For the last 10 years I have belonged to a book club that reads classic literature — the stuff we should have read in high school and college but probably didn’t. Currently, we are reading William Makepeace Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair.” Thackeray was a brilliant writer and his book is full of satirical commentary on society and human nature. One of the first observations that got my attention was this one: “The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly, kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice,”
This statement is made by the narrator as he introduces Becky Sharp. Becky is difficult, unkind, and manipulative, always scheming for her own benefit and only concerned about herself. Her schemes go badly for her and people eventually see through her self-centered character. The narrator is telling us that Becky gets back what Becky gives out.
In our early married days, we were living in a four-plex apartment in Logan, Utah where we were both attending Utah State University. I became friends with a woman I’ll call “Angie”, my downstairs neighbor in our apartment building, who was a young married woman with a little toddler. As I got to know her better, I saw that she seemed pretty unhappy. She often complained about her husband, his job, her job, her coworkers, the neighbors, and people at church. I felt bad for her. She had a great job, but her coworkers were difficult and she often told me stories of how she had been slighted or taken advantage of. One coworker, “Ann”, who lived in a nearby apartment building ignored Angie at work, even though they worked in the same area on campus. There was an older gentlemen who lived in the house behind our building with whom Angie was often in conflict. Additionally, Angie’s husband was unhelpful, unappreciative of her efforts, and rarely home. I often commiserated with her.
After about a year, Angie and her family moved away. Another young couple with children moved in. “Caylee” was as different from Angie as night from day. Her job was great, her kids were great, her husband was terrific. She became fast friends with the grouchy man next door. His name was Leonard and it turns out he wasn’t grouchy at all, just a bit of a curmudgeon. Because of Caylee, I got to know Ann, the coworker Angie said snubbed her. I learned she was very quiet and shy and focused on her work. Caylee radiated the light of Christ in every area of her life and to everyone around her. Consequently, that light reflected back to her the love and kindness she gave out.
Having Caylee for a neighbor was a pivotal experience for me and taught me a lesson that has pretty much stuck with me for the last forty-plus years. We reap what we sow and “the world is a looking glass” that reflects back our own attitude. After seeing the vivid contrast between these two women I became more aware of my own attitudes and how trying to be like Christ in my actions and attitudes could only bring good things.
This principle is taught in many places in scripture, for example in Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Eccl. 11:1), “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). In so many ways, the Lord is telling us that we do harvest what we sow and we ought to sow Christ’s light to those around us. We will then reap a bounteous harvest of love and goodness that will come back to us many times over.
Kristine Gifford is the Communication Director for the Glendive Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.