Ahh how sweet it is!!

Ahh how sweet it is!! That is how I tend to sum up my life in a few words. Plain and simple, life is wonderful! This site will give you just a sneak peak at my thoughts throughout my life. Love, Mel

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Location: Bountiful, Utah, United States

Sunday, February 19, 2006




My memory, although I readily admit that it is open to inquiry, is this pertaining to the following event: Within months of our marriage Marlene and I were in the kitchen preparing something to eat. We had a bottle of home-canned fruit (given, I’m sure, to us by my parents - we, at that time were not the “canners” we now are) and I was searching for a butcher knife. I asked Marlene where one was and she asked me why I needed a butcher knife. I said I needed it to remove the lid from the bottle of fruit. In amazement she looked at me and said, “Why don’t you use the bottle lid opener?” She was referring, of course, to the combination beer can / soft drink lid opener. From that point the event is a bit hazy in my mind, but her instruction saved me from of world of hurt, from that time until the present. All my life growing up I had observed my Mom and Dad (mostly my Dad because it was hard, and often bloody, work) remove the lids from canned anything with a butcher knife. They screwed off the ring and then placed the edge of the knife under the lid and pulled upwards. If they were lucky, the lid would give way and come off. Periodically, they would slice into a thumb and, even more often, break off the edge of the bottle. It wasn’t uncommon for Mom and Dad to discuss, “Do you suppose the chip fell into the peaches or is it on the floor somewhere? Mel, get down on the floor and see if you can find it.”

As funny or weird as it may seem, this constant exposure to seeing how lids were removed formed in my mind a deeply ingrained image—a mental model—that influenced how I saw the world and how I was to take action. It was stronger than intellect. Even with the obvious downside of using the butcher knife, it never occurred to me that there was a safer, more efficient method for cap removal—after all, Mom and Dad were grownup experts. It wasn’t until an outsider—someone who was unfamiliar with the process, and not already “contaminated” with visual images—pointed out a different methodology that the light dawned on me and made my life forever a little happier.

Since the “butcher knife” era, I have become aware of other times when I, and others, have suffered through waste, confusion, inefficiency and people-warping due to employing bad mental models. It has been my great fortune to work with individuals, teams and organizations that are striving for improvement and who have benefited by scholars who have found this phenomenon to be typical within individual and organizational life—often with devastating effects. Consider the watch industry monopolized by the Swiss, who assumed that the only way to tell time, appropriately, was through the means of an hour and minute hand. Along came the Japanese, who were not shackled with this mental model, and the digital timepiece was born.

It is interesting to note how mental models, bad or good, affect our relationships, the nature of our interactions and the results that the sum of those interactions can produce. Reseachers, studying the affect of teacher interactions on students, found the impact to be immense. In one study, a teacher of elementary students, who were randomly selected to be in her class, was told that several of the students were gifted—in fact, they were randomly selected and there was no data to indicate they were gifted. Lo and behold, at the conclusion of the year, it was found that those so-called “gifted” students far exceeded the other students in IQ enhancement and achievement. The only variable was the teacher’s mental model. If you observed the teacher, you would probably have noticed her communicating higher expectations, being more tolerant and forgiving and giving more attention to those labeled as gifted.

Peter Senge, a professor at MIT, notes: “Mental models can be simple generalizations such as ‘people are untrustworthy,’ or they can be complex theories, such as my assumptions about why members of my family interact as they do. But what is most important to grasp is that mental models are active—they shape how we act.” The point is if I believe someone is untrustworthy, I will treat him or her differently than if I believed they were trustworthy. “If I believe that my son lacks self-confidence and my daughter is highly aggressive, I will continually intervene in their exchanges to prevent her from damaging his ego.” Moreover, my interactions with my daughter may, in fact, produce the very trait I dislike—remember Johnny Lingo (Mahana, you ugly)?

Here is how it works:

1. After observing someone, for a very short while, I will tend to form a label for that person, e.g., she’s nice, dull, clever, selfish, etc.

2. This forms in me a perceptual set because I like to be decided about the world. I start seeing her as nice and, in fact, selectively see those behaviors that confirm my label. If I see not nice behavior, I excuse that as just a mistake—it doesn’t change my perceptual set.

3. I behave toward her as though she were nice. An observer would notice this in my words, tones, gestures, facial expressions, postures, etc.

4. (Now, here’s the kicker), since I treat her as though she is nice, she actually behaves in a “nice” way. In other words, I get what I stroke.

5. Thus a virtuous cycle is created. She becomes the person I expect her to become. Remember Eliza Doolittle?

The interesting thing is that it all begins with my assumption, not hard data. There probably is no data to conclude that she is either nice or not nice. It is very possible for another person to label her very differently than I do. “Two people with different mental models can observe the same event and describe it differently, because they’ve looked at different details . . .. As psychologists say, we observe selectively.” Einstein wrote, “Our theories determine what we measure.”

Is it any wonder that the Savior cautioned us not to judge. Right or wrong, our judgments are essentially based on assumptions, and look at the possible consequences; we may help produce in an individual the very traits we dislike. Rather the Lord would prefer to have us love one another (big paradigm shift) and treat others like potential Gods. Consider C.S. Lewis’s thoughts:

From The Weight of Glory: "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . . . There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit. . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses."40

(Robert L. Millet, Selected Writings of Robert L. Millet: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2000], 480.)

So, what can we do to get out of the bad mental model business? As an over simplification, I suggest three notions:

1) Consider that many—perhaps most—of our actions are based on assumptions, not truths—be open to trying the bottle opener. There are many ways of behaving in every situation we face. Let us be sure that our choice is based on truth. Ask yourself, “Am I willing to consider that this generalization may be inaccurate or misleading?”

2) Recognize, as pointed out in the above scripture, that Satan is real and desires to destroy our souls and a chief method is to have us behave toward others—even our enemies—in an unloving way. Note James E. Talmage: (Now, I know that it is not quite in accord with the advanced thought of the day, according to certain cults, to believe that there is a devil, a personage, a reality…But there is a personage known as Satan. Before he was cast out from heaven he was called Lucifer. He is just as truly a personage as are you or am I, though he is not embodied…Satan foresaw what would come to pass, and the prophet Nephi realized fully the claims that would be set up in the last days…he foretells that the devil will "rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good." (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 2: 116.)

3) Let the spirit guide us in all our actions and interactions. Note: (D and C 46:7. But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.

You can have the life you want. Have a great one.


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