Any doctor can tell you that one of the promises in the Hippocratic Oath is “to abstain from doing harm.” The Latin phrase, Primum non nocere means “First, do no harm,” and basically tells us that it might be better to do nothing, than to risk causing even more damage.
This is why I do not have a BYU or an LDS bumper sticker on my car. The way I drive, I figure the church doesn’t need the bad publicity. Okay, I’m joking, but only mildly. The way I drive cannot possibly make someone say, “By George, I’m going to look into that woman’s religion.” My daughter says I drive like Cruella de Vil, and everyone laughs because it’s kind of true.
This is not the only area where I can best assist by stepping into the shadows. Years ago some women in my ward begged me to join their Ward Softball Team. I borrowed my husband’s well-seasoned mitt and showed up. I watched how they threw and caught, the pitcher’s arm whizzing around like a rotary blade. It was pretty impressive.
One enthusiastic sister came up and said, “Are you going to be on the team?”
“Well,” I said, “first I have to ask you a question. Is your goal just to socialize or is it to win games?”
She said that of course they want to win. But they also have fun together.
“Then the best thing I can do for your team,” I said, “is not to play on it.” Seriously. If you want to win a softball game, I am the last person you need on hand. I can sell tickets, man the hot dog booth, even mow the lawn before I can be an asset to that team. I know my limitations and I’m fine with them. I’m grateful for the talents God has given me, and I accept the fact that I am not going to win an Olympic Gold Medal in this lifetime. I can refer you to P.E. teachers who will vouch for my claims.
Few people excel at everything, and we all have have areas of weakness where our best move probably is to back away before we do any damage, right? I’m picturing clumsy pall bearers, fidgety surgeons, tone deaf choir members, and the like.
But none of us should be setting missionary work back a notch because we can’t get a handle on our moods. Everywhere we go we make an impression—good or bad—on those around us. When we give in to crankiness or impatience, when we whine or criticize, people draw conclusions about how effective our faith really is in making us happy.
Radio host Dennis Prager says happiness is a moral obligation. “Happiness — or at least acting happy, or at the very least not inflicting one’s unhappiness on others — is no less important in making the world better than any other human trait…. happy people make the world better and unhappy people make it worse.” He even compares bad moods to offensive body odor. “Just as we shower each day so as not to inflict our body odors on others, so we should monitor our bad moods so as not to inflict them on others.”
A friend of mine says he recalls a gathering of mostly non-Mormons in a business setting not long ago. He had found ways to share some of the truths and joys we understand, and was building some bridges, he thought. Then in walked a woman with a dour expression and a litany of complaints. He cringed as someone said, “Hey, you’re a Mormon, too, right?” and she nodded. Her unfriendliness had been like a bucket of ice water and had doused all the embers he’d so carefully been tending. Couldn’t she at least have made a little effort to show interest in others, instead of being consumed with her own self-interests and negative outlook? We feel the same way when we read of a criminal who turns out to be LDS, and hope people won’t judge our religion by the actions of one.
And many of us pray for tact and compassion at weak moments. I’d be surprised if even one person could claim they had never offended a single soul. We’ve all given offense or made a thoughtless comment, if only by accident. But we hope those moments are the outliers, the exceptions. We hope we are not chronic gripers, spreading gloom in every room we enter. We hope we’re known for being good neighbors, helpful coworkers, genuine disciples of Christ.
To be good missionaries, we need to consciously choose cheeriness. We don’t have to have an electrifying personality or be the most gregarious person in the group. We just have to radiate the joy we feel from what we know to be true. We can have kind eyes, a ready smile. We can look for ways to help those around us. We can set aside our terrible morning with the broken fan belt and the sick kids, and walk into the meeting determined to shine. We can deliberately choose our mood. And yes, “fake it ‘til you make it” actually works: Psychologists have found that pretending to be happy honestly does lift one’s spirits.
So perhaps the first step in missionary work is to “do no harm.” We can resolve not to undo a good impression, and not to project the idea that this gospel can’t instill joy and gladness. If the restored gospel has the power to bring peace and contentment to mankind, to heal broken families, to bring solace to the suffering, then this is what it claims to be: The greatest news since the resurrection. And if we have the miraculous good fortune to be members of it, we owe it to the world to present ourselves as we really should be: The happiest people you’ve met all week.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.