Toward the end of World War II, I entered the U.S. navy’s flight cadet program. Flying Uncle Sam’s airplanes was exciting and adventurous, but there were also some risks. Occasionally a cadet would make a mistake and “bend” an airplane. If he survived, he was required to write a report of the accident in which he usually admitted that he had forgotten something very essential such as to add appropriate carburetor heat or to change to a full fuel tank.
One of my favorite stories was the cadet who did not want to admit that he had done anything wrong, in spite of wiping out his own and three other aircraft. His accident report stated: “The aircraft’s speed was too high on final approach. … The aircraft hit the runway first with one wheel and then with the other wheel. … It did a few kangaroos down the runway. … The aircraft swerved off the runway and across the grass. … It crossed the taxiway. … across more grass. … The right wing hit a truck parked in the wrong place, … and then I lost control and we cartwheeled into the three parked planes!”
Obviously the aircraft was out of control from the beginning. The cadet must have had his head “down and locked” hiding inside the cockpit while all sorts of things were going wrong. He had long since lost control of such essentials as airspeed, direction, and perception. He could have shut down the engine, used the brakes, or collapsed his own gear instead of running into things with the engine still pulling the aircraft along at 1,500 RPM. No one was in control at all!
Control of Emotions and Passions
Similar to the above accident, but with much more serious consequences, was the situation of a young man who came to see me. He confessed to a serious sin, but thought that he should be allowed to continue as if nothing had happened because “It was an accident. I really didn’t intend to do it,” he said.
No one really wants to commit sins, but at the same time, I don’t think that very many, if any, sins are really as much an accident as they are the direct result of “loss of control.”
When I interviewed in-depth this young man I found out that his life was very much out of control. He was seeing the same young lady much, much too often and was spending too many hours at a time with her, and they were going to the wrong places and doing the wrong things. They were “an accident waiting for a place to happen.” Satan provided the place, and the “accident” happened. They were living too fast. They had lost control of their speed. They were going in the wrong direction. They were not in holy places. They were not doing the right things. They were not home at the appropriate hour their parents had asked them to be. They had begun to lose their virtue piecemeal. No one was in control at all.
Control of Our Thoughts
Before any sin is committed, the thoughts of the transgressor are out of control. As a man thinketh, so he becomes. This is one reason the Lord tells us that we are supposed to control our thoughts and that if we don’t control them, we will be judged and condemned. Alma makes it very clear when he says, “For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; … and our thoughts will also condemn us” (Alma 12:14). King Benjamin warns us in rather frightening terms, “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if you do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, … even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish” (Mosiah 4:29–30; emphasis added).
We are the keepers of our minds. We can control our thoughts. Our minds are like computers—garbage in, garbage out. We will be judged for letting garbage in instead of beautiful, uplifting, inspiring thoughts that edify our minds. Parents should be providing the motivation and the opportunity for elevating reading and for cultural entertainment. Although the Church helps, it is the responsibility of the parents to set the patterns and habits of reading and movie going and TV watching of their children. But nothing can remove the responsibility of the individual for what goes into his mind or her mind and what comes out of it. This is another reason why the scriptures advise us to read “out of the best books” (D&C 88:118; emphasis added).
Control of the Physical Body
Part of our probation here on earth, I feel, is to learn to take care of the physical temple which houses the spirit. The prophets have given us instructions from the Lord as to how to avoid abusing our bodies. The Word of Wisdom is very clear, and we have long been taught the spiritual evils and physical evils which come from alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, and drugs. Part of the self-control we are expected to develop as members of the Church is to resist the temptation to even experiment with any of these things. If a person would not experiment the first time, then he would never have to risk drug addiction or alcohol addiction. Current headlines on the tragic deaths resulting from drug abuse are pointing out that even the first time experimenting can be deadly. If a person never smokes tobacco and has built that barrier of self-control, he will never smoke marijuana or opium. If a person has built the barrier of no tea and no coffee, it is easier for him to also never take the first drink of any alcoholic beverage. Self-control is never experimenting.
Control of Language
The third of the Ten Commandments states: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). This commandment is well known to the entire Christian world; yet even in predominantly Christian countries we observe frequent abuse of all that is sacred, tender, holy, and spiritual to those who truly believe in Christ. It is frightening that even in areas that profess to be Christian and to follow Christian traditions, the misuse of sacred names is so prevalent. To the ears of one who understands and observes this commandment, such oaths and vulgar expressions are painful to hear.
In years gone by, only those who were low and uncultured would dare to use profanity, and the names of Deity were reserved for sacred occasions of worship and prayer. Today it seems as though Satan has control of the tongues of many youths and adults—both men and women—in our society.
There are several kinds of profanity. First, there are those expressions in which the names of Deity are used. This includes such expressions that are derivatives of the names of Deity, such as jeez, gol, and so forth. We find offense in both the title of Deity being used in a profane manner and the shortened or adulterated versions.
Another kind of profanity is a group of four-letter words that are commonly used in anger, frustration—and even, sad to say, everyday speech. They are a cheap substitute for an inadequate vocabulary, and there is no excuse for their use by people who know better and who are adult enough to think before using them. Such words should never be used in anger, never in frustration, never habitually, and never in an inappropriate situation where any might take offense.
Control of Study Habits
Experts in the field of education stress that for students to achieve their full potential they need to develop good study habits. The biggest deterrent to proper learning is a mind which is easily distracted from concentrating on the subject at hand. The development of correct study habits creates mental attitudes and habits which increase the ability to concentrate, increase the length of attention span, and really can make a mediocre student into an outstanding student. These experts tell us that we need to develop a regular pattern of study to overcome the frequent distractions of the mind. If possible it is best to study at the same time each day and in the same place. As you begin to develop regular study habits, external influences, such as street traffic, barking dogs, people coming and going, tend to fade in the background. Once you cease to be distracted, you will find your ability to learn increases dramatically. This is why in the mission field we start each day with study. This is one of the reasons missionaries have such outstanding facility in memorizing scriptures, mastering languages, and learning all of the other things about the gospel they need in order to become outstanding teachers in such a short period of time.
Control of Love
In the mission field it is necessary to avoid romantic attachments with anyone in the mission because this has been found to lead to disobeying the rules and to inhibit the development of the level of spirituality that is required. If uncontrolled, this sometimes leads to sin and excommunication. President Kimball told missionaries to “lock their hearts” during the duration of their missions. We have found that this self-control is actually a measure of maturity of the young person. Those who fall in love uncontrollably are those who are immature. A mature person can control his or her emotions and feelings.
There are a multitude of other facets of self-control worthy of mention but which time does not permit in this particular article. But let me summarize some of my feelings by paraphrasing an idea you have probably read or heard somewhere: