January 28, 2005

Part II: Principles of Effort - Show up for work.

In part one, we discussed principles of faith – faith as distinct from belief or knowledge – faith being belief combined with action. In this part, I will share some personal stories that may illustrate how principles of effort can help you accomplish your goals.

Aristotle is attributed with writing:

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "That which we persist in doing becomes easier - not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do it has increased."

When I was in high school, I got myself a metal box for storing 3X5 cards and I started collecting writings and quotes. I’d get quotes from every where. “U.S. News & World Report.” “Time.” “Newsweek.” “LA Times.” Any book of essays or fiction I may have been reading. “Ensign” and “New Era” magazines. Scriptures. “Reader’s Digest’s” quotable quotes page. Song lyrics. Something a teacher would say in class.

Here’s something I remember one of my high school history teachers saying, “Before you let yourself go, be sure you can bring yourself back.” I wrote it down on a 3X5 card.

Here’s part of an Annie Lennox lyric I remember writing down:
Some people never say the words "I love you"
It's not their style to be so bold
Some people never say the words "I love you"
But like a child they're longing to be told

Gordon B. Hinckley said this about leadership: “Before we can become a great leader, we must first become a great follower. This we must learn.” I put this quote in my box when I was a high school senior.

I also used to keep a notebook with my ideas, my poetry (verse), and my written "descriptions."

For example, I’d take a blue tip “strike anywhere” wooden match, light it and watch it burn. I’d look very closely to observe everything about it. Then I’d try my hand at writing a description of my observation. That’s when I first noticed that the wood sweats just below the flame. The heat excites whatever water is in the wood and the water “sweats” out of the wood.

After high school, in my first year of college, I had a spiral note book that I used for writing down words I didn't know. When I encountered a word I didn't know, or was unsure of, I wrote it on the left side of the page.

Because sometimes I understood the gist of the word's meaning from the context, I kept on reading, but would look up the word later.

Other times, I would look up the word right then and there, particularly if I was reading a text book of a class.

When I looked up the word in the dictionary (I recommend using the American Heritage Dictionary or Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary – you need a good dictionary that has the etymology and lists multiple meanings and contextual examples), I would write in the right side of my notebook the meaning and etymology.

I memorized about 180 scriptures. Yes, I put them on 3X5 cards.

I read James E. Talmadge’s “Jesus the Christ” and “The Articles of Faith.” Talmadge was born and educated in England. He was a world renown chemist and scientist. He was highly educated. His vocabulary was massive. His sentences were long. His understanding profound.

I needed a dictionary to understand James Talmadge’s writings.

Thus, for me, a dictionary was never really for correct spelling. A dictionary is for correct meaning, usage and pronunciation. Words have layers and shades of meaning. Words are powerful.

By the way, I noticed that Talmadge referred frequently to Flavius Josephus and John Taylor. So I read Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews,” and I purchased John Taylor’s “Mediation and the Atonement.”

Thus began a habit of reading footnotes and chapter notes and bibliographies. I gained the habit of going to source material. When I read anything by Neale A. Maxwell, I discovered he referred to and quoted C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. I couldn’t find many Chesterton books still in print, but I did purchase about everything still in print by C.S. Lewis, including his critical writings on literature (“On Criticism” and so forth).

I followed this “note book” practice in all my reading – for my biology, history, and other classes; when I read “Time” magazine; when I read for pleasure.

(In “Reader’s Digest,” there is a section in every issue called Word Power. It is a vocabulary quiz. I did the quizzes faithfully whenever I had a “Reader’s Digest,” in hand from age 15 until I went on my mission. We had a subscription on and off. Grama Farren always had a subscription.)

When I arrived in Japan, I kept a pocket-size notebook with me at all times. Whenever I heard a word I wasn’t familiar with, or that was used in a strange way, or that I simply didn’t know, I wrote it down phonetically in my vocabulary notebook. Then, on a bus or train, or during lunch, or dinner, or any free moment, I would look up the word in my pocket size Japanese / English dictionary. Sometimes I could not find the word. Most of the time I did find the word. I would write the kanji form of the word, then the English transliteration (e.g., denshi is the English transliteration for the Japanese word for train), the English equivalent.

When I returned from Japan and began college again, I returned to my practice of keeping a vocabulary notebook. But I also started a new notebook wherein I wrote passages I liked from whatever I was reading. I’d write the passage, then the author, book title, and page number.

I still remember some of the excerpts I wrote down, such as a passage that ended with “They mistook glibness for intelligence.” I remember I turned to that passage when we learned that three-year old Andrew’s temporary deafness delayed his speech development. He was a smart, bright kid, but couldn’t express what himself. He had to point and grunt. He was not “glib,” but he was intelligent.

When I read Plato's "Republic," my mind raced with ideas, arguments, counter-arguments. I wrote them in my notebook.

When I took the required courses to minor in French, I carried a French notebook with me everywhere I went. It contained my French vocabulary and common French phrases. I saw that many English writers I encountered quoted from a French writer named Guy de Maupassant. I purchased a small book of Maupassant’s short fiction I found at a library “discard sale.” It was in the original French.

My personal stories show processes, practices, habits. Over time, I improved. My grammar and syntax improved. My spelling improved. My ability to read critically improved.

About spelling.

In writing for meaning, the correct word is more important to me than correct spelling. But, as you have discovered, incorrect spelling becomes a distraction.

I once was whining a little about how hard it was to correctly write Japanese kanji. For example, if a kanji has nine lines (called "strokes"), those nine strokes must be written in a precise order. Otherwise, the character doesn't look correct and can be illegible.

Michael Roberts said, "Writing kanji is a 'ki o sukero koto.'"

I thought, "Excellent."

You see, 'ki o sukero koto' literally means, "a thing where you apply the spirit."

The Japanese word "ki" is generally translated as "spirit," but, of course, it is used in so many ways.

The Japanese verb "sukeru" means to "attach" or "apply."

The Japanese word "koto" means "thing" or "stuff."

It's interesting, "ki o sukette" is what you say when you want someone to be careful, as in drive carefully, or don't fall down, or don't get hurt, etc.

Back to "writing kanji is a 'ki o sukero koto.'"

Writing kanji is a thing that requires care.... that requires using your spirit... using a spirit... using attention... focus... diligence...

Spelling requires care:

Going back and re-reading what you wrote.

Taking time to look up a word to be sure it has the meaning you intended.

Taking time to check the spelling of a word. And yes, when you don’t know how to spell a word, it is difficult to look it up.

Taking time to check if you have the correct tense on your verbs. If you have already "baked the cake," don't write that you "bake the cake."

Reading out loud to listen to what you've written. Does it sound right? Does it make sense? Is it reasonable? Is the logic sound?

The "ki o sukero koto" for writing and spelling most often comes after you have written something. It comes during editing. Learning to edit what you write is a skill and habit and discipline worthy of attainment.

You know all about editing. Editing requires "macroscopic" vision of the overall work and "microscopic" attention to detail.

When I don't take time to edit, especially email, my writing is filled with errors.

So, "ki o sukette kudasai." ("kudasai" means "please.")

"That which we persist in doing becomes easier - not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do it has increased."

After Word:

I've been told that Woody Allen said, "Ninety percent of genius is just showing up for work."

Decide what it is you want to "work" on, then work on it. Do it regularly. Do it consistently. Make it a habit. Show up for work.