An Uncomfortable Personal Dichotomy



Sometimes I’m quietly observant, other times I’m loudly observant. Recently, I have been seeing some things in the media and reading some opinions that have me wanting to make a little bit of noise about a very real conflict – a dichotomy – that we share as people and as members of the Church. But to do that, please allow me to take you to Africa…

A few years ago, I was helping run a terrific humanitarian group that operates in Africa. We were having a few growing pains, mostly regarding issues with our staff of about fifty local workers. Nothing major, just the normal things most any small enterprise deals with on a regular basis – absenteeism, demands for higher wages, competence, grumbling, waste, etc.

On one of my trips there, we had a staff meeting where I had the opportunity to address some of those concerns. Rather than tackle them individually, I felt that a dose of perspective was needed. Here is a brief summary of the two main points:

• Each one of you is IMPORTANT. Including me. Every one of us has special skills and talents that make things work – and that is why you have ben hired. If one of you doesn’t show up for work, something doesn’t get done. Each one of you makes a difference, and when we are all pulling together, we make wonderful progress. But it takes each one of you, with your individual skills and individual talents, and individual efforts to make that happen.  Each one of you is vital to the organization. Each one of you is important.. (Everyone was happy to hear this.)

That said…

• Each one of you is NOT IMPORTANT. Including me. If anyone here today were to leave, there would be a hundred people lined up to take your spot by tomorrow morning – many of them more qualified than you are. If you don’t want to show up for work, someone else will. If you don’t like your paycheck, someone else would be thrilled to earn and spend it. Basically, the program will move along just fine without you. You are not vital to the long term success of what we are doing. The question is if you want to be a part of it – or not. (Not as many smiles at this point.)

Yeah, it was a little harsh, but when the reality of the dichotomy sunk in, and that perspective was front and center, we were able to make quick work of the issues at hand.

Oh, and this wasn’t originally my idea – I kind of stole it – from God.

In the Book of Moses, Chapter 1, God gives Moses a tour of his creations, while extending a calling to him.

“And God spake unto Moses, saying: Behold, I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless?

And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.” (vs 3-4)

After establishing that Moses was a son of the Almighty God, (Which is pretty cool, and pretty flattering) God then presented Moses with the dichotomy:

“And it came to pass that Moses looked, and beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered.

And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.

And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (vs 8-10)

Moses went from feeling like a “son of God,” to feeling like “nothing,” in the space of one vision. He witnessed many of the wonderful creations that God had made, then was literally brought to his knees, without the energy to even stand.

Why the extremes? I like to call it “Instant Perspective.”

When we understand the larger perspective, and not just fixate on one side or the other, we operate from a place of more wisdom.

• There is a temptation in the Church and the world to see ourselves as insignificant, that we don’t really matter very much in the grand scheme of things. That is OK- to a point -because it is true. Being aware of this leads to humility, which can lead to wonderful things. I find it interesting that God wanted Moses to understand his “nothingness,” before he was privy to the grand visions that followed. Humble people are teachable people.

King Benjamin tried to instill a similar perspective when he said, “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.” (Mosiah 2:21)

KIng Banjamin

• There is also the important knowledge that the things we do here on Earth matter – that we can impact the lives of others – that we really CAN make a difference. We are called to serve, share and try and make an impact on society. Being aware of this can lead to good works.

“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (D&C 18:15-16)

It is our duty to help “bear off the Kingdom triumphantly.” (President Ezra Taft Benson)

• There is also a temptation to believe that somehow we are more crucial to the work moving forward than we really are – that out efforts, and our opinions somehow carry such weight that the Church would somehow suffer without our unique contributions. The news is full of members and ex-members who feel this way, but soon realize that the metaphor of removing a hand from a bucket of water is very real.

The dichotomy is readily taught throughout gospel teachings:

Each one of us IS important.

“Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” (D&C 18:10)

“May we reach out and rescue those who have fallen by the wayside, that not one precious soul will be lost.” (President Thomas Monson)

“You may feel that there are others who are more capable or more experienced who could fulfill your callings and assignments better than you can, but the Lord gave you your responsibilities for a reason. There may be people and hearts only you can reach and touch. Perhaps no one else could do it in quite the same way.” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf)

Each one of us is NOT important.

“The church is like a great caravan – organized, prepared, following an appointed course… What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? Or that predators claim those who fall by the way? The caravan moves on.” (Bruce R. McConkie)