The Strong and the Weak

August 31, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 7:57 pm   Category: Life,Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures,Theology

Kristen’s excellent post yesterday on teaching children compassion reminded me of a subject I have been thinking about lately. I saw the greatest ad on BYU TV recently. Some nerdy kid in a high school hallway scene had his books and papers spilled all over the floor by a passing bully. A big strapping athlete kid was nearby hanging with his jock and cheerleader friends and noticed it. He paused for a minute then went over to help the nerdy kid pick up his books. For some reason I found it touching (clich�s and all). There is something very powerful and moving about seeing the strong help the weak simply out of compassion.

Through Joseph Smith the Lord said:

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
(D&C 121:39-40)

There you have it. The minute we become strong in any way it is the most natural thing in the world for us to abuse our power. What do naturally use our power for? – To attain the things of this world and the honors of men. Going out of our way to lift or assist or be kind to someone that is weaker than us is just an unnatural thing to do in this world.

I have decided that one of the final steps in our eternal progression to becoming Godlike will be our developing the ability to properly manage and utilize our power. That is why the law of consecration is the ultimate law for the saints. It tells us “be strong, be brilliant, be rich, be talented, but don’t use any of it to help you attain the honors of men or consume the things of this world – use it to strengthen the feeble knees of the weak.”

So being strong is what naturally pushes us to be devils. But being strong is also what allows is to act the part of angels in life.

Two quick stories:

When I was about nine or ten there was this pathetic kid that lived down the street from us. He was a couple of years younger than me and was a mess. Dirty, disheveled, unattractive, backwards. Worst of all he always seemed to have a running nose with dried snot always present on his face. I, being the clever, dashing and popular kid that I was at the time in rural Oregon, dubbed this kid “Booger-nose”. The name stuck and that whole year we simply referred to this kid as booger-nose. I don’t even know what his real name was.

I look back and think of the little trailer he lived in. I realize he probably had a sinus infection and his family had no access to the antibiotics required to get him past it. He was weak, I was strong, and I made his life just a little more miserable… I anguish over that nickname I gave this poor kid to this day. Oh what I would give to go back and lift him and comfort him rather than grind him further into the ground. It is a cross of shame I will have to bear in my life. The only thing I can do about it now is allow the memory to remind me to try to never be thoughtless or cruel to the weak again.

Fast forward a couple of years…

I am now back in my birthplace, Southern California. I am a chubby seventh grader who is several years behind everyone else in styles and trends. I went from being a popular sixth grader in the boonies of Oregon to being an obscure, picked-on, uncool new kid with no friends in the suburbs of San Diego. Those were the darkest years of my life. But I remember one kid from that year. His name was Grant. He was a tall, handsome, popular eighth grader who happened to be in my ward. All I remember was that this socially powerful kid treated me respectfully and kindly in front of other people. It meant the world to me. I was weak and vulnerable and he lifted me up, befriended me, treated me with kindness, and strengthened my feeble knees. I will eternally be grateful for that kind eighth grader.

In that noble boy Grant I had found a hero and exemplar. It was later in life that I more fully recognized that Grant was simply following in the footsteps of our Great Exemplar.

When have you been strong or weak? What abuse or compassion have you administered or received?


  1. Wow Geoff you hit me right in the face! I feel like you feel. In 5th or 6th grade we had a girl in our class named Marva Gronvold. The description of the boy you remember fit Marva to a tee. Only I wasn’t popular and I don’t know who came up with the name of Marva Snotvold, but I joined in the fun and name calling. I truly regret it now and there is nothing I can do, but as you pointed out…use it as a reminder.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    Comment by don — September 1, 2005 @ 11:44 am

  2. Thanks for the comment Don. (I liked this post but I was afraid that it may not generate any comments at all). I think is is shocking sometimes to realize how naturally small cruelties come to us all. Maybe that is why the natural man is an enemy to God…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 1, 2005 @ 12:25 pm

  3. There was a girl also named Kristen that I went to elementary school with and she was teased mercilessly. I didn’t really join in teasing her that much but I never wanted to be too friendly with her for fear of also getting teased too. I always felt bad about that.

    Later in junior high she came up to me very distressed because she had tried to cut her own hair (her mom wouldn’t let her cut it) and it was a mess. I took her into the bathroom and gave her a neat little bob haircut. I was hoping that would atone for my earlier inaction in elementary school.

    I always felt terrible about her and still occasionally wonder what happened to her.

    Comment by Kristen J — September 1, 2005 @ 1:20 pm

  4. I like this post too. I like the subject, and I like it because it brings a gospel principle into the realm of the personal. (That is also the same reason I always like what annegb has to say, she has a talent for cutting right to the heart of a topic) Of course, this is also why it is perhaps a difficult post to comment on. It’s probably a rare adult who hasn’t been on one side or the other of a similar situation- not an easy thing to admit to.
    And then we see the same kind of thing at every level of society- from schoolkids to neighborhoods to governments. So it’s not only personal, at the same time it is a concern so big it’s hard to comprehend.

    Comment by C Jones — September 1, 2005 @ 2:21 pm

  5. Yes, this is a great post.

    In elementary and middle school, I was always the one getting teased, so I was pretty quiet and never spoke up when other kids were being teased. I’ve always felt like I should have been vocal and told the bullies to stuff it, both for myself and the kids lower on the food chain.

    What I most feel bad for is being mean to my little brother growing up. Telling him the things in the woods would get him, because he wouldn’t leave us older children to our oh so grown up tasks.

    Comment by Crystal — September 1, 2005 @ 7:02 pm

  6. Have you ever seen the movie Flatliners? One of the characters in the movie is haunted by the memory of a girl he used to pick on mercilessly in elementary school. (And, within the plot of the movie, his guilt over it manifests itself into physical torment.) In college, this led to my friends and I coining the expression, “Flatliner-kid,” to refer to a kid we picked on in elementary school and now felt badly about.

    Before we switched to homeschooling, my kid was suspended twice for laying the smackdown on bigger kids who were picking on little kids. I told him to wear it as a badge of honor.

    Comment by V the K — September 2, 2005 @ 4:26 am

  7. We moved too much while I was in school to notice who was being picked on or who was doing the picking. I always had a feeling of being on the outside. I saw things happen, but was the invisable kid, not knowing anyone. A couple of times I decide to try to gain access to a circle by doing something I watched others do, whether it was good or bad, and each time it blew up in my face. I said something I had heard someone else say (and was viewed as speaking a foreign language) or did something,like ask a guy to a “backwards” dance, being accepted only to spend the evening alone while he talked with his cool friends.

    I mention this only to say that we all want to belong somewhere. I think that need to belong compels us to sometimes make incorrect choices and be someone we aren’t. Sometimes, we rationalize, that even a bad choice is better than being alone. Which of course that as an adult, I can see the flaw in the reasoning employed.

    Comment by chronicler — September 2, 2005 @ 7:45 am

  8. I have decided that one of the final steps in our eternal progression to becoming Godlike will be our developing the ability to properly manage and utilize our power. That is why the law of consecration is the ultimate law for the saints.

    We had a conversation with some of our kids last night about the horrifying things they are hearing and seeing on the news in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We talked about how the poorest and most vulnerable seem to be bearing the brunt of the suffering. It’s hard to explain to kids the disparity between rich and poor, powerful and weak. I thought about how different things could be in a world where what we have in the church was available to everyone. Not necessarily living the law of consecration, but Bishop’s storehouses, frequent lessons on preparedness, the organizational framework to pass on information quickly, stored food and water, etc.

    Comment by C Jones — September 2, 2005 @ 8:17 am

  9. Growing up as the white trash family in whatever town we lived in, we were always picked on. I was very quiet and mostly people left me alone, of course, they also shunned me noticeably (cooties, you know). My sisters learned to fight and they were bigmouthed and good fighters, so we pretty much did okay that way.

    Two stories: when I was ll, I was walking with the 8 year old brother of another “white-trash” friend. For some reason ( I wasn’t a bully, it was totally out of character for me), I shoved him, and that little kid fired back and punched me in the face. I learned a valuable lesson. Hit first and hit in the face. It usually stops the fight. I taught all my kids that. And my grandchildren. How to stop a bully. You might get beat up, but they usually won’t take you on again if they know you will fight back.

    When I was 12, we lived in an apartment place in Long Beach across from a school. Our next door neighbor was a very fat woman who favored her own kids and we were petrified of her. Her little boy threw sand in my baby sister’s (age 6) face and she hit him. She came to find me because he ran home to get his mom and she was scared. I remember standing in front of her, shaking and scared to death, as this fat woman advanced on me yelling. I was so scared, but prepared to die for my sister. I said, “don’t you lay a hand on her, you big fatso.” That stopped her up short, she was amazed and went and told my mother and I didn’t get in trouble. The thing about that is my fear, or my courage in the face of my fear.

    I think that story you told first would be more compelling if the person who stood up for the weakling was a small kid, who did the right thing even if he was going to get pummelled. Think Nazi, Holocaust.

    Comment by annegb — September 2, 2005 @ 8:53 am

  10. Thanks all for the insightful comments all around.

    I have recently been pondering the idea that this concept of the strong and the weak is a universal thing. It applies certainly to each childhood. Likewise it applies to adults with the rich and the poor, the politically and socially connected and the unconnected, the popular and the unpopular, the educated and the uneducated, the intelligent and the unintelligent, the spiritually strong and the spiritually weak, and the physically, mentally, or emotionally strong and weak. Certainly all of us are among the strong in several of those categories. I guess I have just realized that in some ways every interaction in the entire universe is a variation on this strong and weak theme.

    The strongest being in the Universe, interestingly, is completely devoted to building up and strengthening the weak. He is the One we are trying to emulate as Latter Day Saints.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 2, 2005 @ 9:42 pm