Do Be Do Be Doooooo…

On the internet, identity is an obsession. Because we are primarily only acquainted with one another through words, there is an opportunity (and, perhaps, a tendency) to mislead others about ourselves. Our facebook pictures are from the most flattering angles; our political and religious tendencies more firm. Knowing this about ourselves, we tend to also be suspicious of others. Praise and sarcasm are easily distinguished in real life; online you never really know. Therefore, we try to establish a context for what is written online by establishing a relationship with other participants or, failing that, by trying to discern where they are coming from. Are they Libertarian, Progressive, Indie Rock, Country Strong, Molly Mormon, or Andy Anti? Establishing these identities can allow us to create the body language, tone of voice, and other non-verbal aspects of language that are absent in online communication, allowing us to create a context for interpreting comments.

This is dangerous. If we are a poor judge of character (and we usually are), we will assume motivations and intents that aren’t actually present. We’ve all heard stories of men pretending to be teenaged girls and Nigerians pretending to be friendly and in need. If we misjudge our conversational partners’ identity, we stand to lose pride, if not something worse. We often unwittingly reveal ourselves. If facebook and twitter are there to create an idealized version of our life and wit, then they, if nothing else, reveal what we think we should be interested in and how we think we ought to be.

Elder Lynn G. Robbins considers this problem in his recent conference talk “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?” He points to the Savior’s answer to his titular question, noting that Christ “invites us to take upon us His name and His nature.” Elder Robbins then adds that “To become as He is, we must also do the things He did.” Elder Robbins then proceeds to delineate the linked activities of being and doing:

To be and to do are inseparable. As interdependent doctrines they reinforce and promote each other. Faith inspires one to pray, for example, and prayer in turn strengthens one’s faith.

The Savior often denounced those who did without being—calling them hypocrites: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6). To do without to be is hypocrisy, or feigning to be what one is not—a pretender.

Conversely, to be without to do is void, as in “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17; emphasis added). Be without do really isn’t being—it is self-deception, believing oneself to be good merely because one’s intentions are good.

Do without be—hypocrisy—portrays a false image to others, while be without do portrays a false image to oneself.

Who are we, really? Online, where there is only do, and never be (unless you are Flynn), how do we do? I’ve been arguing that we aren’t to our own selves true, so are we hypocrites? Or does our internet interaction tend to allow our being to express itself more freely because consequences are less vital and action is minimal? Is the internet a vehicle for our self-delusion?

I ask, in part, because the implications of the answer to Christ’s question overwhelm me. I am not very much like Christ at all, although I would like to be. Actually, that’s not true. What I would like is to like being Christlike more. I usually enjoy myself when I try to do as I genuinely think He would do, but I usually also think it is a bit of a hassle. Simpler to watch TV, read a book, or contemplate my navel, none of which provide highs as high, but all of which require much less work. So, as far as I can tell, who I am is not who I should be.

I tend to think that one of the truths in life is that contemplation of the Christ always results in a Fall, because we always realize that we pale in comparison. It’s the sort of thing where believing that you are getting somewhere is a sure sign that you aren’t and getting somewhere involves never being entirely sure that you’ve gotten there. Certainly, God assures (and it’s a good thing He does), but I don’t think that the assurance instantly brings confidence in His decision. It seems to take some time to believe that God is really going to accept you back.

This brings us back to Do and Be. Moroni 7 tells us that to do without being is as empty as James 2 tells us being without doing is. It seems relatively easy to change our actions; I’m not certain what changing my being even entails. I am told (and believe) that I am a child of God, so presumably I don’t have far to go. I once attended a Buddhist sermon, where I was told that the Buddha is already inside me (and inside everything else), which appears to be a way to say the same thing. So, if the potential is inside me somewhere, how do I tap it? How do I identify the divine within?

As I’m at the stage I am at, any answer I’d provide would be empty rhetoric. I think that it involves undergoing a series of changes of heart, a series that I am hopefully beginning. I think that it involves actually becoming someone who wants to be as Christ is, which I aspire to. I feel like I am at the beginning of the long road to discipleship, but I always feel that way. Your mileage may vary.

Getting back to the opening paragraph, to whatever degree it is possible for me to be a disciple online, I will try to be it. I am not going to pretend to be what I am not, because one thing that this talk convinced me of is that “fake it til you make it” ain’t the Lord’s way. But I’ll pray and fast to become what I ought and in the meantime be what I am. I think that is sufficient for today.


  1. Chris Gordon says:

    Reading about your questions of transformation I’m thinking a lot about talks I’ve heard on sanctification–always been a mysterious process and concept for me.

    For my part, I’m feeling more and more that it’s both frustrating and liberating that so many gospel concepts are so circular and that so many concepts and actions are inputs and outputs simultaneously. Frustrating because it would be awesome to have a bit more of an algorithm to deal with, but liberating just for that reason: it’s not as simple as a checklist and so if I’m going into my algorithm with flawed inputs than I’m not lost.

    I’ve been grateful lately for a willingness that I’ve seen in Heavenly Father to be lenient with my intentions. I’ve got responsibilities that obligate me to a lot of good works, and for better or for worse my sense of obligation and duty is a strong pull, often strong enough from navel-gazing and TV watching when pure desires of discipleship might not be. I say that I’ve observed a leniency on Heavenly Father’s part because I’ve felt spiritually uplifted even when my response to duty might be less pure than a pure love of Christ.

    Maybe that spiritual uplift is going to be sufficient over time to transform and sanctify me. I don’t know. At some point I think that Heavenly Father will expect more from my “being,” but maybe He’s giving me enough of a spiritual carrot at this point to help me get there.

    Lots of good thoughts from the BCC crew today. Thanks, guys!

  2. MikeInWeHo says:

    If “fake it ’til you make it” ain’t the Lord’s way, where does that leave people who are struggling to overcome various addictive behaviors? It’s a fundamental principle of recovery programs (including LDS ones).

    I’m not sure that doing what is right regardless of how we feel (or if our motives are impure), necessary makes us the kind of hypocrite Jesus condemns in Mark 7:6.

  3. Mike,
    I think, although I could be wrong, that folks in recovery will tell addicts that admitting your addiction is the way to peace. They even endorse admitting it to other people (when the time is right).

    I guess that I would say that if going through the motions is all you can do, God will take it (I think), but if you are going through the motions because you are too lazy to not go through the motions, God will get irritated. I think that the difference is known only to you and God, so you’ll have to take it up with him.

    Of course, I think that being a hypocrite and being self-deluded are basic facts of human existence, so my bias might be affecting my perception.

  4. This seems like a relevant passage to all of this.

  5. I think ‘fake it until you make it’ is a lot like ‘experimenting on my word’ which is something we are told to do. Very few good works would be done if people felt they had to wait to be completely like Christ before they did them.

  6. I knew my dad’s heart wasn’t in it when he got up every morning to make me breakfast when I was a kid, especially since he must have known I wouldn’t appreciate it for decades. I think that’s what made his heart so large. He’s the dad I try to be every morning.

  7. John,

    Apart from these two verses, I think you say it better than Paul:

    23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

    24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

    My wife and I have recently gone through the experience of helping someone in dire need, even though that help was never easy to give, and the cost (time and embarrassment, primarily) was high. It meant sacrificing church responsibilities, family birthdays, work time, sleep, and privacy. It put me at odds with our bishop at one point. There was never a time in this week long process that I doubted what was the correct course of action, but I never once wanted to do what was right, knowing the cost involved. But we bucked up, and did what felt right. Our motives were not pure, but we got through the end with a better understanding of what it would truly mean to live a Christlike life all of the time. It was not pretty examining our thoughts and actions, and doing more than being. I can only say in the end, we better understand the being part of this, and it will be easier next time something really hard comes along like this.

    And I patched things up with the bishop. Turns out he was being more of a help than I thought, doing more than I could actually observe from my side of the gulf that opened up between us and the rest of our normal lives during this week.

    Thanks for reminding me of this talk.

  8. John, thanks for writing this. It really resonates for me.

    I am by nature I am a thinker more than a doer – and that is not a good thing at its natural level for me. I tend to think too much and do too little. I had to face that head-on a few years ago, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I”m still too much that way, but I’m better than I was in 2007.

    As a result of that experience, for me, it has boiled down to the conscious decision to try to develop Christ-like attributes in a planned, intentional manner. I started that effort at the beginning of 2008, and I wish I would have done so in my youth. That is my biggest “regret” – that it took so long to have the epiphany. I still have a LONG way to go, and I am sure it will be a life-long effort that will not end in this life with perfect success, but it’s worth it.

    In practical terms, I have made one and only one “resolution” for now – to be more Christ-like. Each year for the past three years, I have chosen a passage of scripture that addresses Christ-like attributes and focused on being a little better each month at one of the attributes in the passage. The first two years were the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7; the third year was Paul’s discourse on charity in 1 Corinthians 13; the one this year is Alma 5.

    I think about each characteristic I have chosen for the month, look for ways consciously to become better in that area throughout the month and write about it each Saturday on my personal blog. I’m just not focused enough to deal with multiple goals at once, so I have accepted that I can only try to do one thing at a time in this arena and committed to trying to something a little better for a month at a time.

    The most important part was letting go of my desire to be perfect (complete, whole, fully developed) in the moment – to accept slow, incremental, almost imperceptible growth (with lots of blips and stumbles and mistakes mixed in) as OK.

    If anyone is interested, redefining and understanding “grace” better helped me tremendously:

  9. Hypocrisy is pretending to be something we are not. What if we are just trying to be something we are not yet? That’s what “Fake it til you make it” means to some. The pretense in “Fake til you make it” could be faking the confidence to do something. The thought is that if we act confident eventually we will feel confident about achieving whatever the goal is.

  10. If the media is a vehicle for delusion, what with all of its misleading images and messages we receive, then the internet can certainly be a vehicle for self-delusion with the images and messages we transmit. I guess you’re arguing that what cometh out of a man defileth him more than what goeth in.

    I would argue that a person becomes as she experiments, and that would include on the internet. People just feel a little more free to experiment when they’re anonymous, because a bad choice isn’t as likely to come back to haunt them. I think it’s a little like teenagers going to college — they’re suddenly free to do all sorts of crazy things and eventually they settle down and become more responsible. I would argue that even on the internet, you can be, as well as do. A flattering angle on a facebook photo is no different that wearing makeup IRL, in my opinion.

    As for “faking it until you make it”, I wrote a defense of that defense of that. Whether it isn’t God’s plan or not depends on whether one is changing for the better, I would think.

  11. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 9
    Yes!!! What Sista In Zion said (cool blog, btw).

    “Fake it ’til you make it” is a useful strategy to achieve a goal.

  12. Michelle AM says:

    Fwiw, I really don’t like the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” – mostly because it was not what was said in the actual talk it references. It is a phrase that was coined by those who were criticizing the talk, and, frankly, doing so by twisting and distorting the actual message into “fake it ’til you make it”.

    Having said that, the definition of that phrase in #9 is one I like very much. If the phrase is not going to disappear, I like that meaning.

  13. I forgot to check and didn’t realize my wife had commented here recently. That last comment is mine.

  14. Identity happens to be a favorite topic of mine and one that I contemplate and read about. I had a very interesting psychology book on my book shelf at my online library that I used to subscribe on that very subject.

    I think that people always reveal something about themselves when they write. I feel that I know a great deal about many of the people that I encounter online and have never met in person or talked on the phone. They can be very open. Now I know people can misrepresent things and put the best foot forward. Yet, I see people being very candid and very open. I see their hearts and I think they are real. I’m not saying that I would trust them in real life without having them earn it first as you have to be so careful. Well, there is an exception of my unrequited love who is a single man in California and a few others. They already have my trust.

    I think that people can tend to use far to much self-effacing humor and even paint a picture of themselves that is less than the self that we would interact with in real life. On the other hand, I have so many quirks that people would probably think I am exaggerating were I to let all of them spill into my writing.

    I my sister asked me to write poems for her blog, I think of this subject a lot now more than ever than I blogged as her blog is about doing good. In encouraging people to do good, I don’t want to be about judging others or painting myself to be perfect. I find good in everyone that I get a chance to know and also see imperfections. My sister and I aren’t perfect. I didn’t even know what her blog was going to be about when I said I would share poems. But I do think there is a place for her blog. She has assured me that there is no political agenda. She is not even LDS.

    It is kind of funny that it is about being a group but we also talk about ourselves. Although she didn’t plan for me to guest blog for any time soon if ever, her dog got sick and I helped out. Plus, she now knows how hard it is to do a weekly post and work full-time. My sister and I talk in the first person on this blog quite a bit that is devoted to being about groups. This is even more ironic in light of the fact that my sister said prior to taking a class for her Master’s degree coursework that she did not want to be on facebookk because her life was nobody’s business. In taking the class, she was a convert to facebook.

    I have actually learned things about her as she blogs and she has learned things about me. We don’t get as many chances to share experiences and narratives. While I am ever mindful that every angle that one picks in writing may distort things, I do think we get some of the picture.

    When I first came to the ‘nacle as someone I knew from an LDS forum was one of the early bloggers at M*, I had never read a blog. I used to almost think of bloggers as rock stars. I would send them an email sometimes and if they wrote back a sentence, I thought it was so cool. I still hold many bloggers in high esteem. I had to get used to being open because I feel guilty when I talk about myself in a way that may detract from the common good.

    the acceptance that I have received from people that I have known online has meant a lot to me because I have shared personal things. I think everyone should receive that acceptance. However, I have seen people be openly rude to people.

    Even among close friends and family, I think people project things on me that are not part of who I am. I had a cousin who said she wanted to be a nun growing up although she wasn’t Catholic like me because she said it was the closest she could come to being as perfect as me. I never tried to act so perfect. I was an innocent type and was just me at the time. However, my family in my own home knew I am not perfect.

    I know this is long and I usually regret saying things that are too long. And I could go on. But I hope that somewhere I have said what I meant to say and that it makes sense to someone other than me.

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