Look for good

A story is told of an aged Japanese philosopher who spent many days in the woods and hills near his village studying the laws of nature. Upon returning to his village in the evenings, he taught others what he had learned.

As he prepared to leave the village for the woods and hills one morning, a friend asked him to bring him a hawthorn twig so that he might study the lesson the philosopher had given about that tree. Another friend asked the philosopher to bring him a rose so that he might study its beauty according to a lesson the old man had taught. A third friend asked the philosopher to bring him a lily so that he might study the lesson of purity that the learned man had given.When the philosopher returned to his village at sundown, he found his friends waiting at the gate. To the first he gave the hawthorn twig; to the second, the rose; and to the third, the lily. The first friend complained, "Here is a dead leaf on the stem of my hawthorn twig." The second said, "Here is a thorn on the stem of my rose." The third exclaimed, "Here is dirt on the roots of my lily."

The philosopher took back the twig, the rose and the lily. He plucked the dead leaf from the twig and gave it to the first friend. He removed the thorn from the stem of the rose and gave it to the second. He took the dirt from the roots of the lily and put it into the hands of the third. "Now, each of you has what attracted you first," he told his friends. "You looked for the dead leaf and found it. You looked for the thorn; it was there. You found the dirt on the roots of the lily. You may keep what attracted you first. I will keep the hawthorn twig, the rose and the lily for the beauty I see in them." (Excerpted from address by Elder Thomas E. McKay, October 1947, general conference, The Improvement Era 50:725.)

This story has a simple moral: We find just about what we look for.

For what do we look? Do we go to Church to bask in the spiritual uplift of hymns and inspiring talks, or do we negatively critique the musical proficiency of the accompanist or the knowledge and fluency of those who are called upon to speak and teach?

As we prepare to go to a social function, do we look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones, or are we convinced that the event will be boring and that there won't be anyone present who can carry on interesting conversation?

Do we arrive at work or school anticipating challenges that will help us grow and achieve, or do we see only tasks that are impossible to accomplish?

How do we view our families? Do we see them as sources of love, comfort and happiness, people we enjoy helping, want to encourage and motivate? Or do we view them as burdens who sap us of energy, time and financial resources?

Shortly before he died, President George Albert Smith told a visitor at his hospital bedside: "Remember all the days of your life that you can find good in everyone if you will but look for it." (Elder Matthew Cowley, Conference Report, April 1951, p. 166.)

By some distortion in human reasoning, many think that we can minimize our own shortcomings simply by magnifying the weaknesses of others. Far too often, we place a magnifying glass over the faults of others and close our eyes to their virtues. If we did the opposite - magnified virtues and diminished faults - we might discover greater joy and friendship. Imagine how much more enjoyment we would have if we always looked for the best in others. How much better we would feel about family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues and people in the workplace, at school and on the street if we always looked for the best in them.

By contrast, if we are on the lookout for and magnify others' weaknesses and shortcomings, we are bound to find ourselves in unhappy marriages and homes, contentious relationships and neighborhoods, and unpleasant work and learning environments. In many cases, what we look for in others determines whether we find our family, friends or associates delightful or despicable.

Wisdom resounds in this observation: "There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us." (Attributed to Edward Wallis Hoch [1849-1925], governor of Kansas, in The Marion Record, as cited in Familiar Quotations, John Bartlet, ed., 1955, p. 711)

Yes, we do find what we look for in life and in others. Just as a beautiful sunset becomes imbedded in our memories, so do the qualities we see in others. We would be well served if we would look for the good in each other.

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