You all know the old joke that there are two kinds of people-people who categorize others into two groups, and people who do not, right? But I’m going to make a suggestion here that people really do fall into two sets, and why it’s good to know this.
Let’s start by talking about conductors. No, not music conductors but heat conductors. Years ago I was a guest on a woman’s radio show, and she was interviewing me about one of my books. It was a book about fun things to do with your kids, many of them scientific. One activity was to have kids walk barefoot through the house and see which things felt colder or warmer. Carpet would probably be warmest, while tile, linoleum, or marble the coldest. Wood flooring might fall between the two. Then you explain to the kids that all these things are the same temperature (and use a thermometer to prove it), yet they feel colder because of conduction. Those hard surfaces were conducting heat out of your foot, making your foot cooler.
Well, the woman was aghast that I would suggest such lies on a radio show. “The floor is colder,” she insisted. “That’s why we wear slippers.”
I could not convince her that every item in one room was the same temperature. She somehow believed that the floor had maintained an entirely different temperature from every other part of the room. Like a free refrigeration unit. She’d heard it all her life, she’d seen the “evidence” by touching her foot to the cold floor, and therefore it was so.
Alas, some people are not open to higher (and in this case, more accurate) laws. But the fact remains that some substances do a great job of moving heat. Chefs with copper kettles know how great that metal is at conducting heat and getting a consistent temperature for their luscious sauces. Folks who stir their hot chocolate with a spoon may or may not know it, but the spoon conducts heat away from the cocoa to help cool it.
This is also why we like down parkas and down comforters. Lots of air gets trapped in them and makes them lousy conductors, which is exactly what you want in a coat or a blanket. They insulate. You want your body heat to stay right there in your body, not get transferred away into the colder air outside. Fluffy, furry wraps do a wonderful job of not pulling heat away from our skin. Styrofoam is another horrible conductor which makes it the perfect material for an ice chest.
But enough of the elementary science lesson, right? What does this have to do with people? Aha. To use a scientific term: LOTS. All people, whether they know it or not, and whether they intend it or not, are conductors. They either bring light and warmth to a relationship, or they suck it away. Addition or subtraction.
And we’ve all seen it happen. You’re in a committee and everyone is excitedly contributing ideas, and then suddenly the pessimist pipes up and shoots them down. He or she doubts any of these ideas could work, points out the flaws in each one, reminds you that it will be a ton of effort no one will appreciate, and within minutes the whole team is deflated. Like a giant syringe, this person has extracted all the joy and enthusiasm from your veins and left you weak and lethargic.
Or… you’re all facing a huge assignment and everyone’s scared out of their wits. You have to plan the big youth festival for a temple opening. Or a giant Girls’ Camp in a whole new venue. Or the stake anniversary of something or other. There’s a pallor hanging over the committee and everyone is just swallowing, not speaking. Suddenly, in walks the Can-Do person who turns it all around. He or she is brimming with ideas and certainty that this can be the greatest event of the decade, a real testimony builder, and will absolutely succeed. People begin to sit up straighter, share tentative smiles, and offer ideas. By the end of the meeting you’re all on fire, eager to roll up your sleeves and get started. One person brought light and heat, radiating enough faith and confidence for the entire room.
So which one are we? Are we the gloomy nay-sayer who always shoots down the happy moment with our “realistic” analysis? Or are we the cheerleader who gets discouraged folks back up on their feet with hope in their heart? We all have the ability to impact the mood of a room, and the outlook of those we contact every day. Sometimes we leave people feeling happier, and sometimes we leave them more discouraged than how we found them.
Do you have a friend who always brings you down? Someone who’s running monologue is one of complaints and self-pity? Does this person point out the reasons why you ought to be just as miserable? We need to identify these folks and resist their influence. I’m not saying we drop all our disheartened friends; some of them suffer from depression and could use our help. But we need to make a battle plan for how we can keep them from infecting our souls with their doom and gloom. Once we know their role (as a person who conducts heat away), we can insulate. We can shrug off their critical comments. We can refuse to join in when they lament their sorry luck. We can remember their outlook is always a dismal one, and take it in stride as a skewed view of life.
Likewise, we can identify those who buoy us up when we’re struggling, and surround ourselves with people who bring light into our world. You probably do this already, as such people are generally sought out as friends. Seek out conductors of joy. Draw in friends who offer solutions, humor, and a steady determination to serve the Lord. You’ll find you prop each other up as trials arise, and both of you will grow in your ability to spread cheer and hope.
Teach your kids to be the sunshine, not the rain clouds. It isn’t an inborn trait in all cases; it’s a skill any one of us can learn. And life will be better not only for us, but for all those we meet, if we determine to conduct heat in, rather than out. Like the phrase, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” there really are times when people can be divided into two groups. And in this case, you get to choose your group.
Joni Hilton’s book, “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is in LDS bookstores everywhere.
Hilton has written 20 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.
” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California. She can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com, Twitter:@JoniHilton, and Facebook: Joni Hilton.