Skip to main content
Attitude and the Ability to Change

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

My bishop’s wife sent me encouraging quotes about attitude while I was serving as an LDS missionary in Rome.

“Two men looked out from prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.”

“You can eat an elephant if you just eat it a day at a time.”

Other friends did, too. Proselytizing in Italy was hard, and these reminders helped.

As Mormons, as conservative Christians, as white people, we need to remind each other that anti-racist work is difficult and our biggest obstacle is white fragility. But “fragility” is an attitude, and we can improve ours.

America has a multitude of problems, but there is also much to celebrate here. We can choose to see mud or change our attitude and see stars.

Recently, while working in a neighborhood with lots of homeless people, I heard someone knocking on our door. As a rule, we kept the front business doors locked and only let in customers by appointment, a COVID precaution that we’d implemented after being shut down for almost a year.

I could see through the glass that this young woman did not have an appointment, but she looked friendly enough, so I buzzed her in. “Can I help you?” I asked.

“We’re across the street in the park celebrating Juneteenth,” she said. “Is it OK if some of our elderly folks come use your bathroom?”

I’m not particularly good at adapting, but this was an easy call. “Sure,” I said. “We’re trying to keep the number of people in the building down, but you send any elderly or disabled folks over here, and I’ll buzz them in.”

A handful of unscheduled folks trickled in throughout the remainder of my shift.

That evening, after I went to bed, I had a difficult time falling asleep, a problem because the following morning, I had a ten-hour shift at a different part-time job, this one requiring a 90-minute commute by public transportation each way.

I needed my beauty sleep.

And my attitude sleep.

By nature I’m, unfortunately, quite irritable, a fault I must work on constantly.

But, folks in my neighborhood were shooting off fireworks every ten or fifteen minutes. They’d been doing this a week or so already. An occasional boom here, another boom there. Why people wanted to spend their money on fireworks, especially during a serious drought, was a mystery to me.

And why set off fireworks three weeks before the Fourth of July?

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

But we were closer now, only two weeks away, and I supposed people simply liked what they liked. The last year and a half had been stressful and folks needed to let off steam.

The booms continued, and then grew louder, and multiplied in number. Boom, boom, boom! I hoped our dry lawn didn’t catch fire. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Sheesh, they were going to break a window. Twenty more minutes. Thirty. Forty-five.

What in the world was going on? Did people not have calendars?

Finally, of course, despite my late-night stupor, I figured it out. My neighbors were celebrating Juneteenth.

The instant I understood the reason for the disturbance, my attitude changed. What a wonderful new annoyance to experience every year, I realized.

I wondered if in past years, some of the “pre-Fourth of July” fireworks I’d heard were set off for the same reason.

While I was struggling as a door-to-door salesman trying to sell Mormonism to Catholics in Rome, my bishop’s wife sent me another encouraging note, a short anecdote about the life of a woman who’d been forced to relocate from the East Coast to the desert in Arizona. She was terribly unhappy, miserable even.

Until she noticed a tiny plant she’d never seen before. She started noticing other interesting vegetation, even out in this “desolate” area, and kept studying. Eventually, she became such an expert that she wrote a book on the flora of the Southwest.

It was all in the attitude, the bishop’s wife reminded me.

So I worked on improving my poor attitude once again.

I eventually left Mormonism, but I kept most of the good things I learned about Italian life and culture. My husband is also an ex-Mormon who “served” his mission in Italy. Forty years later, we watch Italian shows and movies all the time. We know how to make a good lasagna. I still listen to Italian pop.

If you haven’t seen the music video for Laura Pausini’s "Io si," take a look.

Italy has problems, but there’s much to celebrate. Mormonism has problems, but my husband and I still keep part of its culture in our lives.

America, as we know, has a multitude of problems, but there is also much to celebrate here.

And one of those causes for celebration is Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery. That’s something even fragile white people should be able to get behind.

Trying to repair even a few of the many wrongs our nation has perpetrated against its own people or others around the world is daunting. It will make us irritable, even if that’s not our usual state.

But most of the annoyance, and much of the weariness, can be alleviated if we just muster up a better attitude.

Johnny Townsend

We can look at the state of our nation and see mud. But, with only a slight change of attitude, we can see stars.

Johnny Townsend