Character, like a beautiful flower, grows from dirt

I noticed when I was about twenty years old, that no one looked me in the eye. I look everyone in the eye, which I believed was a good character trait, but no one looked me in the eye. This concerned me because I consider it a show of respect. I noticed that even my closest friends didn’t look me in the eye, so I asked my best friend Mike why.

“Mike, I have a question for you. Why do our friends not look me in the eye. Do they not respect me?”

Mike looked visibly concerned and uncomfortable. “Um, no, we respect you, man, but I don’t want to answer, I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

This baffled me. “Dude, I am not going to get angry, I am genuinely concerned, why do people not look me in the eye?”

Mike found no solace in my promise of not being upset. “I don’t really want to say, you’ll get pissed.”

I was starting to hurt now. “No man, I’m telling you, I want to fix whatever it is, I won’t get mad. I am concerned about this.”

Mike paused, gathered his bravery and responded “Because we are afraid of looking you in the eye. We have talked about it. It is terrifying to look you in the eyes.”

I was floored. I was flummoxed. “What? You are all afraid of looking me in the eye? Why is it so terrifying?”

“Because you have so much hatred, rage, and violence in your eyes, it’s scary. You are very intense, your look is piercing. You look like you could kill anyone at any moment. Even when we know you are happy.”

This blew my mind. This was such a shocking revelation. I thanked him for his honesty and endeavored from that moment on to soften my look. It was such a revelation that when it came time for me to leave New Hampshire, I decided to make a paradigm shift. I left New Hampshire as Billy Jacobs and arrived in Utah as Rick Jacobs. Rick, I believe, is a kind, loving, gentle, long suffering person who endeavors to be a good person. Billy was a violent, angry, and brooding person, a victim of the violence, death, suffering, and hate he had foisted upon him up to that moment. Rick is the guy that rose above it and chose to be who he believes he was before all of the dirt and fertilizer was heaped on his soul.

Billy is still there, but I keep him in a box. I choose when Billy is let out, especially when I was a cop. It has resolved many a conflict without having to go to violence.

Character doesn’t form in a void

Imagine all the characteristics we look for in a mate. We think of all the things that we know we want, and things we want for ourselves, at least the very least, hope we demonstrate. We consider characteristics of forgiveness, kindness, humility, long suffering, lack of judgement, etc. We want someone that understands the precepts of the gospel, not just knowing it is true.

Now, think back to someone that you felt had all those things you liked, the very characteristics you are looking for. Now think of the characteristics you believe you have. As you ponder these questions, think about all the people you kept at arms length or flat out rejected because of hard things in their past. Think about the times you have been rejected by people because of mistakes you have made; because of bad or even misinformed decisions, or circumstances beyond your control.

It really sucks being rejected for someone you aren’t anymore, but how often do we do this to others and don’t feel the dissonance.

I have had the most interesting experiences where I was told how amazing I am, how sweet, kind, gentle, God loving, priesthood respecting, on and on; many great characteristics that women say they want. But then I am rejected or ghosted because I am not the type of Mormon they would marry. “The type?” you may ask. Yes, the type of Mormon.

Because of my past. Because of my experiences. Because of what I have been through. Because of the very things that made the person that they also respect and say exhibits the characteristics they want.

The thing that strikes me, because I hear about this often from men and women both, is that we all want the fruit or the flower of a well tended plant, but we refuse to see what it took to become a flowering or fruitful plant – a LOT of fertilizer and dirt. And, when I say fertilizer, I am referring to the excreted kind, not the very hygienic, white pearly stuff. Yes, poop. Crap. Feces. I want to say the other word for impact, but I want to be better than I was and not use obscenities.

It is because of the crap and dirt in our lives that we are who we are. It is God’s plan! For us to understand the value of the atonement, for us to acquire the knowledge and character of Christ and Heavenly Father, we have to go through a lot of poo. All those things that people say they love about me, well, guess what, I earned those traits literally through blood, sweat, and tears. I earned them by suffering and learning. I then applied the lessons to character and became a better person. Which is to say, I became a different person – I became not the person that made that mistake in the first place.

We expect perfection in others, but expect others to accept us despite our imperfections. We expect every one to acquire the character we seek in a test tube, in a clinical lab. That isn’t how it works, not in the least.

But what about their past?

Some might argue “There are just things that someone does in their history that would be a red flag.” Granted, but doesn’t that smack of rejecting their option to use the atonement? Do you want to be held accountable all the time for something that happened once or twice, 20-30 years ago, and never again? Nope. We expect people to see who we are now, not who we were, but we judge others on who they were.

How do you ever really know though, if someone’s dirt is in their past and will never happen again? There is a very simple answer:

You don’t. You can’t. You never will. Sorry.

All you can do is pray for guidance, have faith in the Lord, follow the Spirit, and be Christlike. In the end there is no guarantee. We don’t want to think of that inconvenient truth that the other person still has free agency and may choose to harm rather than heal. The best you can hope for is they will remain committed to a Christ centered life as well.

We have to choose to be more than who we were. We also have to make the even harder choice of letting people be more than who they were, too. Instead of dating people in the Church, we need to date people in the Spirit. Let time show who that person is. Respect their overcoming, instead of seeing only what they have overcome.