2021 was a weird year. I don’t feel like I really did as much as I wanted to. I sometimes struggle with focus and knowing what direction to go. But lots of good things still happened. Here are some of them:
I had an internship with FamilySearch.
Dillon got a new job in Salt Lake and stopped commuting from Moab.
I took the GRE and did well.
We went to Yellowstone and did a lot of fun stuff for summer break.
We remodeled our kitchen.
We passed our 4-way inspection.
We cut new doors and a window into our house.
I volunteered at the schools.
I joined a book club and started a writing group.
I did some data science classes.
I read 52 books.
We got ducks and geese and built them a house.
I got vaccinated.
I almost finished a new draft of my book.
I wrote lots of blog posts.
I did some tutoring online.
My kids did various activities and I supported them in that.
Doing something is better than not doing anything at all.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of “telescopic philanthropy,” where I am forgetting my duties at home and serving far away people to mainly feel good about myself.
I don’t want to be so focused on what is in front of me that I forget to reach out to those next door.
I want to do good in the world–and good in my home, and with my family, and with my friends and neighbors and community.
But sometimes I get worried about what I should do that I forget about what is in front of me. Opportunities often come my way and I feel too busy to say yes. My kids want attention and I forget to turn off my computer and spend time with them. I get caught up with reading and consuming that I forget to create.
There are a few things that I am planning for this year that I am really excited for: I’ve started a writing group. I’m going to finish my book, One Thing is Needful. I’m going to volunteer at the school some more. I want to spend more time with my kids, playing board games and teaching them piano. I’m coaching one of my son’s basketball team. I want to go next door to the woman that lives there and help her out regularly. I want to reach out to friends better.
There are people who need help, but the best place to start is the small moments, close to home.
I stumbled across a headline the other day about how some popular TV shows or movies from a decade ago are now cringe-worthy.
I read some of the article. It was about racism and politics and correctness and that sort of thing. According to this author, in a decade we’ve changed all out morals and we’re a whole lot better than we used to be.
I’ve often come across this holier-than-thou attitude that people have, as if the popular cultural morals of today are somehow superior. There are many people who like to make villains of anyone who does not agree with their moral propositions, even though those morals are very much rooted in the latest trends.
And this particularly applies to people looking at history, rewriting and criticizing people who lived in a different culture.
I’m not really old, and I have seen culture and morals drastically change in some circles–usually the outspoken ones who write essays and comments on the internet. But my own Christian values have not changed: I’m still trying to love my neighbor, be honest and kind, have some integrity, and build up my family.
I think there are a lot of people like that. Maybe most people. But that, unfortunately, isn’t great for headlines and trolling comments. It seems much more fashionable to jump on the latest train of shifting morals and then use that trend to criticize anyone and everyone very loudly.
People make mistakes. Some people don’t live a lifestyle you would support or agree with. But sometimes that’s none of our business.
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
Criticism is easy, but often it’s a waste of time and energy. Culture changes. People change. But what is true and right doesn’t change. Some may spend their time pointing out flaws in others and trying to rewrite life to fit into current trends–but I would rather hang on to what I know is good and to try to live it better in my life.
I can look at all the really hard things that are happening in places–political instability and famine and natural disaster and disease. And not just in far away countries, but people who are not so far away and still struggle to survive.
But then there are so many good moments in life too. Babies being born, people laughing together, life progressing. There are people who accomplish so many good things in their lives, building and creating and finding joy.
Sometimes it is hard to accept all of the world as it is all at once. I know people who are deeply struggling and people who are having some of the best times of their life.
It’s complicated. But I think–in all of those bad moments, there are people trying to do good. There are small improvements, people who can help in small ways, forgiveness.
There is opposition, but that opposition allows people to stand up, become better, often refined in sorrow.
Much of the study of economics is making models. Models are just simplified versions of realities to make generlizations and predict what people are going to do or what they should do.
Supply and demand is the most fundamental model in economics. And we use it regularly in our thinking, especially as we are dealing with supply chain issues and inflation.
But we can use the concept of creating models in more aspects of our lives and incorporate that sort of thinking into everyday use.
A model can involve an agent making a decision about scarce resources. You can identify a problem that needs a solution, or maybe you need help explaining something you don’t quite understand, or maybe you have a dispute you want to resolve. You can do this with things that are happening in the world, or with business decisions, or with personal life decisions too.
And then you build a model that will help predict what people will do and why, or what they should do to optimize a certain output.
How to use scarce resources of time and energy to set better goals (taking into account things like the planning fallacy)
Dividing household labor and work that maximizes both enjoyment and efficiency
Trying to model out why my children behave the way the do, and how to incentivize them to behave better
How to make better decisions when ordering at a restaurant
(There are probably much better ideas out there than what I listed.)
Making a model out of things can be fun–but it can also help you take a step back and look at things more objectively and discover something you didn’t realize before. Sometimes we emotionally attach ourselves to an answer when it doesn’t really make sense or optimize what we really value. Models can help solve that.
And there aren’t any rules of how to do it–just try to create a graph or a table with the data and assumptions you have, and then see what the trends are.
A few years ago, I started writing notes to myself about Christmas. The season comes once a year, and I usually want to do things differently the next year, and then I forget unless I remind myself.
This year, I didn’t do as much service as I would like to in the future. I would like to give a few neighbor presents, which didn’t happen this year, and maybe visit neighbors and friends more. But I don’t want to place unnecessary guilt on myself, either. Do it out of love, not out of duty.
I made a charcuterie board and frog eye salad for lunch (and we snacked on it dinner) and it was nice. I think we liked snacking on things more than cooking a big meal. But also I should have bought less candy. We had so much sugar.
I also could give my kids less presents and they would be just fine. Sometimes I do filler presents and they are just unnecessary.
I need to remember to do graham crackers for gingerbread houses–or maybe make out own cookies, since my kids don’t like gingerbread anyway. And I also liked looking at Christmas lights and watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that’s about all the traditions we really need.
Making Christmas more simple and less of a big deal is just fine. Sometimes it’s a lot of pressure to make everything special. I had a kitchen renovation this December and I was just busy and distracted with all of it. So I didn’t do as much. And I think it was better that way.
Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
When I was young, I asked for a blue teddy bear. I had seen a cute little blue teddy bear in a J.C. Penny catalog, and I wanted something like that. But on Christmas, there was a great big blue bear waiting for me. I loved it, and it became a very large part of my childhood. I named it Big Feet. A few years later, my mom managed to give my sister and I Furbys, right when they came out and were very popular. And then another year, my brother gave me a teddy bear that he had helped make (which I still have).
Shortly after I got married, I gave Dillon Inca Cola, which he remembered from his mission, and a bow string for his dad’s old recurve bow. He was quite excited for it.
We celebrate Jesus Christ and the gifts that the wise men brought. We celebrate that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”
So that really is the best gift we will ever receive.
Sometimes I hide what I’m thinking and feeling because I’m afraid that if I share the hard parts with people, they will worry about it too much. And they can’t do anything to fix it. And I’m better off just dealing with it myself.
But then when people share their struggles with me, it doesn’t usually feel like a burden. It helps them find relief, and it helps me too. It helps me feel connected, and not alone. I like helping in the small way I can.
Sometimes we don’t say the right things to each other. But it’s often better to say the wrong things than to not say anything at all because we’re afraid.
And so many times, our dark thoughts won’t go away properly unless we share them with someone else–we get it all out there, and realize how wrong we are, and how much we are loved, and we’re able to build each other up.