Ethics for Young Girls
Young Woman’s Journal, 1900-1901
Lesson 9: Chastity of Thought
“Character is what we are.” How are we to know a woman’s character? The only possible way to know her character is to read her thoughts; as this is impracticable, we judge a woman’s character by her acts, which often are expressive of her character, yet we should be much astonished if we should look down through the veneer of kindly words and acts into the soul of the woman and discover what she is – not what she seems to be.
Shakespeare is conceded to be the greatest student of human nature. In all his plays, prominent characters soliloquize; that is, they think, and in order that the on-looker may understand their thoughts, they think in spoken words. These soliloquies are the keynotes to the characters, for when a man is alone he acts what he is, and from these expressed thoughts we get ideas of his motives of action. it may be a good motive or a bad one. A good motive usually results in a good action, and a bad motive, in a bad action; but very often a bad motive results in a good action; for example, a man may donate money to found an orphan asylum, not because he is benevolent, but because he desires his name to be sounded in praise, which motive would not be a good one. It is the motives, or thoughts, then, that are character.
The first question to ask and answer in this lesson is, What are pure and impure thoughts, or motives? Any thought that leads us to do what our conscience tells us is right to do, is a good motive. Of course, our minds should be intelligent in order that the thought may be discussed in the mind before conscience says it is a right thought. Any thought which gives us a desire to do what conscience says is wrong, or base, or vile, is a bad motive. As we said before, however, a low thought may lead to what is outwardly called a good act, and a good motive may result in a bad act from others’ standpoints.
Good thoughts are excited in the mind by the presence and companionship of good people. What a constant source of strength and elevating thought is a good man or woman! How many lives are turned from what is low and gross to what is ennobling and purifying, by these, the saviors of God’s children. Good literature, including the Bible and our Church works, good pictures, good music, love for nature, all inspire us with pure, uplifting thoughts.
Is it necessary to ask what things create in the mind low, unchaste thought? Would that we could omit that question! Degrading thoughts are excited by coarse companions, who use vulgar words, and tell unclean stories. Why will you associate with them when they talk as they do? Help them, if you can, without lowering yourselves, but if they begin to influence you, shun them and pray to God for them, but do not choose them for companions. If we all look grieved when a degrading thought is expressed, we can soon frown down vulgarity. Bad books and stories excite evil thoughts in the mind to as great an extent as low-minded people do. If you wish to read a novel and you don’t know what is a good one, ask some person who has good judgment, and he will help you.
We can not think evil thoughts without their affecting our characters. They may not be expressed in bad actions, but they have a lasting effect upon our souls and the souls of our children, who will inherit our tendencies. God expresses this thought even more strongly. He says that a person who looks upon a thing with unchaste eyes, commits a crime in his heart.
We can not have an evil thought in our minds for any length of time without expressing that thought in some way or other. It may be by word or by action. It is a natural tendency to express what we think. First comes the thought, then the expression of the thought. Each crime, no matter how base, first exists in thought. In our courts of justice, if it can be proved that there was no thought, or intent in a wrong act, the one performing the act is adjudged not guilty.
What can we do to make our thoughts better? You have all heard the old maxim: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The best way is to fill the mind so full of good thoughts that it hasn’t room for evil. Yet, with all our endeavors, evil thoughts do enter our minds and disturb our peace. The best thing to do in such a case is to run immediately to a good friend who will give you noble thoughts; perform a kindly act; read the Bible, Book of Mormon and other good literature; above all, go to your room where you are alone with your God; tell Him your trials and temptations, and ask Him to give you strength to overcome your wrong desires. The time to ask Him is not only at night and in the morning, but at the time when the evil thought is suggested to the mind. His guardian angels are near you and will help you if you ask Him.
1. What quotation in one of the preceding lessons have you had which suggests the thought, “Drive out evil with good”?
2. Why do we go to church meetings?
3. How do they affect our character? Why?
4. Name an incident when a person has helped you in time of temptation.
5. What are pure thoughts?
6. What cause pure thoughts?
7. What cause impure thoughts?
8. Which comes first, thought or action?
9. Why should we have pure thoughts?
10. What is character?
11. How can we know a person’s character?
12. Does expression of the face betray character?