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Doing Common Things in an Uncommon Way: Preliminary; Lesson I — Thinking

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 14, 2014

It’s been quite a while since we looked at an old lesson series used in one of the auxiliaries. I like this one from 1922-23. It meshes quite well with the 21st century’s philosophy of “intentional living,” or being aware of everyday acts that are usually taken for granted, and directing those everyday acts into some pattern meant to improve ourselves and our world.

Doing Common Things in an Uncommon Way

A Study for the Advanced Senior Class, M.I.A., 1922-23

By George H. Brimhall, President Emeritus, Brigham Young University


Uncommon shall mean in this course out of the ordinary, higher and better than is usual, a mode of doing things on a plane to which the many have not arrived. It shall mean the excellence of action not yet reached by the mass or the popular majority.

The few are uncommon and the many common. In fact in each individual the uncommon qualities are not in the majority as to number but may be dominant because of their superior quality or uncommonnness. the uncommon feature of these lessons will be an attempt to do the uncommon thing of getting some common things considered from an uncommon point of view.

The student is reminded that the M.I.A. reading course is an uncommonly good set of books, each one an addition to the student’s leverage in self-lifting, and that the adoption of the book, The Americanization of Edward Bok gives to the advanced seniors a book with the uncommon record of seventeen editions in the eighteen months. The uncommon quality that has put the book in such uncommon demand is the uncommon way the author has of writing about himself, and the story of uncommon success achieved by doing common things in an uncommon way.

The title of this course is not a quotation from the book, although it appears once in the volume. “Doing common things in an uncommon way” was a student slogan in the Brigham Young University before Mr. Bok’s book was published.

Lesson I. – Thinking

Thinking is a human trait. We are thinking beings. It is not a question as to whether we shall think; we must think whether we will or not. Books have been written on “how we think,” but our problem is “How should we think?” or “What is the kind of thinking that our duty to self and to society and to God demands of us?” What kind of thinking will be the biggest factor in the production of happiness immediate and remote?

Kinds of Thinking. – As processes, thinking is of two general kinds, the subconscious and the conscious. By subconscious is meant mental processes that are going on in our lives without our notice, just as many physical processes go on without our being conscious of them. We half hear and half see things and in some instances our attention is so near the zero point that we have no cognizance of an occurrence mentally, and yet the body has so responded that the event is registered in that part of the soul and comes up later without our remembrance of ever having known it. So little is known as yet about this form of mind activity and growth that we shall leave it here and proceed to a consideration of thinking as a conscious activity of the mind.

First, we think spontaneously. We are constantly and with almost incredible rapidity drawing conclusions as this or that experience or necessity is pressed upon us. Most of this spontaneous thinking is common, and much of it altogether haphazard. The commonplaceness and the haphazardness of it may be reduced by doing what every uncommonly successful person is doing, push toward a purpose in our thoughts.

“When we are offered a penny for our thoughts we always find that we have had so many things in mind that we can easily make a selection which will not compromise us too nakedly. On inspection we shall find, even if we are not downright ashamed of a great part of our spontaneous thinking, it is far too intimate, personal, ignoble, or trivial to permit us to reveal more than a small part of it. We find it hard to believe that other people’s thoughts are as silly as our own, but they probably are.” The Mind in the Making, by Robinson, page 17.

How to substitute this common, spontaneous thinking for the uncommon, and thus elevate ourselves, is one of our problems, and it would appear that this may be done first, by thinking more about our thinking, and, second, by being more careful about how we think; just as we improve our speech by thinking about how to speak and taking care about our speaking.

Musings or thought excursions, a sort of letting our thoughts throng on us as they will, is a common form of thinking; it is usually known as reverie. It is at the bottom of much that is good and some that is not good in life. When apprehension, fear, or hatred, pessimism, dominate in reverie, its contributions are to unhappiness; but when faith, hope, and love, optimism, predominate, the fruitage is joy. Pessimistic reverie is more than spontaneous worry, it is a sort of death-dreaming, a kind of tobogganing toward despair. Reverie of the optimistic type is the self reciting “Excelsior” to an audience of one, whose applause counts for more than that of millions outside our inner courts of life. As he is, is man’s reverie. As the man of today muses, so will the man of the morrow be.

From the muses come our poetry, our art, and our philosophy; but there is poetry and poetry, art and art, philosophy and philosophy, all the way from the low to the high, the common and the uncommon. Uncommon musings, even if lured toward the lowlands, will no more sojourn over the line than will virtue accept the entertainment of vice. Our musings are revelators of our past and prophets of our future.

Self-Interest Thinking. – The common type of self-interest thinking has caused mankind to just “muddle” through. It is common to think much about independence and little about interdependence. if the race has made progress it has been in spite of thinking about individual achievements that have cost the life of the best there is in us, generosity, mercy, brotherly love, and about group achievements at the cost of the best there is in society. “An arresting example of what this muddling may mean we have seen during these recent years in the slaying or maiming of fifteen million of our young men. Unless we wish to see a recurrence of this or some similar calamity, we must create a new and unprecedented attitude of mind.” The Mind in the Making, page 13.

Uncommon thinking with self-interest would require, first, elevating one’s interest and so playing the game of life that the higher interests would get into the king row. Placing principles before the persons, preparation before position, persons before property, peoples before nations. Uncommon thinking for defense will think justice for the Japs and mercy for the Germans, without waiting for the time when it shall be commercially profitable to so think.

While uncommon thinking with self-interest may not eliminate entirely the weight of “whose-ox-is-gored” evidence, it can reduce it to a point where confidence may not perish.

Thinking for Progress. – The common type of improvement thinking consists of finding ways out of difficulties. with it, necessity becomes the mother of invention, and pressure becomes the father of progress; but, there is a kind of thinking for improvement that waits not for necessity, it ever creates necessity. The thinking of Horace Mann created a demand for public education long before there was any popularly recognized necessity for it. This thinking for improvement operates in adding to old thoughts, and in creating new ones. It fears not to have faith, yet it dares to doubt. It finds facts and faces them squarely; it refuses to be fooled by its own processes; it distinguishes between truth and theory, interest and evidence; it says, “It seems so” many times before it declares, “It is so.”

Thinking with Inspiration. – A wrongly inspired person is the worst kind of a thinker and a rightly inspired man is the best kind of a thinker. The nature of man is a Garden of Eden, fed from four sources, physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual. The cutting off of any of these sources makes a desert of part of man’s life, and the whole life climate is affected.

“There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding,” a fact attested by the nature of the individual and the experience of the race. While Doctor Robinson speaks of a need for a new and unprecedented attitude of mind to avert the recurrence of war, we may claim a precedent in the person of Christ, and a panacea in a practical application of his teachings. What have the advocates of free thought to offer that is not covered by the injunction, “Seek the truth, for the truth shall make you free”? No real truth-seeker will fail to think about his thinking and correct some of its spontaneity; genuine truth-seeking will reform one’s reveries, keep him immune from bias blindness. What need of reform would exist if men thought clearly in terms of doing unto others as they would have others do unto them?

The thinking of Columbus was investigation plus inspiration. He was “wrought upon by the Spirit of the Lord,” as also were the Pilgrim Fathers and the founders of our government. See book of Mormon, I Nephi 12. The two great psychic, or mind, forces of the universe, Divinity and its negative, are contending for the enlistment of the minds of men. While one gives understanding, the other gives misunderstanding; one power, the other weakness; one joy, the other misery.

If with all its thinking, common and uncommon, the world has come to a muddle, why not do some uncommon thinking about seeking learning even by study and by faith?

Study of things as they are, study of things as they were, study of things as they are to come, with faith in the self, faith in society, and faith in God.

In summary, the best uncommon thinking we seek is:

Thinking the thoughts we’d like to show,
Thinking the way we’d like to grow.
Thinking of health and wealth and love,
All in the light of lamps above.
Thinking the thoughts that keep us clean,
Thinking no thoughts that makes us mean.
Using in thinking ‘the iron rod,’
Leverage lifting us nearer God.

Questions and Problems

1. From your experience, is thinking about thinking common or uncommon?
2. What would be your objections to wearing a thought recorder open to the inspection of your friends?
3. How may thinking about our thinking elevate our reveries?
4. How would thinking about thinking increase the square deal element of our civilization?
5. What is meant by facing facts in thinking?
6. Illustrate substituting interest for evidence in thinking.
7. Science declares that the quality and quantity of our thinking depends largely upon the condition of our bodies. Substantiate this by a quotation from the Word of Wisdom.
8. In the light of John 16:13, and Doctrine and Covenants 18:18, discuss the proposition, Application plus inspiration is the highest form of investigation.
9. Why could there be no war if men thought as Jesus taught?
10. Wherein does the nature of man protest against the elimination of Divine inspiration from our thought centers, colleges, and universities whose chief function is the training of persons to think?
11. What common things were done in an uncommon way by the grandparents of Edward Bok? See introduction of book.
12. How is this lesson related to our M.I.A. slogan?



  1. I found this lesson to have an uncommon number of references to the words “common” and “uncommon.” It was uncommonly off-putting.

    Comment by Matt — August 15, 2014 @ 9:29 am

  2. C’mon, Matt!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 15, 2014 @ 10:50 am

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