As mother's of children, our Heavenly Father has given us great power to mold the tender minds of our children. Will we use this power for good? Will we lead our children in thought patterns which center on faith in God and His ability to meet our needs? Or will we do the "natural thing" and train them in negative thought processes by our complaining or criticizing when challenges small or large arise? These seemingly small daily choices have a huge impact on the minds of our children as well as others we interact with. To illustrate further:
Back in the 1950’s a psychology professor, Don Clifton*, noticed a major flaw in the field of psychology: it was based almost entirely on the study of what is wrong with people. He began to wonder if it might be more important to study what is right with people? Hmmm...an interesting thought.
“Early in his research, he discovered that our lives are shaped by our interactions with others. Whether we have a long conversation with a friend or simply place an order at a restaurant, every interaction makes a difference. And although we take these interactions for granted, they accumulate and profoundly affect our lives.”
As a result of his findings, the theory of the “Dipper and the Bucket” was developed: “Each of us has an invisible bucket. It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us. When our bucket is full, we feel great. When it’s empty, we feel awful. Each of us also has an invisible dipper. When we use that dipper to fill other people’s buckets—-by saying or doing things to increase their positive emotions—-we also fill our own bucket. But when we use that dipper to dip from other’s buckets—by saying or doing things that decrease their positive emotions—we diminish ourselves.
Like the cup that runneth over, a full bucket gives us a positive outlook and renewed energy. Every drop in that bucket makes us stronger and more optimistic. But an empty bucket poisons our outlook (we lose “vision of the life’s big picture”), it saps our energy, and undermines our will. That’s why every time someone dips from our bucket, it can hurt us.
So we face a choice every moment of every day: We can fill one another’s buckets (by having charity, the pure love of Christ in our heart), or we can dip from them. It’s an important choice—one that profoundly influences our relationships, productivity, health, and happiness. It’s a great illustration of the principle taught in The Book of Mormon: If we have not charity, we are nothing.
LDS Church leaders have warned us repeatedly about contention in our homes and the problem of having a lack of charity. Our former beloved prophet and President of this great church, Gordon B. Hinckley, has also said a great deal on this subject. The following words are taken from a fireside address he gave at Brigham Young University in 1994:
“Let me urge you to desist from making cutting remarks one to another. Rather, cultivate the art of complimenting, of strengthening, of encouraging. What wonders we can accomplish when others have faith in us. No leader can long succeed in any society without the confidence of the people. It is so with us in our daily associations.
It is a responsibility divinely laid upon each of us to bear one another's burdens, to strengthen one another, to encourage one another, to lift one another, to look for the good in one another, and to emphasize that good. There is not a man or woman in this vast assembly who cannot be depressed on the one hand, or lifted on the other, by the remarks of his or her associates.”
[I might add, there is perhaps not one of us who cannot be depressed on the one hand by a cold shoulder or indifferent look, or lifted on the other by a warm and friendly smile.]
President Hinckley goes on to tell about a newspaper column he clipped which lists 17 or so great, famous and highly accomplished men in history. Each had tremendous struggles in their youth and consequently were labeled negatively for their weakness and other seeming faults. Then he comments:
“All of this seems to say to me that each of these men, every one of whom later became great, might have done much better in his studies had he received less of criticism and more of encouragement.”
So back to the bucket theory: What truly motivated Dr. Clifton to begin studying what is right with people? It was his review of one specific case study--a case that was anything but positive: A study that altered the entire focus of his career and life.
This study, conducted by Major/Dr. William E. Mayer, focused on 1,000 American prisoners of war who had been detained in a North Korean camp. Dr. Mayer was “particularly interested in examining one of the most extreme and perversely effective cases of psychological warfare on record—-one that had a devastating impact on its subjects."
U.S. soldiers had been kept in camps that were not considered especially cruel or unusual by conventional standards. The captive soldiers had adequate food, water, and shelter. “They weren’t subjected to common physical torture tactics of the time such as having bamboo shoots driven under their fingernails. In fact, fewer cases of physical abuse were reported in the North Korean POW camps than in prison camps from any other major military conflict throughout history.”
Nevertheless, the death rate in these camps had the highest POW death rate in U.S. military history (38%). Even more shocking was that half of these soldiers died simply because they had given up. “They had completely surrendered, both mentally and physically. It was not uncommon for a soldier to wander into his hut and look despairingly about, deciding there was no use in trying to participate in his own survival. He would go into a corner alone, sit down, and pull a blanket over his head.” Within two days, he would be dead.
What could cause such great hopelessness? The answer lies in what Dr. Mayer described as the “ultimate weapon” of war: extreme mental tactics. The North Koreans’ objective was to “deny men the emotional support that comes from interpersonal relationships.”
I will comment on just one of the four main methods they used, the tactic of withholding all positive emotional support while flooding soldiers with negative emotions. It was perhaps bucket dipping in its purest and most malicious form. For example, if a soldier received a supportive letter from home, the N. Koreans kept it. “All negative letters, however—-such as those telling of a relative passing away, or ones in which a wife wrote that she had given up on her husband’s return and was going to remarry—-were delivered to the soldiers immediately.” “The captors would even deliver overdue bills from collection agencies back home-—within less than two weeks of the original postmark. The effects were devastating: The soldiers had nothing to live for and lost a basic belief in themselves and their loved ones, not to mention God and country.” They were put “into a kind of emotional and psychological isolation, the likes of which we had never seen.”
Moved by this story of psychological torture and deprivation—-and perhaps inspired by the hope that these soldiers had not suffered or died in vain—Don Clifton and his colleagues decided to study the flip side of this horrific equation: If people can be literally destroyed by non-stop negative reinforcement, can they be uplifted and inspired to a greater degree by similar levels of positivity? In essence, they asked: Can positivity have an even stronger impact than negativity?
I believe every person who has served a full time mission, striving to fill the buckets of others with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ knows the answer. I believe any of us who know much of anything about Christ’s gospel also know the answer. It is the Savior himself who gives us the key to combat “bucket dipping”, a key requiring a very “un-natural” man or woman. He taught us (in both the Bible and The Book of Mormon) to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, to do good to them that hate us, and pray for them who despitefully use or persecute us.
But while some may seem tough and resilient to “bucket dipping”, everyone one is affected. Even former apostle, Bruce R. McConkie was in tears because of the criticism some had made of him. Some felt that he was too doctrinaire, too stern. Nevertheless, Elder McConkie said that when he would attempt to humanize and personalize his talks, his mind would be darkened and he would feel the Lord’s spirit withdraw. Elder McConkie had a gift for understanding and expounding scriptures. He played a significant role in bringing forth the new edition of the scriptures in 1981. He learned that our gifts must be developed and offered under the direction of the Lord, not according to well-meaning advice or criticism, lest we take the chance of losing our special gifts. (Alan Wilkins-BYU-I Devotional Address)
You know, in watching my own children, I’m always amazed at how much more effective and efficient praise and recognition are versus intimidation, criticism or threats.
As you can imagine, gathering our large family for prayer each night can be a challenge. And then sometimes getting the youngest members of our family to kneel down and reverently wait for the prayer is another big accomplishment! But amazingly and almost without fail, when we look for someone who is even half-way kneeling and then comment on it, within a few seconds everyone ends up on their knees and folding their arms. I believe this shows the power of positivity.
Putting our faith in the pure love of Christ is the only lasting answer if we really want to see others change, but let’s begin with changing our own thoughts, words and attitudes. And don't wait to be encouraged by those around you to make positive changes in your life! That fortunate day may just never arrive! Start today to be your own faithful "mental cheerleader" with the Word of God and Holy Ghost as your inspiration. Fill your mind so full of truth that there is no room for the discouraging words of others or Satan. The only prerequisite for success is faith in and obedience to our Heavenly Father's wonderful and marvelous commandments.
*Source: "How Full is Your Bucket?" by Tom Rath & Don Clifton, 2004
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