Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hyderabad, May 4

Elder John and I after we improved our relationship

Life is good.

Elder John and I had been getting along fine, but 'getting along fine' isn't the goal, 'loving, understanding, supporting and serving' is.

So I was thinking a lot about what I told you about earlier, how President Nichols had been saying that everyone has different ways of communicating and I was trying to figure out how my companion communicates. The immediate cynical answer was "He doesn't," because he's so quiet and it's hard to figure out what he's thinking, on top of that he's new and so probably uncomfortable voicing his opinion due to lack of experience. That made it hard to plan together, talk together, counsel together.

But on Friday morning it came to me. "He makes small jokes."

Some sort of intuition; not prompted by memories, but as soon as it occurred to be a flood of memories marched forward as evidence.

"Okay," I thought. "I can do this."

And so I set off, determined to make fun of my companion until our relationship blossomed. We taught together, we practiced asking questions or teaching material together. And I made fun of him. And the weather. And everyone we knew (in a good way). And voila, it worked, or rather is working. Now he's making fun of me too (which as you know is pretty easy). He has this great, drawn-out way of saying "Elder Bhagwat," and I know, the joke's on me.

Most importantly, a lot of lessons we're in my mouth has been firmly shut for most of the time. Elder Gervais - one of the most people-people that I know - told me before he went to let Elder John talk, because he'd been stunted by a second companion that didn't. He only really started to talk his half of the time when he was with me - after being on his mission for nine months.

Elder Gervais.

Yesterday was zone conference, so all the elders in Hyderabad gathered together with President and Sister Nichols. President Nichols' PowerPoint included different elders' experiences in their own words as they shared experiences showing their maturity (willingness to admit faults without kicking themselves, sharing insights, showing they're recognizing their weaknesses and trying to improve). If they were there they read their own quotes; if not President had one of their former companions read it for them. Elder Gervais' picture, name, and quote flashed on the board, and I automatically stood up.

"That's all mine, President."

"Oh yes it is, Elder Bhagwat. You two weren't companions, you were practically married to each other. (other elders' laughter). Every week I'd get letters: 'Please don't transfer Elder Bhagwat.' 'I'm learning so much from Elder Gervais.'"

"Pretty much, President."

That was the funny part, with me in the spotlight, but it was a really good presentation. My MTC companion, Elder Diamond, shared a really good story. There was a church member named Savitha, and they were visiting her sister Sharmila and encouraging to read the scriptures, come to church, and such. She always said she would, but never did, so he and his companion decided to go back to the basics, to ask questions and start with some things they knew. Or, it turns out, only thought they did.

"Sharmila, do you love your sister?"


(stunned silence on elders' side)

"Well, is there anything you at least like about her?"

(after some hemming and hawing) "Well, she has a cute baby face. And she prays."

The elders ask the next logical question.

"Savitha, do you love your sister?"

The answer was also "no," and this sister couldn't think of anything she liked about the other one. Elder Diamond continued: "We thought we'd made a big mistake, because they started fighting then. In Telugu. But Sunday came around and there was Sharmila, and there was Savitha, and they were sitting right next to each other." (And as time went on their relationship continued to improve.)

One elder that I have a lot of respect for, Elder Hunn, said something really good. "In Rajahmundry we had a lot of people that wanted our help, even were begging for us to visit their home. But nothing ever happened, nothing changed really in any of the families. Looking back on it now, it wasn't that we were doing anything stupid, or outright wrong. It was just that we didn't understand how to focus on those we could help. I'm hoping to change that in Hyderabad."

One of President Nichols' conclusions, which I found very insightful, was that because we loved these people, we were not looking at them with a clear lens and being able to understand exactly what they were thinking and feeling. As a result, we were misjudging their level of commitment and their reasons for it, not understanding what principles really touched them, and not concentrating our limited time and energy on the right people. Thus, we miss the chance to do the right thing at the right time to help the person who's ready to successfully change their life. Not because we are lazy or stupid or unloving, but just because we didn't know what to do.

(As for helping the person who's ready to be helped, there's a whole sidenote about this with that family.. We called President Nichols about it a while back. His response:

"I've been in the marriage counseling business for a long time. If two people come to you and say, 'We want to make this work we just don't know how, please tell us how we can, we'll do whatever you say,' you have a chance, maybe. Otherwise, it's just a good way to suck out all of your time and love and mental energy that could actually be used for doing something productive.")

Mostly, I'm writing all of this because I've been thinking about these topics a lot recently. I guess it revolves around change for good or bad, and how to encourage and facilitate the one and prevent the other, and how many times good intentions are insufficient to the task, and how I must conquer pride, and its stepchild self-deception, to be effective.

My mind comes back to one of my personal mottos, which I stole from a man named Eugene England. I think I'll conclude with it.

"It is not enough to be sincere, you must also be right. It is not enough to be right, you must also be effective."

With love,


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