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Dr. Michael Dorff, department chair of Mathematics, encouraged students to see things and people differently at Tuesday’s Devotional address.

A self-proclaimed math nerd, Dorff said he wished students shared his love of math for the things it can accomplish, rather than only see it as endless exercises. To combat negative feelings about math, Dorff tells his students to refer to him as “Coach Dorff.”

Michael Dorff
Michael "Coach" Dorff
Photo Credit: 
Gabe Mayberry/ BYU Photo

In his effort to be an encouraging professor, Dorff tries to reach out to people who feel different, out of place or lonely. Treating other people well is a recurring theme in the gospel of Jesus Christ and Dorff illustrated the theme with the story of the Good Samaritan, who cared for someone who was different than him.

“Treating people with kindness is easier in theory than in practice,” Dorff said.

Dorff invited the audience to think of those who are strangers in need. These people could be in need of encouragement, respect or compassion.

Drawing on the recent movie “Wonder,” Dorff cited a motivating quote from author J.M. Barrie: “Shall we make a new rule of life ... always try to be a little kinder than is necessary.”

Being kind is especially important when we don’t feel up to it, for example, when we are tired or stressed.  

“It is harder to be kind, not to mention kinder than is necessary, to others when they act, look or think differently than we do,” Dorff said.

He said the scriptures and prophets invite us to go beyond just being kind, but to see others differently and as they can become.

“As I try to see people differently, it seems to follow that I treat them with more kindness,” Dorff said.

He told of a student who regularly asked few questions to him during his office hours. At the end of the semester, the student sent him an email. She thanked him for helping her understand math for the first time in her life. She apologized she could not tell him this in person because she had cancer and could not return to campus because she had to stay out of state for treatment.

Dorff’s “heart sank” when he read this. He had no idea she was struggling in such a difficult way.

“As we try to see people differently, it is important to be kind and treat them ‘a little kinder than is necessary,’ because we do not know what is going on in their lives,” said Dorff.

He said that people don’t display their inward struggles, so the Holy Ghost is needed to see others differently and to help those with “unseen needs.”

Next Devotional: Elder Neil L. Andersen

Elder Neil L. Andersen, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will deliver the Devotional address Tuesday, April 10.

Elder Andersen’s remarks will also be broadcast live on BYUtv, BYUtv.org (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYU Radio and will be archived on speeches.byu.edu.