My husband recently came across an interesting quote by President Brigham Young: “Keep your follies that do not concern others to yourselves, and keep your private wickedness as still as possible; hide it from the eyes of the public gaze as far as you can” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1925, p. 244). Since I am a great one for telling others about my faults, I wanted to know more. I wondered aloud why Brigham Young had suggested that we keep our follies to ourselves.
“I’m not sure,” said my husband, “but I do know it can make other people feel mighty uncomfortable.”
I knew he was referring to the dinner party we had recently attended. The insecure hostess had apologized about everything—“I’m such a terrible cook. … This roast is over-done. … I wish I’d made my other rolls. … The table doesn’t look quite right, does it? … We really need some new chairs.” Our constant assurances that everything was okay did not comfort her. Soon we became ill-at-ease and eager to leave.
“Why show off your weaknesses?” asked my husband. “Why deck the halls with your follies?”
And I believe he has a good point. It is true that we should be honest and not act as if we are perfect, but it is also true that seeing the weaknesses of others can have a negative effect on us. I remember the day a friend of mine—a person I highly respect—used a word that was less than admirable. It made me want to rationalize that since she had used such a word, I shouldn’t feel bad when I let a bad word slip out. After all, she is a wonderful lady. But I can see I was being like the child who says to his parents, “So and so is doing it, why can’t I?” If we flaunt our weaknesses, we may encourage others to rationalize in the same way.
Many years ago I heard a story of a beautiful girl who was complimented on her good looks and told she could be a model. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly model because of my hands. Just look at them.” Her hands were rather large and less than delicate, especially when she spread them out on the table. Before, no one had noticed her hands; now, everyone thought of her as the girl with the big hands.
Of course, I’m not sure if this story has a factual basis, but it illustrates an important point: emphasizing our flaws or weaknesses can do us harm—it can prevent us from using our abilities.
We should also remember that the poor self-image that we get from emphasizing our weaknesses can keep us from changing. An experience I had with my daughter shows how this can happen. Once, when I didn’t know my daughter was listening, I was talking with my mother on the phone and told her my daughter had been a real “character” that morning—she had knocked over a plant and then gotten into my cosmetics and made a mess. Things only got worse after I hung up the phone. It was a bad day. That night I asked my daughter what had gone wrong. “Why did you do those things?” I asked.
“Oh, because. Because I’m a ‘character.’”
I had reinforced her negative behavior by my attitude. We can do the same thing to ourselves. If we constantly dwell on our own problems, we may convince ourselves we are not good people and therefore act as if we are not. Our predictions about ourselves tend to be self-fulfilling, especially when we intensify our own self-doubts by telling others of our follies.
There is, of course, a proper time to confess our weaknesses and seek help from others. We need to analyze ourselves and improve. But in doing this we should remember the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Often we will be tolerant and understanding of others but very harsh on ourselves. We should learn to be kind to ourselves without ignoring the faults we do have.
This idea of treating ourselves fairly has far-reaching implications. If a person had a problem with, say, losing his temper or overeating, he would only make himself miserable by constantly telling others that he could not control his temper or appetite. This in turn could cause him to further lose control of himself.
Still, I know all too well that self-criticism is a difficult habit to break. Just yesterday a friend dropped in to visit and I found myself apologizing: “This place is a mess. If I’d known you were coming I would have vacuumed first thing. Our carpet picks up lint so badly.”
With a twinkle in her eye, my friend leaned down and picked up a piece of lint.
“Now that you mention it, there are a few pieces of lint lying around. But wow! Just look at all the blue carpet that shows through.”
“Next time,” I said, smiling, “I won’t even mention the lint.”
And I won’t.