Conference Moment: Purposeful Action

  • 30 November 2015

What a happy day it will be when we can replace hasty reaction with patience and purposeful action.

Years ago while I was walking with a wise friend of mine, we passed one of his neighbors as he stood in the front yard of his home. My friend greeted the man with, “How are you, Bill? It’s good to see you.” To this greeting, Bill didn’t even look up. He didn’t even respond.

“He is an old grouch today, isn’t he?” I snapped.

“Oh, he is always that way,” my friend responded.

“Then why are you so friendly to him?” I asked.

“Why not?” responded my mature friend. “Why should I let him decide how I am going to act?”

I hope I will never forget the lesson of that evening. The important word was “act.” My friend acted toward people. Most of us react. At the time it was a strange attitude to me, because I was in grade school and following the practice of “if you speak to an acquaintance and he does not respond, that is the last time you have to bother” or “if someone shoves you on the school playground, you shove him back.”

I have thought many times since this experience that many of us are perpetual reactors. We let other people determine our actions and attitudes. We let other people determine whether we will be rude or gracious, depressed or elated, critical or loyal, passive or dedicated.

Do you know people who are cool toward an acquaintance because last time they met she wasn’t warm in her greeting? Do you know people who have quit praying to the Lord because He hasn’t answered (so they think) their prayers of last month or last year? Do you know people who give up on others because they don’t respond in the ways we think they should? Do you know people who fail to realize that Christlike behavior patterns encourage us to be the same yesterday and forever?

The perpetual reactor is an unhappy person. His center of personal conduct is not rooted within himself, where it belongs, but in the world about him. Some of us on occasion seem to be standing on the sidelines waiting for someone to hurt, ignore, or offend us. We are perpetual reactors. What a happy day it will be when we can replace hasty reaction with patience and purposeful action.

—Elder Marvin J. Ashton, in Conference Report, October 1970, 36–37