How to be Virtuous – Wisdom – Discerning Truth from Error

The Wise are also able to discern truth from error

a.) The Wise reject the philosophies of men that contradict the revealed word of God.

Paul taught the Corinthians that they should not let the worldly philosophies that contradict the gospel influence them.  He said:“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Col 2:8)  On another occasion he wrote:  “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Cor. 11: 3)

Paul also counseled Timothy not to put trust in false science that opposes God: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.” (1 Tim 6: 20-21)

He also warned Timothy that many would not abide sound doctrine but seek after teachers who would tickle their ears with worldly philosophies: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Tim 4: 3-4)

b.) The wise test things through experience and judge things by their fruits. They learn from history.

Jesus taught us that we should live His teachings and judge their fruit to know whether they are of God or not: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  (John 7: 17)

Paul echoed this sentiment when he taught the Thessalonians to: “Prove all things (and then) hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thess 5: 21)  Since older people tend to have more experience, they tend to be more wise as they have tested and judged the fruits of many philosophies and teachings.  This is why in Job we read: “With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding.” (Job 12: 12)

The Wise learn from the lives of others without having to suffer themselves.  Expounding upon this principle, Elder Ballard taught:“There are great lessons to be learned from the past, and you ought to learn them so that you don’t exhaust your spiritual strength repeating past mistakes and bad choices… You don’t have to spend time as a Laman or a Lemuel in order to know that it’s much better to be a Nephi or a Jacob. You don’t have to follow the path of Cain or Gadianton in order to realize that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). And you don’t have to allow your community to become like Sodom or Gomorrah in order to understand that it isn’t a good place to raise a family.” (Learning the lessons of the past‐ M. Russell Ballard)

The scriptures are a great blessing because they give us the benefit of hindsight and allow us to see that God does exactly what He says He is going to do through His prophets.  In Zechariah 1:6 we read:“But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? And they returned and said, Like as the Lord of hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us.” (Zechariah 1:6)

c.) The wise focus on the truths that have been revealed to them and not on what they do not know.

The scriptures also teach us that we should focus on the Gospel truths we do know and the authority of those who taught them to us.Paul wrote to Timothy:“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.” (2 Tim 3: 14)

Paul also warned the Hebrews to be careful of seeking after strange doctrines that have not profited others.  He wrote: “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” (Hebrews 13:9)

d.) The wise recognize the scope of their competency and rely upon God when their wisdom falls short.

The wise also recognize the scope of their competency and rely upon God when their wisdom falls short.  When a case is too difficult for men to decide, the scriptures tell us to take it to God:Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.” (Deut 1:17)

This same principle was repeated in the D&C 136: 32 which reads:  “Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear.” (D&C 136:32)

e.) The wise test all ideas and beliefs by comparing them to the word of God.  That which contradicts the word of God is rejected.

The wise also test all ideas and beliefs by comparing them to the word of God.  That which contradicts the word of God is rejected.  Paul compared the word of God to a sword when he said: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4: 12)

f.) The wise do not reject what seem to be simple solutions or the plainness of the gospel.

The wise also do not reject what seems to be simple or plain solutions.  In 2 Kings 5, we learn of Naaman the Leper who was told by the prophet to wash in the River Jordan to be healed of leprosy.  Because of how simple the solution seemed, Naaman resisted but then he eventually submitted and was healed.  A similar story in the Book of numbers teaches us that people will often reject simple solutions that lead to their downfall.  The Israelites were afflicted with serpent bites and the Lord told them all they needed to do was look upon a brass serpent that Moses constructed and they would be healed.  Commenting on this story, the prophet Nephi said: “He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.” (1 Nephi 17: 40-42)

Like Naaman, we can often look beyond the mark and despise plainness. The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob condemned this attitude when he said: “But behold, the Jews were a stiff-necked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.” (Jacob 4:14)

The Plainness of the gospel can also be a Stumbling Block to those who are looking for needless complexity.  Nephi laments the fact that people will not accept great knowledge when it is given in plainness.  He wrote: “..For they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.” (2 Nephi 32:7)

g.) The wise do not immediately believe everything they hear but use science and the word of God to test beliefs.

The wise do not immediately believe everything they hear but use science and the word of God to test beliefs.  In Proverbs this attitude of gullibility is condemned.  Prov 14:15 reads: “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” (Proverbs 14:15)

h.) The wise know that there is no “private interpretation” of scripture and avoid groups that say they have “special” knowledge that the leadership of the church does not have. (Such as energy healers)

And finally, the prophets warn us against “private interpretations of scripture” or of people who claim they know things the prophets do not.  Elder M. Russel Ballard warned:   “Be aware of organizations, groups, or individuals claiming secret answers to doctrinal questions that they say today’s apostles and prophets do not have or understand.  An official Church statement, issued one year ago, states: “We urge Church members to be cautious about participating in any group that promises—in exchange for money—miraculous healings or that claims to have special methods for accessing healing power outside of properly ordained priesthood holders.”  (M. Russell Ballard-The Trek Continues)

The scriptures warn that the consequences of failing to develop wisdom are fatal.  In Proverbs 10:21 we read:“The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.” (Proverbs 10:21) In Hosea, the Lord laments the willful ignorance of the Israelites and says:  “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” (Hosea 4:6)


  1. Ignorance: the state or fact of being ignorant; lack of knowledge, learning, information, etc.
  2. Foolishness: resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill‐considered; unwise.
  3. Idiocy: utterly senseless or foolish behavior; a stupid or foolish act, statement, etc.

Common Situations that test our Wisdom

  1. Situation: When you must make judgments about other people.

Wise Response: You abide by the principles of making righteous judgments.

Foolish Response: You make unrighteous judgments of self or others by ignoring righteous principles.

  1. Situation: When you must discern whether something or someone is good or evil.

Wise Response: You judge the fruits of something and compare it to the word of God.

Foolish Response: You ignore the fruits of something and rely upon worldly philosophies.

  1. Situation: When you must discern truth from error.

Wise Response: You rely upon the word of God and then science to fill in the blanks (logic and experience).

Foolish Response: You rely on your own wisdom and ignore science and revelation.

  1. Situation: When you are planning your education or choosing what to learn.

Wise Response: You seek after learning that edifies and improves you.

Foolish Response: You choose to remain ignorant and seek after vain philosophies.

  1. Situation: When you are determining your priorities.

Wise Response: You defer to God and identify the best use of your time.

Foolish Response: You pursuit that which is of lesser importance and follow your own will.

  1. Situation: When you must discern the spiritual from the earthly.

Wise Response: You ask for and seek a witness from the Spirit of God.

Foolish Response: You deny the spiritual witness and rationalize it away.

  1. Situation: When you must make any decision that affects your life.

Wise Response: You study it out and rely upon the word of god, personal revelation and sound scientific principles to come to the best decision.

Foolish Response: You neglect to consider the options and ignore the word of God and science.

How to be Virtuous – Wisdom – Discerning Good from Evil

Closely related to making righteous judgments of others is the ability to discern good from evil.  In this next section, I will outline the keys that the scriptures have given us for determining whether something is good or evil. One of the most helpful keys is given to us by Moroni who taught:

 “For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for everything which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.”  (Moroni 7: 16-17)

Moroni is saying that anything that leads you to believe in Christ and to obey the laws of God we can label “good.”  The laws of God are revealed in the scriptures, through the gift of the Holy Ghost and through the “light of Christ” or “conscience” that every person is born with.  In contrast, anything that diminishes belief in Christ or causes you to disobey God’s laws is inspired by the devil.

Let’s first look at some of the other keys and signs the scriptures give us that will help us detect if something is evil.  By evil I mean that it is inspired of the Devil and by Good I mean that it is inspired by God.

a.) Evil seeks signs and relies wholly upon the flesh.

First, the evil are often described as: “sign seekers” as they claim to believe in nothing other than what their physical senses tell them.  Jesus condemned the sign-seekers of his time when He said: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.” (Matt 12:39)

Evil denies that miracles exist and deny that we should have faith in God.  Moroni, looking on the latter days gave this warning:  “And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief. And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God.” (Moroni 10: 24-25)

b.) Evil rejects, mocks and fights against anything from God.

Second, evil rejects, mocks and fights against anything that is Good or from God.  Jesus told the Pharisees that they rejected Him because they were children of the Devil.  (John 8: 31-59)  Paul taught the Corinthians that those inspired of the devil would reject the preaching of the Gospel.  He said: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor. 1: 18)

Paul also taught the Corinthians that the wisdom of the world would be direct opposition to the wisdom of God and would be foolishness. He said: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” (1 Cor. 3: 18-20)

On another occasion, Paul taught the Thessalonians that those who despise Christians really despise God Himself.  In 1 Thess 4:8 he wrote: “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.” (1 Thess 4: 8)

In Proverbs we also learn that wherever rebellion against God’s laws occurs it is inspired of the Devil.  Proverbs 17:11 testifies: “An evil man seeketh only rebellion: therefore a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.” (Proverbs 17:11)   In 2 Nephi 28:20 it is revealed that evil shall:”…Rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.”   And Nephi said that those who are angry at the Book of Mormon are inspired of the devil: “…wherefore, no man will be angry at the words which I have written save he shall be of the spirit of the devil.” (2 Nephi 33: 5) The Lord repeated this teaching in D&C 84:52 when He said:  “And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.” (D&C 84:52)

Evil also dismisses and silences the word of God.  Speaking of the apostate state of ancient Israel, the prophet Isaiah said: “That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.” (Isaiah 30: 9-11; Amos 5: 10,13)

In 2 Nephi 28: 20-32, Nephi outlines many of the tactics that the Devil will use to fight against Goodness in the last days.  Among these tactics include:

a.) Lulling people into carnal security until they believe “all is well”;

b.) Making people believe evil, hell and the devil doesn’t exist;

c.) Decieving people through the philosophies and precepts of men;

d.) Denying the power of God; and

e.) Stirring up anger against the laws of God.

c.) Evil is known by sinful works that bring forth evil fruit and contradict the Law of God.

Third, the scriptures say that evil brings forth sin and evil fruit that contradict the law of God. Jesus said that any who commit sin are the servants of sin and remain so unless He sets them free.  In John 8: 34-36 the Lord says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8: 34-36)

In the Book of Habakkuk, the Lord outlines the 5 woes of Babylon which result when evil is embraced and the law of God is rejected.  The 5 woes are as follows:

1.)    “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own!” God condemned the pillaging and conquering of the Chaldean’s and said that those they have pillaged will rise up suddenly against them. (Hab 2: 6-8)

2.)    “Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house that he may set his nest on high that he may be delivered from the power of evil!” God condemned the pride and covetousness of Babylon and says the very timber and rocks of their cities will witness against their sins. (Hab 2: 9-11)

3.)    “Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!” God condemns those who built up Babylon through violence and sin. (Hab 2)

4.)    “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!” God condemns those who would commit sexual sins through the aid of alcohol. (Hab 2)

5.)    “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.” (Hab 2:19) God condemns those who engage in idolatry and worship vanities instead of God.

In summary, God says that Babylon will be destroyed for getting gain through murder and theft, pride and covetousness, violence and iniquity, sexual immorality and drunkenness and finally idolatry.

d.) Evil masquerades as good but it is detected by its works.

Fourth, evil often masquerades as good but the scriptures say we can detect evil by its works and not its words. The scriptures warn that the devil can even appear as an angel of Light.  The Anti-Christ Korihor confessed that the Devil appeared to him as an angel of light and asked him to teach the people of his evil doctrines.  (Alma 30:53) The D&C even gives the “handshake test” as a way to determine if a spirit is from God or not. (D&C 129: 4-9)

Isaiah also pronounced Woe’s upon those who would pretend their evil works were really good when he said: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

Isaiah also warned us not to believe the euphemistic labels that evil uses to describe itself.  For example, Isaiah said: “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful…” (Isaiah 32: 5-6)   Liberal is a good word but can often be misused to justify beliefs and behaviors that, in reality, diminish belief in Christ and encourage disobedience to God’s law.

Many people even do evil and claim they are followers of Christ.  This is why Paul told Titus that those that profess to know God must show forth good works otherwise they are lying.  “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (Titus 1:16)

John repeated this doctrine as well when he wrote: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” (1 John 2: 3-5)

And finally, the Lord condemned those in Ancient Israel who professed to follow God but in reality did not. In Isaiah 48: 1-2 the Lord says: “Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness. Nevertheless, they call themselves of the holy city, but they do not stay themselves upon the God of Israel, who is the Lord of Hosts; yea, the Lord of Hosts is his name.”

e.) Evil tempts us to disobey God’s law and Will.

Fifth, evil is often experienced as a temptation to disobey God’s law and Will.  Amulek told Zeezrom, who tempted him to disobey God: “O thou child of hell, why tempt ye me? Knowest thou that the righteous yieldeth to no such temptations?” (Alma 11:23)  The Book of Mormon also teaches us that evil tends to “poison by degrees” as Amalackiah did to Lehonti to gain control of the Lamanite army.  (Alma 43:50)

One of the most common temptations that the scriptures tell us to look out for is when we feel the lack of desire to pray.  In 2 Nephi 32:8 we read: “…For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.”  (2 Nephi 32: 8)

James teaches us that God never tempts us to disobey His law but that temptation occurs when the devil exploits the lusts of the bodies that we inhabit.  He says:“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.  Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1: 13-15)

f.) Evil accuses and hates others and seeks to destroy and harm.

Sixth, evil inspires hatred and leads to accusations against others.  In 1 John 4: 20-21 we learn: ” “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4: 20-21)

f.) Evil worships idols and the self  instead of God.

Seventh, evil inspires worship of idols and of the self instead of God.  In Psalms 81: 12 we learn that when we follow the lusts of our own heart and walk after our own counsel the Lord leaves us.  It reads: “So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.” (Psalms 81: 12)

Jacob condemned the proud who worshiped their own knowledge and understanding above the revealed word of God. He said:  “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” (2 Nephi 9: 28-29)

g.) Evil rationalizes and deceives people into carnal security by denying God.

Eight, evil rationalizes away sin and lulls people into what the scriptures call “carnal security”  (2 Nephi 28: 21).   The Devil convinces many there is no hell or devil and that thus they can do what they want without consequence.  The ultimate rationalization is that there is no God or objective morality that we are accountable to.  Psalms 14:1 records: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”

In Proverbs we learn that some people can convince themselves they are doing the right thing when really they are headed for hell.  Proverbs 14:12 warns:  “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

h.) Evil values the riches of this world above God and other people.

The 9th key to discerning evil is that evil values the riches of this world above God and other people.  We learn this principles in Proverbs 28: 20-22 which reads: “A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent… He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.” (Proverbs 28:20, 22)

The churches that evil people build up are motivated to get gain and not to preach the Gospel in its purity.   In D&C 10:56 the Lord condemns these churches: “But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil—yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center.” (D&C 10: 56)

The scriptures also reveal that evil has no sincere desire to care for the poor and the needy.  In D&C 52:40 we learn: “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.” (D&C 52:40)

i.) Evil is detected by a lack of the presence of the Spirit of God.

The 10th key to consider is the idea that we can detect evil by discerning a lack of the Holy Spirit.  Where the Spirit is not present, evil thrives.  God has warned us that His spirit will not always be present with us and when He withdraws His spirit then we are left vulnerable to evil that will destroy us.  (Genesis 6:3)


3. The Wise are able to discern what is good and from God

While the scriptures give us many keys for discerning evil, they also give us keys for discerning what is Good and therefore from God.  I will now examine 8 keys for discerning good that I have found in the scriptures.

a.) Good is often rejected or cast out by the world.

First, the scriptures often teach that the world at large will usually reject the things of God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus taught: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15: 19-20)

Repeating this doctrine, John the Evangelist taught:  “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” (1 John 3:1)

b.) Good accepts, loves and seeks after anything that comes from God.

Second, good accepts, loves and seeks after anything that comes from God.  Moroni taught this principle when he wrote: “And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.” (Moroni 10: 6)

The admonition of Paul to the Philippians says: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phil 5:8)

Jesus repeatedly taught this doctrine when He said “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10: 27) Jesus also told Pilate that: “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” (John 18: 37)

In Proverbs 14:2 we also learn that:“He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the Lord: but he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him.” (Proverbs 14:2)

c.) Good has power over evil and the flesh.

Third, the scriptures teach us that Good is more powerful than evil and the powers of the flesh.  Jesus taught that these signs would accompany His true followers: they would cast out devils, speak with new tongues, be immune to poison and heal the sick and afflicted. (Mark 16: 17-20)

Jesus also promised His disciples that through the power of the Holy Spirit, no power of earth or hell could resist their words.  This promise is found in Luke 21: 14-15 which reads:  “Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. (Luke 21: 14-15)

d.) Good is gentle, edifies, causes peace and joy, not turmoil and confusion.

Fourth, the fruits of goodness are described by Paul in his letter to the Galatians which reads: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Gal 5: 22-23)

James also described the fruits of the spirit in this way: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3: 17)

The Spirit that inspires Goodness leads to peace and not confusion.  Paul taught the Corinthians:  “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Cor 14: 33)

The Lord also promises that goodness leads to joy.  In D&C 11:13 the Lord says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy.”

The Spirit of Goodness also edifies and uplifts all those it comes into contact with.  In D&C 50:23 we read: “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.” (D&C 50:23)

We will often experience this Spirit as gentle promptings.  In 1 Kings 19: 11-12 we learn that we will often experience this Spirit as gentle promptings.  It reads:  “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19: 11-12)

e.) Good is known by righteous works that are consistent with the will and commandments of God and rejects Evil.

Fifth, we can know if something is good if it is consistent with the revealed will and commandment of God.  The Book of Job tells us to train our ears to be able to engage in sound judgment. Job 34: 3-4 teaches: “For the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meat. Let us choose to us judgment: let us know among ourselves what is good.” (Job 34: 3-4)

Peter admonishes us to eschew evil and choose good.  In 1 Peter 3: 10-12 Peter writes:“For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (1 Peter 3: 10-12)

The command to hate evil and love the Good is also found in Amos 5: 14-15 which says: “Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.”

And in the Book of Mormon, this doctrine is also repeated as Alma taught his son Helaman to “…teach them an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.” (Alma 37:32)

In Psalms 1: 1-2 we learn that we should not listen to the advice of the ungodly but instead meditate upon the law of the Lord Day and night. It reads: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1: 1-2)

Instead of heeding the words of the ungodly, the D&C exhorts us to follow the Spirit of God which leads us to do good.  D&C 3:2 instructs us: “And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.” (D&C 3:2)

If we are obeying the Spirit then we will be prompted to obey all the laws of God including: the ten commandments, the law of chastity, the law of tithing, the law of the Sabbath and every other law revealed in the scriptures and through God’s servants the prophets.

f.) The Good fear and revere God.

Sixth, we can detect what is Good by determining its attitude towards God.  That which is good fears and revere’s God. In Job 28:28 we are taught:  “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28: 28)  This same principle is repeated in Proverbs 1:7 which says: ” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

To fear God is to revere Him and to fear the consequences of breaking His commandments.  King David taught that: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” To rule with the fear of  God is to rule as if you were accountable to God for how you treat those under your stewardship.  Unfortunately, it was David’s failure to rule in the fear of God that would ultimately lead to his downfall as King.

g.) The Good are known by their wisdom.

Seventh, the good are known by their wisdom.  In Proverbs 2: 6-7 it is written: “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.” (Proverbs 2: 6-7)

Proverbs suggests that wise men often appear more reserved and quiet.  In Proverbs 17: 28 we read: “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”

h.) Good is marked by the presence of light and the Spirit of God.

And finally, good is marked by the presence of light and the Spirit of God.  In 1 John 3: 24 we learn that if we can feel the companionship of the Holy Spirit then we are in good standing before the Lord.  The text reads: “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” (1 John 3: 24)

Good can even be discerned by the brightness of a person’s countenance.  In Ecclesiastes 8:1 it is written:  “A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.” (Eccl 8:1)  In 3 Nephi 19:25 we also learn that the followers of Jesus will reflect a bright countenance to the world.  It says: “And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them.”

The scriptures teach us that light is from God and those who receive His light begin to receive more of it.  D&C 50: 24 reads: “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” (D&C 50:24)


And finally, I’d like to conclude discussing the keys to discerning good and evil by contrasting the two grand churches that exist, according to the scriptures.  In 1 Nephi 14 we learn: “Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.” (1 Nephi 14)

According to 1 Nephi 14, the Church of the Devil has the following Characteristics:

  • It slays the saints and brings them into captivity.
  • Its focus is on riches and there are many harlots.
  • It is motivated by gaining the praise of the world.
  • It alters and corrupts the word of God.
  • It is the mother of all abominations (vile, detestable acts) and whore of the earth.
  • It would have dominion over all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples.

The Lord condemns many of the churches that will exist in the Gentile nations in the last days.  In 2 Nephi 28: 4 the Lord describes these churches as preaching up unto themselves their own learning to get gain and oppress the poor.  These churches also cause envying, malice and strife.  (2 Nephi 26:20-21)  They teach with their learning and deny the Holy Ghost which giveth utterance.  (2 Nephi 28:4)

The churches of the devil engage in Priestcrafts which involves a person setting themselves up as a light to follow (rather than God)  in order to get gain and praise.  Some of the doctrines that God has warned us against adopting include:   Churches will teach that Jesus has done His work and no miracles will occur today.  They will teach that God saves everyone regardless of works and it is okay to sin a little.  Eat, drink and be merry will be a major theme. Many will also deny further revelation and say they only need the Bible. (2 Nephi 28).

Through the story of Jacob and Sherem the Anti-Christ, we can see two clear exemplars of each of the two churches.  The Table below outlines the main differences

Jacob Sherem
Spoke hard truths to the people that made him unpopular at times. Used Flattery to win over the People
Taught that Christ would come Taught there would be no Christ
Had visions and seen angels. Was Learned and Articulate
Motivated by bringing others to Christ. Motivated to destroy faith in God.
Bore testimony of Jesus Christ. Accused Jacob of Blasphemy.
Reasoned according to the Spirit. Reasoned according to his learning.
Believed based upon faith. Required Signs to Believe.


How to be Virtuous – Wisdom – Judging Others

One important aspect of wisdom is the ability to discern between good and evil and to make righteous judgments of others.  In His discourse on judging, found in Matt 7: 1-5 the Lord taught:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.  And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?  Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

While we are told to be careful of the judgments we make, President Oaks makes it clear that God still expects us to make righteous judgments.  He said:

“On one occasion the Savior chided the people, “Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” (Luke 12:57). On another occasion he said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). We must, of course, make judgments every day in the exercise of our moral agency, but we must be careful that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final.”  (Dallin H. Oaks-Judge not and judging)

In his talk, “Judge not and Judging” President Oaks outlines the seven characteristics of righteous judgments as follows:

First, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire.

Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest.

Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities.

Fourth, we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law is a vital rule to guide the conduct of a criminal trial, but it is not a valid restraint on personal decisions…Some personal decisions must be made before we have access to all of the facts. Two hypotheticals illustrate this principle: (1) If a particular person has been arrested for child sexual abuse and is free on bail awaiting trial on his guilt or innocence, would you trust him to tend your children while you take a weekend trip?

A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations.

Sixth, forgiveness is a companion principle to the commandment that in final judgments we judge not and in intermediate judgments we judge righteously.

Seventh, a final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is that it will apply righteous standards. If we apply unrighteous standards, our judgment will be unrighteous. “… While there are many things we must make judgments about, the sins of another or the state of our own souls in comparison to others seems not to be among them. … Our own sins, no matter how few or seemingly insignificant, disqualify us as judges of other people’s sins”). (Dallin H. Oaks-Judge not and judging)

Along with these seven principles, the scriptures also give us many more “keys of judgment” that will help us make righteous judgments and discern appropriately. I will now examine 7 more of these keys that I have found in the scriptures.

a.) The Wise Judge people and things by their actions and effects they have on the world.

First, the wise judge people and things by their actions and the effects they have on the world.  Jesus taught us to judge things by their effects and not on stated intentions when He said: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.  A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matt 7: 16-18)

On another occasion, Jesus told the Pharisees to believe His works if they don’t believe His words. (John 10: 24-42)  This is in alignment with Proverbs 20:11 which teaches:  “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.” (Proverbs 20:11)

And finally, the prophet Alma taught this principle in the following way, in Alma 5: 40-41 which reads: “For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.  Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.”

b.) The wise judge people in proportion to their capacity and knowledge.

The second key of judgment is that we should judge people in proportion to their capacity and knowledge.   Jesus taught that the people were not accountable until they had the truth declared to them. He said: “If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.” (John 15:24) Jesus taught that the Pharisees had been given much in terms of gospel understanding, while those they considered sinners had not been given much.  Thus, even though the sinners did much that would result in punishment they would be punished less than those Pharisees who had the greater knowledge and did not act on it.

In Luke 12:48 the Lord taught: “But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:48)

Jesus even taught in parables, as an act of mercy, to hide some truths from those who were not yet able to bear them and to therefore spare them of a greater responsibility that would just condemn them. (Matt 13:13)

Paul taught the Romans that we are judged according to the law that we have received.  Romans 2: 12-13 reads: For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.)” (Romans 2: 12-13)

Speaking of his own previous sins, Paul told Timothy that he was more easily forgiven because he sinned in ignorance.  He said of himself: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Tim 1:13)

Similarly, the mistakes and transgressions of youth appear to be more easily forgiven than those same transgressions after a lifetime of knowledge and experience.  In Psalms 25:7 we read:  “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.” (Psalms 25:7)

Progression in the gospel occurs in an orderly fashion as we receive knowledge “line upon line and precept upon precept.” Isaiah said: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” (Isaiah 28:10)

Paul also wrote to the Hebrews and said that God starts by giving us a simple understanding of His law and does not reveal more until we have mastered what He has given us.  He wrote: “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5: 13-14)

c.) The wise avoid premature judgments and leave final judgments of self and others to God.

The third principle is that the wise avoid premature judgments and leave final judgments only to God. When Jesus was rejected by the Samaritans, His disciples asked for fire to come and destroy those who rejected Him. Jesus rebuked them and said that He came to save men’s lives and not destroy them.  Jesus was not ready to pass final judgment as the people still had time in their lives to learn. (Luke 9:54)

The disciples of Jesus made an understandable mistake, in that they assumed that because the Samaritans were wicked now, the justice of God should come upon them.  However, God is merciful, and often delays judgment so that the people might have a chance to experience the full consequences of wickedness over an extended period of time.  And then, if the people choose wickedness after fully understanding the fruits of it, then judgment comes.

If judging others was difficult for the Apostles, it will certainly be difficult for us as well.  The Lord Himself said this in D&C 10: 37 which reads:“But as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous, therefore I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter.”

Since judging others correctly is so difficult (and technically impossible) God tells us to leave judgment to Him.  President Dallin H. Oaks taught:

“We must refrain from making final judgments on people because we lack the knowledge and the wisdom to do so. We would even apply the wrong standards. The world’s way is to judge competitively between winners and losers. The Lord’s way of final judgment will be to apply His perfect knowledge of the law a person has received and to judge on the basis of that person’s circumstances, motives, and actions throughout his or her entire life.

Even the Savior, during His mortal ministry, refrained from making final judgments. We see this in the account of the woman taken in adultery. After the crowd who intended to stone her had departed, Jesus asked her about her accusers. “Hath no man condemned thee?” (John 8:10). When she answered no, Jesus declared, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). In this context the word condemn apparently refers to the final judgment (see John 3:17).

The Lord obviously did not justify the woman’s sin. He simply told her that He did not condemn her—that is, He would not pass final judgment on her at that time. This interpretation is confirmed by what He then said to the Pharisees: “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man” (John 8:15). The woman taken in adultery was granted time to repent, time that would have been denied by those who wanted to stone her.” (Dallin H. Oaks-Judge Not and Judging)

In the Parable of the wheat and the tares, the Lord tells His servants not to attempt to determine who the Tares are but to wait until Judgment Day when God will separate the wheat from the Tares (Matt 13: 24-30)

While men are restricted to being able to judge after outward appearances, the Lord is able to look upon the heart and discern the true wishes and motivations of people.  Speaking of David, who was an unimpressive physical specimen, the Lord told Samuel: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)  While men lacked the capacity to judge David accurately, the Lord knew that he would have the faith and courage necessary to slay Goliath and to become a King in Israel one day.

Similarly, Saul, who persecuted and killed Christians, would not have been seen as a likely candidate for conversion by the disciples. However, the Lord knew Saul’s heart and saw fit to reach out and gather him into the fold.  We can never know the ultimate fate of anybody no matter how lost they seem right now. (Acts 8-9)

This also applies to ourselves, as Paul taught the Corinthians:  “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.” (1 Cor. 4: 3-4)

Speaking on our inability to judge, Elder Kenneth L. Higbee taught:  “Even if our perceptions were accurate and we could perceive intent as well as behavior, we would still not be qualified to judge. The Lord indicated the reason for this in his Sermon on the Mount when he told us to not be too concerned about the mote in our brother’s eye until we get the beam out of our own eye. (Matt. 7:3–5.) In contrasting a small particle of dust in our brother’s eye with a large piece of wood in our own eye, the Savior was suggesting that, because we ourselves are sinners, we are not justified in condemning others for sinning. ”

We are all sinners. Jesus reminded the people who condemned the woman taken in adultery that it was not their place to judge others for their sins but to look to their own sins first. Because we sin, it is evidence of our fallibility.  We should leave judgment to God who is infallible. (John 8: 1-11)

James taught us that it was our role to obey the Law and it was Christ’s role to judge.  He said: “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” (James 4: 11-12)

d.) The wise judge others according to the standard by which they wish to be judged.

The fourth key of making righteous judgments is understanding that the standard we use to judge others is the standard God will use to judge us. Jesus taught: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt 7: 1-2)

Understanding this principle, Paul cautioned the Romans against judging others when he said: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Roman 2: 1-4)

When we make final judgments about people, we make the unprovable assumption that given the same genetics, life history and circumstances, that we would behave better.  This is something that can never be known, but by God, and should elicit a sense of humility in us that should cause us to declare incompetence on the matter.

e.) The wise judge people according to proper values and criteria.

Fifth, the scriptures warn us against using the standards of the world as a measure of favor with God.  For example, Paul warned Timothy about assuming that wealth is a sign of God’s favor when he wrote about the:  “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”  (1 Tim 6:5)

f.) The wise also take into account a person’s true desires.

Sixth, where it is possible, we can try to discern the true intent and desires of someone’s heart.  IN D&C 18: 38 the Lord taught:“And by their desires and their works you shall know them.” (D&C 18: 38)

g.) The Wise judge others in a spirit of love and leave them feeling hopeful and not ashamed.

And finally, the last key of Judgment that I will discuss today is to try and instill wayward souls with a sense of love and hope and not of sham.  Elder Lynn G. Robins taught:

“Today’s “common judge[s]” (D&C 107:74), our bishops and branch presidents, should avoid any similar impulse to condemn, as James and John did on that occasion. A righteous judge would respond to confessions with compassion and understanding. An erring youth, for example, should leave the bishop’s office feeling the love of the Savior through the bishop and enveloped in the joy and healing power of the Atonement—never shamed or held in contempt. Otherwise, the bishop may unwittingly drive the lost sheep further into the wilderness” (see Luke 15:4). (Lynn G. Robins-The Righteous Judge)

How to be Virtuous – Wisdom – Priorities & Focus

Another key aspect of wisdom is the capacity to prioritize competing interests and demands appropriately.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed that engaging in good things can often come at the expense of engaging in the best things.  Thus, choosing between good and bad is not enough for wisdom as we also must learn to choose between good, better and best options.

I will now outline 6 principles for prioritizing from President Oaks’ talk entitled “Good, Better Best:”

  1. Just because something is good, it is not a sufficient reason for doing it.   We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it. The number of good things we can do far exceeds the time available to accomplish them. Some things are better than good, and these are the things that should command priority attention in our lives.” (Dallin H. Oaks- Good, Better, Best)
  1. Some things are needful, while others just good.  “Jesus taught this principle in the home of Martha. While she was “cumbered about much serving” (Luke 10:40), her sister, Mary, “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word” (v. 39). When Martha complained that her sister had left her to serve alone, Jesus commended Martha for what she was doing (v. 41) but taught her that “one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (v. 42). It was praiseworthy for Martha to be “careful and troubled about many things” (v. 41), but learning the gospel from the Master Teacher was more “needful.” The scriptures contain other teachings that some things are more blessed than others” (see Acts 20:35; Alma 32:14–15). (Dallin H. Oaks‐ Good, Better, Best)
  1. We need to determine what is best and not simply what is good.  “As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all. Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best. When the Lord told us to seek learning, He said, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom.” (D&C 88:118) (Dallin H. Oaks‐ Good, Better, Best)
  1. Family time should be our top priority in life.  “The amount of children‐and‐parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be over-scheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one‐on‐one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. Parents should teach gospel priorities through what they do with their children. Family experts have warned against what they call “the over scheduling of children.” In the last generation children are far busier and families spend far less time together. Among many measures of this disturbing trend are the reports that structured sports time has doubled, but children’s free time has declined by 12 hours per week, and unstructured outdoor activities have fallen by 50 percent.” (Dallin H. Oaks‐ Good, Better, Best)
  1. Excess time in church activities can deteriorate the family.  “In general conference last year, Elder M. Russell Ballard warned against the deterioration of family relationships that can result when we spend excess time on ineffective activities that yield little spiritual sustenance. He cautioned against complicating our Church service “with needless frills and embellishments that occupy too much time, cost too much money, and sap too much energy. . . . The instruction to magnify our callings is not a command to embellish and complicate them. To innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify. . . . What is most important in our Church responsibilities,” he said, “is not the statistics that are reported or the meetings that are held but whether or not individual people—ministered to one at a time just as the Savior did—have been lifted and encouraged and ultimately changed.” (Dallin H. Oaks‐ Good, Better, Best)
  1. In all things, there is a good, better and best way of doing them.  “To our hundreds of thousands of home teachers and visiting teachers, I suggest that it is good to visit our assigned families; it is better to have a brief visit in which we teach doctrine and principle; and it is best of all to make a difference in the lives of some of those we visit. That same challenge applies to the many meetings we hold—good to hold a meeting, better to teach a principle, but best to actually improve lives as a result of the meeting.” (Dallin H. Oaks‐ Good, Better, Best)

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf warns us about what happens when we focus on the insignificant using the analogy of a malfunctioning plane.  He taught:“The plane was in perfect mechanical condition. Everything was working properly—all except one thing: a single burned‐out light bulb. That tiny bulb—worth about 20 cents—started the chain of events that ultimately led to the tragic deaths of over 100 people. Of course, the malfunctioning light bulb didn’t cause the accident; it happened because the crew placed its focus on something that seemed to matter at the moment while losing sight of what mattered most.  It is easy to become distracted—to become focused on one burned‐out light bulb or the impolite acts of unkind people, whatever their motive may be. But think of the power we would have as individuals and as a body of the priesthood if, in response to every temptation to lose focus or lower our standards—the standards of God, we responded, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf‐ We are doing a great work)

In speaking on life’s greatest decisions, President Monson taught us that we need to prioritize gaining a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He said: “First, what will be my faith? Each one of us has the responsibility to find out for himself or herself that this gospel of Jesus Christ is true. If we study the scriptures and put the teachings to the test, then we shall know the truthfulness of the doctrine, for this is our promise.”

In this same talk, President Monson also counselled us to prioritize preparing ourselves for a rewarding and fulfilling career.  He said:  “What will be my life’s work? I have counseled many returning missionaries who have asked this question. I interviewed seventeen hundred missionaries one year all over the world. My advice to them, and to each one of you young people here this evening and elsewhere throughout the world, is that you should study and prepare for your life’s work in a field that you enjoy, because you are going to spend a good share of your life in that field. It should be one which will challenge your intellect and which will make maximum utilization of your talents and your capabilities. Finally, it should be a field that will supply sufficient remuneration to provide adequately for your companion and your children. Now that’s a big order. But I bear testimony that these criteria are very important in choosing your life’s work.” (Life’s Greatest Decisions‐ Thomas S. Monson)

Another top priority in our lives should be establishing a temple marriage.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie counseled, “The most important single thing that any Latter‐day Saint ever does in this world is to marry the right person, in the right place, by the right authority.” (Life’s Greatest Decisions‐ Thomas S. Monson)

Along with a temple marriage, Elder Neal A. Maxwell also taught us to make eternal things a priority over secular concerns.  He says: “Because Eternalism sees man in just that perspective—eternal—it of necessity concerns itself with things that appear to be either trivial to—or which fall within—secularism’s zone of indifference. In a sense, Eternalism sees the individual and his potential as one might view an acorn and the subsequent forest. Secularism sees the individual as a very important and very real, but temporary, phenomenon in the cosmic landscape—which leads inevitably to other values and emphasis. When life‐style takes the form of “me” and “now” rather than “us” and “always,” apparent consequences are inevitable…Samuel Callan warned, the church that weds itself to the culture of the day will “be a widow within each succeeding age.” (Eternalism vs. Secularism‐Neil A. Maxwell)

Speaking of temporal things, the Lord Himself taught: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6:33)  In the D&C 25:10 we learn:  “And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.” (D&C 25:10)

And in D&C 46:7 we are taught to always be considering how we are moving towards salvation: “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.” (D&C 46:7)

The prophets have also taught us to focus on that which we do know over those things that we don’t.  Elder Russel M. Ballard taught: “One of the most heart-wrenching stories in scripture occurred when “many of [the Lord’s] disciples” found it hard to accept His teachings and doctrine, and they “went back, and walked no more with him.” As these disciples left, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” Peter responded: “Lord. To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”  In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ.” (M. Russell Ballard-To Whom shall we go?)

The scriptures also warn us to put appropriate weight on the things of eternity and to not have a flippant or light-minded attitude towards them.  In D&C 88: 124 we read:  “Therefore, cease from all your light speeches, from all laughter, from all your lustful desires, from all your pride and light-mindedness, and from all your wicked doings.” (D&C 88:124)

Expounding upon this principle, Elder Peter B. Rawlins taught:

“Loud laughter, light-mindedness, and flippancy often betray a state of mind that is lacking in seriousness. ‘Empty levity,’ as Brigham Young called it, detracts from the dignity of those who indulge in it to excess. Such people ‘have little sense, and know not the difference between a happy smile of satisfaction to cheer the countenance of a friend, or a contemptuous sneer that brings the curses of man upon man.’ (Journal of Discourses 9:290.) A person given to such frivolity would find it difficult to follow the Lord’s counsel to ‘look unto me in every thought’ (D&C 6:36) or to ‘let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds’ (D&C 43:34). He would be impaired in receiving revelation and would be weakened in the hour of temptation. C. S. Lewis has written that ‘if prolonged, the habit of flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against [God] that I know. It is a thousand miles from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it.’ (Screwtape Letters [New York: The MacMillan Co., 1962], p. 52.)” (Peter B. Rawlins, “A Serious Look at Humor,” New Era, Aug. 1974, 48)

When we take the things of God seriously we begin to focus more on him and less on what the scriptures call “the fear of men.”   In a talk given by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Quorum of the Seventy, entitled: “Which way do you face?”  he outlines how we are either prioritizing man or God.  There are 12 principles from his talk that I will now outline:

Principle 1: Seventy’s represent the prophet to the people and not the people to the prophet.

Principle 2: When we fear man more than God we are inverting the first and second great commandments.

Principle 3: The Fear of men is triggered when they point the finger of scorn from the great and spacious building.

Principle 4: The fear of men can manifest as being pressured to not offend anyone and may appeal to our desire to be compassionate and get along. It may involve pressuring us to condone sin.

Principle 5: If we try to please man we do not please God and are guilty of attempting to serve two masters.

Principle 6: The highest form of courage is overcoming the fear of men.  This type of courage is a gift from God.

Principle 7: Courage is the form of every virtue at the testing point. The scriptures are filled with examples of those whose fear of men led to evil.

Principle 8: Scorn is simply guilt trying to reassure itself.

Principle 9: The scornful will often accuse Disciples of Christ as being bigoted or living according to outdated standards.

Principle 10: Adopting the world’s standards will lead to self‐contentment rather than self‐improvement. It is also the definition of apostasy.

Principle 11: The Savior always did what His Father wanted and never gave in to the fears of men.

Principle 12: The Savior and His Father are said to be one because he represented the Father so well and not once did He fear man more than God.

Along with focusing on what God wants, we should also prioritize and focus on the good things in our lives and not dwell on the darkness.  Speaking on this principle, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “One of the ways Satan wants to manipulate us is by dwelling upon and even exaggerating the evil in the world….However, the heliotropic effect refers to the tendency in all living systems toward positive energy [light] and away from negative energy [darkness]. From single-cell organisms to complex human systems, everything alive has an inherent inclination toward the positive and away from the negative..”

“Even in the most difficult and darkest of times, there is light and goodness all around us. However, the adversary would rather have us focus on “mists of darkness …which blindeth the eyes … hardeneth … hearts …, and … leadeth … away.”  Nevertheless, with perfect understanding of the challenges of our day, the Lord promises, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”   (Dieter F. Uchtdorf-Perfect Love Casteth out Fear Paraphrased)


The Lord Jesus Christ taught: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt 6: 22-23)

We can use our eyes to control whether we focus on good or evil and our choice of focus will begin to affect our whole being.  If our focus is on the good things in the world or about our situations then this will begin to fill us with gratitude and goodness.  However, if we allow our eyes to focus on evil then that darkness can begin to emanate from within and consume us.  Depression and despair result when we have allowed our focus to linger upon evil for too long.  This distorted focus begins to distort our being.

Similarly, President Nelson taught: “My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.  When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation…and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.” (Joy and Spiritual Survival)

Peter learns a lesson in Focus

In Matt 14: 29-31 Peter learns an important lesson on focus.  In this story, Peter sees Jesus walking on water and goes out to meet him.  The text reads:  “And he (Jesus) said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.  And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matt 14: 29-31)

When Peter saw Jesus walking on water he began walking on water to reach Jesus. As Peter was focusing on Jesus (the light) and ignoring the tumultuous waves (the darkness) he was safe and progressing towards his goal.  However, when his focus turned from Jesus (the positive) to the negative (the crashing waves) he began to sink.  Like Peter, if our focus is on the light we will be protected from the tumultuous waves that threaten us.  However, if we start focusing on the waves of life we will begin to sink.

The Parable of the Pickle

How our focus begins to change our nature can be illustrated through the analogy of the pickle.  When a cucumber is put into vinegar, it does not immediately become a pickle, but over time its nature begins to be changed by being immersed in the vinegar.  Just like the cucumber, if we immerse ourselves in negativity (vinegar) and our focus is on the bad things of the world then our natures will change as well.

The Admonition of Paul

Paul admonishes the saints to be deliberate in their focus and to choose to gaze upon and immerse themselves in the good things of the world.  He says: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

The Source of all Truth

And finally, we should focus on and prioritize the promptings of the Holy Spirit above anything else in this world.  The scriptures teach us that we can know all things by tapping into the Spirit of God which is the source of all truth.  Paul taught the Corinthians that is the Holy Spirit that reveals truth to man:  “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. …But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:4‐5, 9‐10, 14)

Moroni added his witness to Paul’s when he taught: “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5)

Having access to the source of all truth is such a great blessing that the scriptures call it an “unspeakable gift” (D&C 121:26). It is through the spirit that we come to know things that we cannot through the basic senses.  In D&C 76:10 we learn:  “For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.”

Elder Marion G. Romney taught that inspiration from God is an expression of total wisdom.  He said: “In soundly judging—which is a function of wisdom—the inspiration of the Lord can and often does compensate for unknown facts—that is, for lack of knowledge. For example, if a stranger at the crossroads, not knowing which way to turn, can receive inspiration from God, his decision will be as wise as if he had known all the facts. Why? Because God “knoweth all things.” Inspiration from him is an expression of total wisdom.” (Marion G. Romney)

How to be Virtuous – Wisdom – Creativity

Creativity is a strength of wisdom that involves producing ideas or behaviors that are recognizably original and adaptive. To be adaptive, the creation must make a positive contribution to that person’s life or to the lives of others.

  1. Overview of Creativity
  2. Creativity & Problem Solving


Alternative Uses Test

Kaufman Creativity scale

Full PDF Summary

Problem Solving Worksheet

Solution-Focused Guided Imagery

How to be Virtuous – Wisdom – Self Awareness

Another key part of Wisdom is Self-Awareness.  Self-Awareness is part of perspective as it involves having a rich knowledge about the self that can be used to make wise decisions and to facilitate goal achievement.  Self-Awareness consists of at least 9 components that include:

1. The Human Matrix

2. Personality

3. Character Strengths & Weaknesses

4. Values and Goals

5. Stages of Development

6. Self-Concept and Narrative

7. Self-Esteem & Self-Efficacy

8. Needs Hierarchies

9. Moral Intuition

Self-Awareness: Moral Intuition

Moral Intuition

According to Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, human brains are organized in advance of experience (a priori) to respond to six moral foundations: Care, Fairness, Authority, Sanctity, Loyalty & Liberty.  Haidt compares the mind to a tongue with different taste receptors.  The mind innately recognizes these 6 moral foundations just as a tongue is prepared to recognize sweet, salty, bitter, sour and savory.  The six moral foundations include:

1. The Care/Harm Foundation: The suffering of your own children is the original trigger of one of the key modules of the Care foundation. You are designed to find babies cute because your mind is automatically responsive to certain proportions and patterns that distinguish human children from adults. Cuteness primes us to care, nurture, protect, and interact. Conservatives care about those who sacrifice for the group while liberals have a more universalist focus.

2. The Fairness/Cheating Foundation: We have a set of moral emotions that make us play “tit for tat.” We’re usually nice to people when we first meet them. But after that we’re selective: we cooperate with those who have been nice to us, and we shun those who took advantage of us.

  • The original triggers of the Fairness modules are acts of cooperation or selfishness that people show toward us. We feel pleasure, liking, and friendship when people show signs that they can be trusted to reciprocate. We feel anger, contempt, and even sometimes disgust when people try to cheat us or take advantage of us.
  • The current triggers of the Fairness modules include a great many things that have gotten linked, culturally and politically, to the dynamics of reciprocity and cheating. On the left, concerns about equality and social justice are based in part on the Fairness foundation. On the right, the Tea Party movement is also very concerned about fairness.
  • Everyone cares about fairness, but there are two major kinds. On the left, fairness often implies equality, but on the right, it means proportionality—people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.

3. The Loyalty/Betrayal Foundation: The male mind appears to be innately tribal—that is, structured in advance of experience so that boys and men enjoy doing the sorts of things that lead to group cohesion and success in conflicts between groups (including warfare). The virtue of loyalty matters a great deal to both sexes, though the objects of loyalty tend to be teams and coalitions for boys, in contrast to two‐person relationships for girls.

  • Males perform better in competition: In the Sherif study, boys who were given another “tribe” to compete against performed much better and acted more aggressively than when they thought they were alone.
  • The original trigger for the Loyalty foundation is anything that tells you who is a team player and who is a traitor, particularly when your team is fighting with other teams.
  • The love of loyal teammates is matched by a corresponding hatred of traitors, who are usually considered to be far worse than enemies.
  • The left tends toward universalism and away from nationalism, so it often has trouble connecting to voters who rely on the Loyalty foundation.

4. The Authority/Subversion Foundation: Cultures vary enormously in the degree to which they demand that respect be shown to parents, teachers, and others in positions of authority.
The Original triggers were related to dominance hierarchies as the failure to detect signs of dominance and then to respond accordingly often resulted in a beating. The original triggers of some of these modules include patterns of appearance and behavior that indicate higher versus lower rank.

  • The current triggers of the Authority/subversion foundation include anything that is construed as an act of obedience, disobedience, respect, disrespect, submission, or rebellion, with regard to authorities perceived to be legitimate. Current triggers also include acts that are seen to subvert the traditions, institutions, or values that are perceived to provide stability.

5. The Sanctity/Degradation Foundation: The original adaptive challenge that drove the evolution of the Sanctity foundation was the need to avoid pathogens, parasites, and other threats that spread by physical touch or proximity.

  • The Omnivores Dilemma: Omnivores go through life with two competing motives: neophilia (an attraction to new things) and neophobia (a fear of new things). People vary in terms of which motive is stronger: Liberals score higher on measures of neophilia (also known as “openness to experience”), not just for new foods but also for new people, music, and ideas. Conservatives are higher on neophobia; they prefer to stick with what’s tried and true, and they care a lot more about guarding borders, boundaries, and traditions.
  • Disgust as a survival mechanism: The emotion of disgust evolved initially to optimize responses to the omnivore’s dilemma. Individuals who had a properly calibrated sense of disgust were able to consume more calories than their overly disgustable cousins while consuming fewer dangerous microbes than their insufficiently disgustable cousins.
  • The original triggers of the key modules that compose this foundation include smells, sights, or other sensory patterns that predict the presence of dangerous pathogens in objects or people. (Examples include human corpses, excrement, scavengers such as vultures, and people with visible lesions or sores.)
  • The current triggers of the Sanctity foundation, however, are extraordinarily variable and expandable across cultures and eras.
  • Sanctity makes Community Possible: If we had no sense of disgust, I believe we would also have no sense of the sacred. Whatever its origins, the psychology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities. When someone in a moral community desecrates one of the sacred pillars supporting the community, the reaction is sure to be swift, emotional, collective, and punitive.

6. The Liberty/oppression foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of living in small groups with individuals who would, if given the chance, dominate, bully, and constrain others.  The original triggers therefore include signs of attempted domination. Anything that suggests the aggressive, controlling behavior of an alpha male (or female) can trigger this form of righteous anger, which is sometimes called reactance. (That’s the feeling you get when an authority tells you that you can’t do something and you feel yourself wanting to do it even more strongly.)   The current triggers include almost anything that is perceived as imposing illegitimate restraints on one’s liberty, including government. The right is concerned with oppressive governments and the left with oppressive systems.

The Political Moralities

Genetics explains between 1/3 and ½ of the variance among people on political attitude.  Being raised in a liberal or conservative household accounts for much less. Research confirms that conservatives are more sensitive to threat and react more strongly than liberals to signs of danger, including the threat of germs and contamination, and even low‐level threats such as sudden blasts of white noise.

Other studies have implicated genes related to receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has long been tied to sensation‐seeking and openness to experience, which are among the best‐established correlates of liberalism.

From Haidt’s research he concluded that Liberals don’t understand conservatives at all.  Liberals believe the three “binding” foundations—Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity are immoral. When guessing how others would respond to questions, moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. Liberals were the least accurate, especially when judging how conservatives would answer questions about care/harm.

1. The Left: The Left care about Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating but don’t’ really care about Sanctity, Loyalty or Authority. They do care about liberty/oppression but often want equality of outcome instead of proportionality. The left’s most sacred value is caring for victims of oppression.
2. Libertarians: Libertarians care about liberty and that’s about it. They don’t really care about the other moral foundations.
3. The Right: The Right care about all of the moral foundations but fairness is more about proportionality than equal outcomes. The Right generally attempts to balance all of the moral foundations and doesn’t focus on just one. The right cares more about fairness than the left does.

High functioning societies need liberals, conservatives and libertarians all in conversation with one another.  We should not expect individuals to produce good, open‐minded, truth‐seeking reasoning, particularly when self‐interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it’s so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).

Moral capital refers to the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.

In a paper revealingly titled “E Pluribus Unum,” Robert Putnam examined the level of social capital in hundreds of American communities and discovered that high levels of immigration and ethnic diversity seem to cause a reduction in social capital. Diversity seems to trigger not in‐group/out‐group division, but anomie or social isolation. In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to “hunker down”—that is, to pull in like a turtle.


This post was a summary of the Book: Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind


Full PDF Summary


Self-Awareness: Needs Hierarchies

Self-determination theory suggests that people have a natural tendency to move towards growth and development. This tendency leads to individuals seeking new challenges and experiences. This internal desire is called “intrinsic motivation” and is activated when we want to grow.

Basic Psychological Needs Theory suggests that Intrinsic motivation is activated when three psychological needs are met:

1. Autonomy: this is the need to believe you are acting based on personal choice.  Autonomy is frustrated when a person feels a lack of choice
2. Competence: this is the need to feel like you are being effective and competent in achieving outcomes that are meaningful.  Competence is frustrated when the person
experiences repeated failures.
3. Relatedness: this is the need to feel close to, connected to, and cared for by important others. Relatedness is frustrated when the person feels rejected and isolated.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory suggests that activities that are personally chosen and that increase competence will increase intrinsic motivation. Both must occur, as just one is not sufficient.

Organismic Integration theory suggests that there are multiple reasons for individuals to act in a particular way and it doesn’t all come down to intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic factors combine with intrinsic factors to determine motivation.

Goal contents theory differentiates between intrinsic and extrinsic goals.  Intrinsic goals meet basic needs and tend to focus on developing personal interests of growth, health and affiliation.  Extrinsic goals (financial success, beauty, fame) focus on external validations of worth and can undermine intrinsic needs.  Motivation exists on a continuum between amotivation and intrinsic motivation. In between these extremes are four forms of extrinsic motivation that vary according to regulation style.

1. Amotivation: The person does not act due to a complete lack of motivating factors.
2. External Regulation: When you are doing something but only because you are controlled by external factors. When the external controls disappear, so does the behavior.
3. Introjected Regulation: Success is defined outside the person but then partially adopted within. The focus is still on getting approval from others. This is still a weak form of motivation.
4. Identified Regulation: Activities are engaged in because they contribute to achieving a goal not because they are valued in themselves. We choose to engage in an activity without necessarily enjoying it.
5. Integrated Regulation: Activities are engaged in that are chosen and in line with personal values and goals but are still not necessarily enjoyed. However, the activity is part of who the person is.
6. Intrinsic motivation: These are activities that are done that are in line with goals and values are part of who the person is and are deeply satisfying.

Causality orientations theory states that everyone has varied combined levels of autonomy orientation, controlled orientation, and impersonal orientation inside of them.

1. Autonomy orientation refers to internal and well-integrated external motivation. This is the kind of motivation associated with good outcomes.
2. Controlled orientation is being more motivated by internal and external controls, constraints, and directives.
3. Impersonal orientation is a tendency for people to believe that they are incompetent and just go with the flow or be passive and not act intentionally.

The over justification effect: More motivation is not necessarily a good thing. If you are intrinsically motivated and then start to get rewards you can actually lose motivation. In general, the more intrinsically motivated a person is the better.The story of the old man who wanted the kids to stop being noisy playing baseball by his house is an example. He starts paying them to play and then slowly decreases it over time. Eventually he stops paying and the boys stop playing because it started to be externally controlled.

This all leads to two theories of coaching which are autonomy supportive and transactional coaching.

  1. Autonomy Support Coaching: This involves reinforcing choice, initiation and understanding while minimizing the need to act in a dictated way. An autonomy-supportive coach offers emotional support, advice and guidance to help people develop responsibility and take ownership of their lives.  Autonomy support can be labelled “hands off” but it isn’t as it involves asking good questions to guide people to make the best decisions.   Studies with rowers find that when primed with words such as “choice” and ‘freedom” they rowed faster than when primed with words like “control” and “must.”
  2. Transactional Coaching: Most coaches focus on delivering rewards and punishers which gives good short-term results but undermines long-term autonomy development.

Another needs framework is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  According to Maslow, all people are motivated by the same basic needs and those needs can be arranged on a hierarchy. When one need is satisfied it loses its motivational power and is then replaced by the next need on the hierarchy.  This is another model that has been challenged by the research but it is still useful as a framework even if we don’t use it as a hierarchy.  There are 5 levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy that include:

1. Physiological needs: Includes food, water, oxygen, shelter, sleep etc…These are the only needs that can be completely satisfied and they are recurring.  Failing to satisfy these needs leads to malnutrition, fatigue, sickness or even death.
2. Safety Needs: After meeting basic survival needs people become motivated to feel safe and secure. They want to be free of war, crime, fear, anxiety, danger, illness etc…We pursuit law and order to meet these needs. If our safety needs aren’t met we develop basic anxiety.  Failing to meet these needs leads to fear, insecurity, dread and even terror.
3. Love and Belonging Needs: After feeling safe we begin to desire friendship, family, romance, intimacy and community. Failing to meet these needs leads to defensiveness, shyness, emptiness or even aggression.
4. Esteem Needs: These needs include self-respect, confidence, achievement and obtaining the respect of others. People want to maintain a good reputation and want to control how others perceive them. Self-esteem refers to a person’s own beliefs about how competent and worthwhile they are while reputation refers to other people’s beliefs about our worth and competence.  Failing to meet our esteem needs leads to self-doubt, lack of confidence and a lack of achievement.
5. Self-Actualization Needs: After all our other needs are met some people are able to actualize their ideal-self. These people develop a sense of morality, creativity, meaning and purpose. However, this category of needs is only satisfied if people embrace what Maslow called the “B-values.” People in this category become independent from the lower level needs and no longer rely on them. A failure to become self-actualized leads to moral failures, an absence of values, a lack of fulfillment and the loss of meaning.

Besides these 5 conative needs, there are three other categories of needs that are not universal—aesthetic, cognitive and neurotic.

1. Aesthetic Needs: Some people are motivated to experience beauty and pleasurable experiences.
2. Cognitive Needs: Some people have a desire to learn, solve problems and satisfy their curiosity. People who have not had these needs met become skeptics, disillusioned and cynics.
3. Neurotic Needs: Some people develop unhealthy needs that lead to stagnation and pathology. They are often formed when people fail to meet a certain category of needs on the hierarchy. For example, a person who fails to feel loved may develop unhealthy ways of achieving it.
4. Unmotivated Behavior: Not all behavior stems from a need as some behaviors are caused by conditioned reflexes, maturation or drugs. Motivated behavior refers to behavior aimed at satisfying a need.

The Higher level needs on the hierarchy include: love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization needs. The lower level needs are physiological needs along with safety and security needs. The reward for meeting higher level needs is happiness, peace, meaning, confidence and fulfillment. The reward for meeting lower level needs is usually physical pleasure.

Sometimes the needs on the hierarchy are reversed so that some people put self-actualization or esteem needs above basic survival needs. For example, an artist may believe expressing themselves is more important than satisfying physical and safety needs.

Psychologist Karen Horney identified some neurotic needs that people develop in order to have unmet needs of love and affection satisfied.  According to Horney, modern culture emphasizes competition and this creates feelings of isolation. These feelings of loneliness contribute to intensified needs for affection and love which can lead to pathological ways of seeking after love. Horney identified 10 unhealthy ways that people seek love and affection which include:

1. The Neurotic need for affection and approval. Many meet this need through submission, conformity and giving up their own identity.
2. The neurotic need of a powerful partner. Many believe they are not capable of living alone so they submit to a powerful partner who offers them security.
3. The neurotic need to restrict one’s life within narrow borders. Many learn to be content with little and avoid making demands of others.
4. The neurotic need for power: Many have a need for power, prestige and possession to control others.
5. The neurotic need to exploit others: Many have a need to exploit and use other people.
6. The Neurotic need for social recognition or prestige: Some deal with anxiety through proving they are better than others.
7. The neurotic need for personal admiration. Many need others to admire them to maintain their self-esteem.
8. The Neurotic need for ambition and personal achievement. Some strive to defeat others to prove superiority.
9. The Neurotic need for self-sufficiency and independence. Some people isolate themselves to prove they are capable of being independent.
10. The Neurotic need for perfection: Some strive for perfection in order to combat anxiety and prove they are whole.

One other needs model to consider is that of Job Characteristics Theory which is based upon the work of Hackman and Oldman.  This model suggests that people are motivated to perform certain types of work.  It suggests that there are 5 job characteristics that impact 3 psychological states that lead to work outcomes such as satisfaction.  The three characteristics of meaningful jobs include:

1. Meaningfulness of work: The work must be experienced as meaningful as his/her contribution significantly affects the overall effectiveness of the organization. This is derived from:

Skill variety: Using an appropriate variety of your skills and talents: too many might be overwhelming, too few, boring.
Task Identity: Task identity refers to the degree to which a person is in charge of completing an identifiable piece of work from start to finish.
Task Significance: Being able to identify the task as contributing to something wider, to society or a group over and beyond the self.

2. Responsibility: Responsibility is derived from autonomy, as in the job provides substantial freedom, independence and discretion to the individual in scheduling the work and in determining the procedures to be used in carrying it out.

3. Knowledge of outcomes: This comes from feedback. It implies an employee awareness of how effective he/she is converting his/her effort into performance.

Knowing these critical job characteristics it is then possible to ensure your job has characteristics that will make you satisfied. Your work should be structured in the following way:

1. Varying work to enable skill variety.
2. Assigning work to groups to increase the wholeness of the product produced.
3. Delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and hence responsibility.
4. Connect people to the outcomes of their work and the customers that receive them so as to provide feedback for learning.\

Holland’s RIASEC Model is another method for fitting your personality to your work. The RIASEC Model is based upon the work of John Holland. It suggests that there are 6 job environments
that match our personality types. Most people are a mix of 1-2 types but the theory suggests that you should look for a career in the job environment that matches your personality. If you are in a ob environment that is in-congruent with your personality, you will not be satisfied.  The six types of job environments include:

1.Realistic: Likes to work with animals, tools, or machines; generally avoids social activities like teaching, counseling, nursing, and informing others; Has good skills in working with tools, mechanical drawings, machines or animals, Values practical things you can see and touch — like plants and animals you can grow, or things you can build or make better; and sees self as practical, mechanical, and realistic.

2. Investigative: Likes to study and solve math or science problems; generally avoids leading, selling, or persuading people; Has good skills at understanding and solving science and math problems; Values science, and sees self as precise, scientific, and intellectual.

3. Artistic: Likes to do creative activities like art, drama, crafts, dance, music, or creative writing; generally avoids highly ordered or repetitive activities; Has good artistic abilities – in creative writing, drama, crafts, music, or art Values the creative arts – like drama, music, art, or the works of creative writers; and Sees self as expressive, original, and independent.

4. Social: Likes to do things to help people – like teaching, counseling, nursing, or giving information; generally avoids using machines, tools, or animals to achieve a goal; Has good skills at teaching, counseling, nursing, or giving information; Values helping people and solving social problems; and sees self as helpful, friendly, and trustworthy.

5. Enterprising: Likes to lead and persuade people, and to sell things and ideas; generally avoids activities that require careful observation and scientific, analytical thinking; Is good at leading people and selling things or ideas; Values success in politics, leadership, or business; and Sees self as energetic, ambitious, and sociable.

6. Conventional: Likes to work with numbers, records, or machines in a set, orderly way; generally avoids ambiguous, unstructured activities. Is good at working with written records and numbers in a systematic, orderly way; Values success in business; and sees self as orderly, and good at following a set plan.

Sources: Info adapted from: Feist, J., & Feist, G. J. (2009). Theories of Personality (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill &  The Psychology of Performance (The Great Courses)


Job Satisfaction Survey

Full PDF Summary


Maslow Hierarchy Test

Self-Awareness: Self-Esteem & Self-Efficacy

Self-Esteem & Self-Efficacy

Self Esteem refers to how we evaluate ourselves, usually along four dimensions: significance, competence, virtue and control.

1. Significance: This refers to whether we believe our lives have any kind of significance to others. Do you have value to other people, causes or organizations? If the answer is yes then you will likely feel enhanced self-esteem.
2. Competence: This refers to how we view our ability to learn and to develop important skills in life. If you believe that you are a capable person who can do what you put your mind to, then you will have higher self-esteem.
3. Control: This refers to whether you believe you can control important outcomes in your life. While healthy people recognize they cannot control other people, they do recognize that they have control over how other people and situations affect them. If you feel that you have enough control in your life to accomplish important goals then you will feel enhanced self-esteem.
4. Virtue: This refers to whether you believe you are a “good” or “bad” person. If you believe that you are generally a decent person who contributes to the lives of others in positive ways and does not harm other people then you will feel more self-esteem.

The Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale is a common tool used to measure self-esteem. The Scale consists of 10 items that measure many of the key points listed above.

The Psychologist Alfred Adler suggested that people begin life with feelings of inferiority due to physical deficiencies. These feelings of inferiority are either responded to in a healthy or
unhealthy way and this decision is usually made around the age of 4 or 5.

One unhealthy response is to exaggerate how inferior you are and then attempt to compensate by setting a goal of personal superiority over others. The core motivation here is personal
gain instead of social interest. When a person has exaggerated beliefs about their inferiority we call it an inferiority complex. When people with this complex set a goal of becoming superior to others they tend to engage in harmful behaviors such as stealing, violence or other anti-social behaviors. They can also mask their self-centeredness behind the cloak of social concern.

In contrast to the goal of striving for superiority over others, healthy people respond to feelings of inferiority by striving for wholeness for themselves and everyone around them. Having a normal striving for wholeness is a healthy response to our incompleteness at birth and results in a healthy style of life. These people are motivated by “social interest” or the success of themselves and all humankind. They accept their limitations without being threatened by them and strive to overcome them to be a benefit to others and not to show their superiority over them.

Adler believed that people have an innate tendency or drive towards wholeness. Since people are born with deficiencies and are incomplete this creates a tension that motivates growth. Feelings of inferiority are therefore useful because they indicate to us that we can grow as people and they push us towards wholeness. Without a drive towards wholeness, feelings of inferiority would not
mean anything.

The Opposite of Self-Esteem is Self Hatred.  Most people have an “ideal” picture of who they want to be called the “idealized self-image.”  Some people believe they need to make the ideal-image a reality and need to be perfect now. Self-hatred often occurs when the real-self lags behind the idealized self. The idealized image is never obtainable so self-hatred is inevitable. Self-Hatred is often manifested in the following ways:

1. Relentless demands on the self in the form of “shoulds” that are never attainable. “Tyranny of the Shoulds”
2. Self-accusation. Those with self-hatred constantly berate themselves.
3. Self-contempt expressed through belittling, disparaging, doubting, discrediting, and ridiculing oneself. This self-contempt prevents growth.
4. Self-frustration occurs when a neurotic person shackles themselves to achieve the perfect image they have instead of achieving reasonable goals.
5. Self-torment is seen through engaging in self-destructive behaviors designed to punish the self.
6. Self-destructive actions and impulses such as overeating, drug abuse, workaholism or suicide also occur.

Self-esteem is somewhat controversial as there appears to be a dark side to self esteem.  People with Anti-Social Personality Disorder have higher self-esteem than average as do other violent criminals.  Self-esteem, when based on performance, relies on continual success when failure is inevitable for everyone at some point and so the treadmill never stops.  Pursuing Self-Esteem can also become self-absorption which is known to play a large role in mood and personality disorders.  Believing one is insignificant, incompetent, powerless or “bad” are at the heart of mood and personality disorders.

Self esteem is also related to explanatory style.  We all attribute outcomes to either internal or external factors. The more you believe you have control over your environment the more you have an “internal” locus of control. The more you believe your environment exerts control over you the more you have an “external” locus of control.

Explanatory style consists of three dimensions: internal/external; stable/unstable and global/specific.

1. Internal/external refers to whether or not a person believes that they have control or influence over events. Those with an internal style attribute outcomes to themselves while those with an external style attribute to external factors. For example, if someone fails a test they may attribute the outcome to their lack of intelligence (external) or to their lack of effort (internal). Intelligence may be viewed as out of the person’s control and thus the person is likely to give up in the future. While lack of effort is something within the person’s control and can be modified in the future.
2. Stable/unstable refers to whether a person believes an outcome will always be the same or whether it can change. If someone failed a test, they may believe they will fail this test going forward (stable) or that they could possibly pass the test in the future (unstable). The more a person believes a negative outcome is stable the more likely they are to give up.
3. Global versus specific refers to whether or not a person’s explanation generalizes the event to other events. If someone fails a test, they may believe they will fail most tests (global) or simply that they did not prepare adequately for this single test (specific).

People who score high on internal control generally believe that the source of control resides within themselves and that they exercise a high level of personal control in most situations. People who score high on external control generally believe that their life is largely controlled by forces outside themselves, such as chance, destiny, or the behavior of other people.

Similar to explanatory style is the concept of Self-Efficacy.  Self-Efficacy is a person’s belief that they can act in ways to exercise control over their environments or lives. When self-efficacy is high people are more likely to succeed than when it is low.  Self-Efficacy is influenced by the following four factors:

  1. Mastery Experiences: The more you accomplish the greater your efficacy becomes. You need to build on small successes to create self-esteem.

Difficulty of Task: The more difficult the task you accomplish the more your esteem rises but failing at an “easy” task hurts esteem more.
Effort: The more effort you put in the more esteem is hurt if the person “fails.”
Frequency: The more frequently you accomplish things the more your esteem rises.

  1. Social Modeling: Efficacy is affected by seeing others fail or succeed. The more similar the person the more performance will affect your beliefs.
  2. Social Persuasion: Sometimes people try to persuade us that we can do somethingYou are more likely to believe someone is who credible and authoritative. Persuasion combined with a series of successes is effective.
  3. Arousal: The more “worked up” or stressed out you are the harder complex tasks become. Moderate stress enhances performance.

Confidence and Self‐Efficacy are often interchangeably used.  Self‐Efficacy beliefs vary in level, strength and generality. Level is the confidence someone has in her ability to perform in various challenging tasks. Strength is the degree of confidence one has in one’s own abilities. Generality refers to how much this set of beliefs can be applied to a range of activities.

In general, the greater the belief you have in your own capabilities the better you will perform across numerous life situations. People are more committed if they are
more confident ab out achieving a task. When you are confident, you tend to interpret tasks as challenging rather than threatening, are more optimistic and will have fewer negative emotions. Confident people attribute failure to a lack of effort rather than capacity. They are better able to brush off criticism and not let it damage self‐esteem.

Efficacy Beliefs affect performance and performance affects efficacy beliefs in what is called a “hot streak” or a virtuous cycle. In the same way, when we make a mistake our confidence is shaken which leads to more mistakes in what is called a “slump” or a vicious cycle.

Self‐Talk refers to verbalization’s or statements made to the self that are usually instructional or motivational. They can be deliberate/automatic, negative/positive and facilitative/debilitative. Worry is a form of negative self talk.

Instructional self‐talk is usually recommended over motivational self talk because it focuses on actions and behaviors.  One meta‐analysis found a moderate positive effect size for self‐talk on performance. It is more effective for new tasks that require precision, coordination and fine execution and when the person has training in effective self‐talk.  In other studies, self‐talk has no real effects so at best it plays a small role in some performances.

Self‐talk probably works by causing the person to improve effort, improve focus or control cognitive or emotional reactions. Many athletes say self‐talk increases confidence and concentration.

Source: Info adapted from: Feist, J., & Feist, G. J. (2009). Theories of Personality (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill


Locus of Control Scale

Self-Efficacy Scale

Self-Esteem Scale

Full PDF Summary

Self-Esteem Presentation