using their personal audio devices. Earbuds are forever disappearing. Waiting for the vacuum is another favored stalling activity, despite the fact that we have three vacuums in the house. (That's a long story.) But the vacuum the child wants to use is already occupied. Or the child feigns being unable to locate some other favored cleaning implement.

It's my brother chewing on his hated vegetables all over again. I ask my children why, if they want to get on to leisure, they don't get their chores done as quickly as possible. Heaven knows they couldn't possibly be much less thorough if they hurried.

In reality, I very much appreciate the housework my children do, despite the nagging it sometimes requires to get them to do it. They (mostly) do a fair job. Unlike some of their peers, they actually know how to clean a toilet, chemicals and all. I'm not sure how well this translates into regularly cleaning the toilet after they are living on their own. But at least they'll know how to do it. You can do much to prepare your child for life outside of the family abode, but what they do with that preparation once they get there is largely up to them.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Agency: The Prime Divine Directive

In trying to develop his own theodicy, my son (who dabbles in philosophy) wrote:
"If God knows all, how did satan come to be? A perfect God would not create an offspring knowing full well that that child would never have a chance at eternal salvation. The only thing I can think of is if somehow God hadn’t achieved omniscience at the time he procreated Lucifer. This way He knew that one of His children would end up becoming the devil but not which specific one. I have no idea if this postulate violates doctrine.
"Adding to the previous entry, this gives rise to the idea that God knows before He creates each spirit what the eternal fate of that spirit will be. This being stated, would a perfect God create myriad souls, much less a single soul, that wouldn’t achieve eternal life, or, more basely, that would become perdition? One idea is that He doesn’t know (whether by choice or by eternal law I couldn’t say) the person until after He creates them. Another is that since God can see eternity, the concept of Him knowing what’s going to happen and what’s not isn’t the same in the eternal sphere as that which we can comprehend."
In order to understand my son's proposition, it is necessary to understand the LDS doctrines of the nature of God, the plan of salvation, and the nature of the devil. As explained in this Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on God, God is a term that includes the Divine Father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. However, LDS scripture states that "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit" (D&C 130:22).

As explained in this EoM article on God the Father, God the Father is omnipotent and omniscient. He "existed prior to the Son and the Holy Ghost and is the source of their divinity. ... He is ultimately the source of all things and the Father of all things, for in the beginning he begot the Son, and through the instrumentality of his agent, the Son, the Father accomplished the creation of all things."

LDS doctrine further states (see EoM: Plan of Salvation) that God's plan for the eternal happiness of his children involves several stages, including life with God in a premortal existence, life on earth for those that chose to move forward with God's plan, and a postmortal eternal existence, the quality of which is dependent on one's acceptance of the Atonement of Christ and willing adherence to divine principles. Unlike some religious teachings, LDS doctrine provides for ample opportunity both in this life and afterward for all of God's children to ultimately achieve the greatest glory God has to give.

The above referenced article on God the Father states, "All individual human spirits were begotten (not created from nothing or made) by the Father in a premortal state, where they lived and were nurtured by Heavenly Parents." In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, LDS prophets and apostles state, "Each [human being] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny."

Prior to our birth as spirits in the premortal life we existed as eternal intelligence, which "was not created or made, neither indeed can be" (D&C 93:29). But as explained in this EoM article on Intelligences, God has not yet revealed more about the nature of our prespirit state, so more specific pronouncements about it are merely speculation.

One of God's significant characteristics is his commitment to the agency of his children. The Father "will never violate individual agency by forcing his children to exaltation and happiness. Coercion in any degree, even in the form of predestination to the Celestial Kingdom, is abhorrent to the nature of the Father."

Having rudimentarily outlined the doctrines of God and his plan of happiness, we still need to understand the nature of Satan. "In the premortal life, Lucifer was an angel having authority in the presence of God. He played a prominent role in the Council in Heaven. After the Father in Heaven offered the plan of righteousness to help his children become as he is, Lucifer countered with an alternative plan" designed to spare individuals the pain inherent in the Father's plan, but that would eliminate agency and transfer God's glory and authority to Lucifer (EoM: Devils). For this rebellion Lucifer and his followers (consisting of one-third of the spirits in that realm) were cast out to the earth, having forsaken their opportunities to receive physical bodies and to progress eternally.

This set of doctrines requires that God (being all knowing) knowingly (and being all powerful) deliberately allowed Lucifer to receive a spirit body in the premortal existence; although, God was completely aware that Lucifer would ultimately rebel, would be the means of eternally turning one-third of God's spirit children into devils, and would perpetrate much evil on the earth. In my son's mind, a perfectly loving God would not do such a thing.

I told my son that I begged to differ with his interpretation. "Because of [his perfect] love, it is the nature of the Father to improve everything and everyone to the extent that they will allow" (EoM: God the Father). God would love for each of his children to own the eternal joy and glory that he owns, but the only way for that to happen is through the completely voluntary choice of individuals to follow God and do his will. This voluntary system necessarily requires the open availability of all kinds of alternatives as well.

Agency plays a preeminent role in God's plan. God can institute and maintain consequences for misuse of agency that violates divine laws, but he cannot preempt an individual's opportunity to make those kinds of choices in a way that violates individual agency. At least, in doing so he would cease to be God.

One friend likened this to a chemist that fully knows beforehand what result will be produced by completing a given experiment. If achieving the result is his goal, it does not matter that he knows what the experiment will produce; he must still complete the experiment to get the result.

So it is with God. He knows beforehand what each of his children will choose to become, but it is essential to his goal of providing for divine happiness that he allow each of his children to actually become what they choose. He lovingly provides the route they must follow to arrive at their optimal destination and he invites them to follow that path. But he cannot usurp their agency to stop them from choosing a different path without renouncing his godhood, as doing so would be antithetical to godhood.

This is the whole reason earth life is structured as it is. The game is played out on a level playing field where neither good nor evil has any clear advantage over the other. Opposition is essential to the great plan of happiness (see 2 Nephi 2). Bad stuff can happen to individuals due to natural factors and the choices of others. But the Savior's Atonement ultimately compensates for any such problems. The important matter is how we choose to use our agency. God will try to entice us to choose his path, but he will never coerce us into doing so, even when he is fully aware that some of his children will perpetrate great evil.

There is no reason to believe that the nature of God was any different in the premortal life than it is now. His omniscience, omnipotence, love, and commitment to agency were not diminished in that state. It did not matter that God knew that Lucifer would follow a path that would lead to perdition. Being God, he had to be committed to Lucifer's agency.

God did not design Lucifer. Rather, he gave birth to a spirit from an eternal intelligence. Refusing to grant a spirit body to this individual—a type of premortal abortion—would have been antithetical to the nature of godhood, as it would have violated Lucifer's agency by short-circuiting his progression along his chosen route. God did not "make" Satan. But he could not refuse Lucifer the opportunity of becoming Satan without ceasing to be God.

Godhood is not for the feint of heart. While it is the nature of God to own a perfect fullness of divine joy, it is also his nature to experience a perfect fullness of divine sorrow. Being God does not mean creating anything in anyway that happens to suit one's fancies. It means adhering to the eternal laws of godhood, which require creating in a way that allows others to choose the divine path.

Curtailing agency, even to circumvent evil, would necessarily also destroy the divine path. Providing a pathway to godhood also means allowing the road to perdition to exist. God can put up warning signs, but he cannot close the road without also closing the divine road. Allowing all willing souls to choose ultimate light also means allowing all willing souls to choose ultimate darkness. There is no other way.

God was not omnisciently or omnipotently deficient when Lucifer was born as a spirit. God was doing what a perfectly loving God does: providing an open opportunity for a soul to become fully divine or to choose a different path. I suspect that in a future day when all hidden things are revealed (see Mormon 5:8) we will more fully comprehend Lucifer's choice and will not charge God foolishly (see Job 1:22) for the result.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Your New Exercise Equipment Will Likely See Little Use

As we swapped stories about past jobs one colleague told of working at an exercise equipment manufacturing company. "I had a hard time feeling good about working there," he said. "All of the equipment we made was junk. They engineered it to last only 90 days."

Another colleague opined that the complaint and return rate must have been pretty high, which must have eaten into profits. "Nah," said our friend. "They know that almost nobody that buys exercise equipment uses it for 90 days. It ends up sitting idle or being used for hanging clothes. It never get used long enough to break down."

I have gone through several pieces of exercise equipment over the years. My first machine was a rowing machine. You can get a decent full-body workout with a good rowing machine. The problem was that this was not a good rowing machine; it was a cheap one. I used it a lot until it broke. Even then I used it until I couldn't make it work anymore. That's way more than most people use a piece of exercise equipment.

My parents once bought a HealthRider that I tried several times. It consistently gave me saddle sores so I quit using it. Mom used it as a clothes hanger for years.

My most enduring piece of equipment has been a NordicTrack cross country ski machine. Unlike most consumer exercise machines, these devices are built to endure years of use. I got my first NodicTrack about a quarter century ago. I used it so much that I replaced some parts twice. Eventually I got a better model and gave the other one away. I now have a second machine that we bought cheaply simply so that we could cannibalize parts for the machine I use regularly.

My next most enduring piece of equipment is a bunch of free weights. Weights are fairly cheap and are very durable. I have a cheap foldable lifting bench that I also use.

But it takes time to fool around with free weights. Switching weights around can seriously interrupt the flow of your workout and increase workout time. So I acquired a Bowflex machine. Bowflex equipment isn't cheap, but it's quite durable.

I'll be the first to admit that resistance machine workouts lack some of the physical benefits of using free weights. But machines are much more convenient. Besides, I work out for fitness, not so that I can look like a gym buff boy. After several years of Bowflex ownership, I upgraded to a higher model. I am quite pleased with my Bowflex, which I use in combination with free weights.

We have an exercise bike in the basement that rarely gets used by the family member for which it was purchased. I have a couple of chap ab wheels that I use. Come to think of it, every durable piece of equipment that I have used with consistency has been acquired AFTER I already developed the habit of working out in that manner. The equipment was acquired for the sake of convenience, not to try to spur me on to exercise.

What this means is that I am abnormal—or at least not average. A normal (i.e. average) American buys exercise equipment thinking that it will get them to commit to doing exercise that they feel they ought to do but that they currently do not do. The same is true of gym memberships.

As explained in this Active.com article, people that buy exercise equipment quickly discover that exercising requires a time commitment. It is often boring and difficult. It's uncomfortable to the point of being painful and only produces results after much time and effort. Most people are not ready for that set of tradeoffs. Consequently, the purchase of equipment rarely engenders the required level of commitment. So after a few uses the equipment sits.

Exercise really comes down to the level of commitment, not to the equipment. Frankly, you can engage in very healthy exercise routines that require no or very little equipment at all. Some fitness experts say that these routines are much healthier for you than are equipment based routines.

In fact, some experts say that exercises that most closely approximate normal physical work are the healthiest. But if you're going to do that, why not just do the actual physical work and bag the silly fitness routine?

It comes down to what is going to keep you exercising. The linked Active.com article suggests that hiring a personal trainer does it for many people. I guess it's not that much different than hiring a piano teacher to give you piano lessons. But most people just aren't into hiring a personal trainer. Where do you find them? At the gym? And what if you don't like going to the gym?

That's me. I don't like going to the gym. Many people need the social aspect of working out to exercise. Not me. I'm an antisocial exerciser. I don't want to exercise with anybody else. It's my personal thing. That's why I have my own gym at home.

Nor am I like my friends that run. I don't like running, an activity that one critic calls a one-person parade. I force myself to run sometimes, but I don't like it much. I don't like the shin splints I inevitably get or the results of joint jarring. I don't like dealing with the gravel, the cars, weather, etc.

And don't bother writing with great tips on how to avoid shin splints. I've heard them all and I've found the only one that really works for me: just don't run.

One morning I was walking our dog (a necessity if you're going to be a responsible dog owner) as passels of runners in a local 5K race (not a necessity) went by. None of those people looked very happy, especially the gal running with the front of the pack that stopped long enough to vomit in my neighbor's bushes before carrying on. And marathons? That's pain for the sake of it. I can't even begin to fathom barefoot running, which seems like taking an already insane activity to a new level of lunacy.

In fact, recent research suggests that extreme fitness really isn't very good for your body. It should be noted that extreme fitness enthusiasts have found fault with these studies. But who am I to quibble with research that gives me a great excuse for avoiding ultra fitness craziness?

I have said before that a fitness program has to work for the individual both physically and psychologically. So your fitness program may not look like somebody else's. And what works for you today may not work down the road. Fitness programs need to change with the individual's changing needs. So I really can't tell you what kind of program will work for you. I have arrived at my current routine through trial and error.

So, as we embark on a new year and its attendant resolutions, what will it take to get YOU to exercise and to keep exercising? If you're like the average American, the answer is nothing. Because nothing seems to be effective.

Professional, amateur, and government scolding and nagging doesn't do it. Buying expensive exercise equipment doesn't do it either for most people. So maybe you ought to save your money until you can dredge up the requisite level of commitment. It's far cheaper and no less healthy than the alternative of buying equipment that you won't really use.