One first noticed the dark glasses and the deep scars on his face. Then came an awareness that he had no hands; only stubs protruded from the sleeves of his coat. Soon it also became apparent that this man was blind. The dark glasses did not protect his eyes from the sun, for he had no eyes. Instead they spared others the shock of seeing only gaping holes where his eyes once had been.
This man, Cory Hanks, visited our home in Phoenix, Arizona, when I was a boy. Having been a university classmate, my father had invited him to dinner to visit and to reminisce. On entering the home, he was taken through all the rooms and made acquainted with the location of the doors and furniture. Thereafter, he moved about as if he could see. At dinner, my mother put all his food on one plate. A bracelet with a spoon attached was then slipped over one of his arms which enabled him to feed himself. We learned that special clothing with snaps instead of buttons and zippers enabled him to dress himself. At the time of his visit, he was a noted lecturer who traveled extensively, usually alone. He trusted clerks, waiters, or travel agents to take the right amount of money from his wallet to pay for any purchase. By asking how much was in his wallet, he knew whether the last person had been honest. He exuded an air of confidence and self-possession and an uncomplaining acceptance of the terrible handicaps with which he lived.
We learned, however, he had not always acted this way. There was a time when he tried desperately to commit suicide. There were also times when, rebelling against his fate, he was either wild and ungovernable or withdrawn and morose. On learning the circumstances of the terrible accident which had blinded and maimed him, one could sympathize with such conduct.
The tragedy occurred at a remote mine high in the mountains. Young Cory was working there through the summer to earn money to continue his education at the university. A rain the night before had dampened the dynamite caps used in blasting. As Cory laid them out in the sun to dry they exploded, mangling his hands and ripping his eyes and face. A companion, hearing the explosion ran to Cory to find him covered with blood and writhing on the ground. With no means of getting him off the mountain alone, the companion tied tourniquets around the stubs of his arms to prevent Cory from bleeding to death and ran for help. Regaining consciousness while his friend was gone and realizing he was blind and had no hands, the wounded miner tried to tear the tourniquets off with his teeth so he would bleed to death. Help came before he succeeded.
There followed a long period of anguish, pain, and self-pity. Cory thought his usefulness was ended, and he could see no purpose in living. He was disagreeable, angry, and argumentative, making himself and everyone around him miserable and unhappy.
But in time, a remarkable change occurred in him. It began when he realized that although he had suffered a terrible disability, he still had resources which, if used properly, would enable him to live happily and productively. It began when he discovered that his mind was unimpaired and that by using it and diverting his thoughts in proper channels, his actions and outward circumstances could be altered accordingly. This change led him back to the university and, ultimately, to a rewarding life of lecturing and travel.
Many people never learn the lesson Cory Hanks learned at such great cost: that thought is the father of action and that attitudes and outward circumstances will yield to the discipline of the mind. In the Book of Mormon we read of Alma, who for three days was “racked … with the pains of a damned soul” (Alma 36:16) because of his many sins. Then he remembered the words of his father about the atonement of Jesus Christ. As his “mind caught hold upon this thought,” said Alma, he prayed fervently for mercy. “When I thought this,” said he, “I could remember my pains no more; … my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:18–20). Such was the effect upon Alma that as he caught hold of and acted upon this thought, his character changed from that of a vile sinner to one of the most dedicated and effective missionaries in the Book of Mormon.
The miraculous aspect of this incident tends to obscure the important lesson it teaches. It may be difficult for the ordinary young Latter-day Saint to relate Alma’s experiences to the challenges he faces day by day. Consider, for instance, the feelings of inferiority which most young people experience from time to time. These can be overcome by taking hold of positive thoughts with which our minds abound. That I am a child of God is such a positive thought. This being true, I have within me the seeds of godhood and the potential to become like my Heavenly Father if I keep his commandments. Does it matter if at this moment I am less than perfect? What does matter is that I am trying hard to keep the commandments, which is the sure road to perfection.
In the same way, feelings of hate, envy, and jealousy, or of any other negative impulse or idea, can be changed by the control of one’s thoughts. And this is something which lies within the sole power of the individual. No one can prevent you from thinking what you wish. Within the sanctity of your mind, you are the king or the queen. There you rule. There you can determine which thoughts will be given precedence, which thoughts will be allowed to take root, and which will be expelled.
But with such control over thought comes a corresponding responsibility. We will be judged by our own thoughts as well as by our words and actions. “Our thoughts will also condemn us,” said Alma (Alma 12:14).
When he was a boy, President George Albert Smith was taught this principle by Karl G. Maeser. Years later he told a seminary graduating class, “A thirteen-year-old boy, whose thoughts galloped around as mine did couldn’t understand why I should be held accountable for my thoughts. I was sure Dr. Maeser was a truthful man; but I couldn’t understand how I could be charged for my thoughts because I couldn’t control them.” President Smith fretted over this idea, which stuck to him “like a burr” until one day it came to him “like a flash from the sky … of course you will be held accountable for your thoughts.” He explained, “When your life is complete in mortality, it will be the sum of your thoughts” (George Albert Smith Collection, Univ. of Utah, ms 36, Scrapbook 1, p. 256; ChurchNews, 16 Feb. 1946, p. 1).
With this in view, it is vital that young Latter-day Saints become more selective about their thoughts. We literally become what we think about. Therefore, one whose mind is absorbed with evil, dirty, and unworthy thoughts will assuredly become an evil, dirty, and unworthy person. Conversely, one whose mind dwells on positive, uplifting, and creative thoughts will inevitably develop these qualities of character. In a world such as ours, inundated with pornography and degrading movies and literature, it often is not possible to prevent improper thoughts from entering our minds. But it is possible for us to monitor them, to expel those that are unworthy of a Latter-day Saint, and to retain and to feast upon those that are elevating and motivating.
Latter-day Saint youth today are among the most valiant and promising of all of God’s spirit children. Reserved by him to come to earth in the last dispensation, they are destined to perform a great work. Within their ranks are the leaders of tomorrow—apostles, prophets, patriarchs, auxiliary heads and other Church leaders as well as leaders in government, business, education, the professions, and the visual and literary arts. But to reach their potential will require work and discipline. It will require a deliberate and determined effort at self-improvement. It will require the setting of high goals and a consistent effort to achieve them. And underlying all these, it will require purity, clarity, and precision in thought.
We have great confidence in the youth of today. We love you. We honor you. We pray for you. We are anxious for your success and happiness. You are never far from our thoughts.
God bless you.