I wish to write my first article in 2013 from a different perspective. I am Christian and I have always been careful to ensure that my articles are written for an audience made up of people of different beliefs. After all, I strongly believe that differences are a critical value to the personal and professional growth of an individual. However, I also think that one’s beliefs are important in the way they shape their lives. Some may say, for instance, that extremists have strong beliefs and they act upon them. We just may not agree with them and often with the delivery method of their ideas and beliefs, but those ideas guide the actions of those individuals. So, I wish to share some of my experiences as they relate to my personal beliefs with the intent of showing that values should be the foundation of a leadership experience. I will use some literature that I consider sacred not with the intent to preach or convert but with the intent to show the value behind some of the principles I wish to write about.
One of the leadership activities we ought to hold dear and practice often is learning. Our expectation is that when we learn something we should feel good about it. In my spiritual experience that means that the Spirit – call it gut feeling or intuition if you wish – confirms our learning experience. If we wish to increase our spiritual experience while we develop our leadership abilities, may I suggest that we reflect upon the following words from Richard G. Scott, a renowned nuclear engineer that is now a religious leader, about learning in a more effective way. He said: “You can learn vitally important things by what you hear and see and, even more, by what you feel … Many individuals limit their learning primarily to what they hear or read. Be wise. Develop the skill of also learning by what you see and particularly by what … you feel. Consciously and consistently seek to learn by what you feel. Your capacity to do so will expand through repeated practice. Significant faith and effort are required to learn by what you feel from the Spirit. Ask in faith for such help. Live to be worthy of such guidance.” As you go about your daily learning, we should consider those feelings or promptings, and as they come, make mental notes and if possible write them down or record them later so we will not forget them. These learning experiences will provide us with important treasures of knowledge that we will be able to use in the circumstances of our life.
Also, I believe we are provided with patterns of life that we need to discover and follow to make our existence more significant and purposeful. For instance, hard work is an important component of our life, in fact a critical one: In the Bible we read in the very early chapters of its first book: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the ground.” (Genesis 3:19) I learned the meaning of eating my bread with the sweat of my face when my father asked me to consider education as my work and responsibility in preparation for life. I was 12 at the time and in the elementary school years my parents had gently provided an enduring support to my learning experience. In fact I found joy through schooling. As I stepped into a higher level of education, my father saw an opportunity for teaching. The message was clear: we create our own future by committing our time to something productive. I am ever grateful to my parents for teaching me this principle. I continued my studies and secured good jobs even after I came to Canada. As I reflect on those teachings and I seek inspiration through the scriptures, the pattern on this matter becomes even more clear. In what I consider modern revelation, we are taught: “Thou shalt not be idle for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.” (Doctrine &Covenants 42:42). Please note the similarity of this verse with the one in Genesis. Idleness is a cause for trouble. It is the opposite of productivity. Idle people tend to be bored about life and because of that they develop negative thoughts and feelings to excite their mind and force themselves out of boredom. Some become depressed and lose interest and zest for life. It is alarming to see the number of young people taking their lives increasing in our society. Others develop a rebellious attitude and resort to a life of crime and isolation. Finally there are those that develop a sense of entitlement and become a burden to their families using manipulative techniques to receive their necessities of life without working a day at all. Working and being productive is positive and keeps us out of trouble. In another modern revelation we are told: “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.” (D&C 58:27) I will not elaborate more on the concept and principle of independence found in the thought I just mentioned but the truth of being occupied with hard work and deeds is here repeated for our own understanding.
How do we engage in a “good cause”? For instance, with regard to young men and women the meaning of good cause is to be good students and apply to studies that will be worth gold when they grow up. Secular study needs to be accompanied by conscientious spiritual study and meditation as the two are, in my view, interconnected. In fact, in the balance we gain mastery and we become successful individuals. Young men and women should also learn to earn the money they need to sustain themselves during times of advanced education and in preparation of real life experience. Finally, altruistic service should be learned at a young age and make it an enduring experience to be repeated throughout life. I learned this when I was serving as a young missionary in Italy. Let me share one experience from that time that changed my life.
Upon arrival to the mission office as a newly called missionary, and after two days of training with my Mission President and his assistants, I was given my first assignment and companion. I was to travel by train to Pisa, the city of the leaning tower, and meet my first companion at the train station for my very first day in the mission field. I had high expectations of preaching the word of God and turning unbelievers into believers. It was the enthusiasm of a 20 something year old young man with no true experience of life. So, after meeting my smiling companion and feeling his enthusiasm as well, I thought we would be immediately engaged in missionary activities, at least in the way I believed what that meant. However, after depositing my luggage, we left our apartment and we took the bus to a catholic nursery home for assisted living seniors, managed by nuns. I thought we were going to see some older person who was interested in the gospel. I was soon disappointed when a nun came to greet my companion and assigned us to a room where we were to feed those who lived there. I have to confess that my first thought was of displacement. I did not think I understood the reason for me to be there. Plus, it was evident that the nuns were doing a great job. However, something began to happen when I saw the expression of gratitude by that nun who gave us the assignment as she left us to our task with a ‘God bless you for what you do.’ As soon as I took a spoonful of soup and put it in the mouth of a disabled woman who could not speak because of her condition, a spirit of deep humility enwrapped me and I saw my purpose and mission in a very different light. As tears rolled down my cheek, I began to understand, as a Christian, the words of the Christ when he said: “…For I was hungered and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger and ye took me in… Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:35-40 KJV) As a person, the very acting of being available brought me to the realization that we are all connected and that we all need each other. Without others, we would have a real miserable existence. All of a sudden, many of the teachings I had received from my parents and extended family began to make sense. I understand now that faith without works is indeed dead.
What about us, the so-called adults? We live in difficult times. The economy is struggling. The unemployment levels are high. The cost of living is high and commodities prices are climbing. Some of us do not have jobs and it will be difficult to find one. Others will lose their jobs. And yet, in order to escape the sense of desperation that may come with the loss of active work, there are things we can do to keep us engaged in a good cause and feel productive and in fact still show the leaders we are or can be. I believe the single most important thing we can do is volunteer with community groups in some form or another. This will help us feel fulfilled and will help others receive assistance that they otherwise would not obtain. It will also be appreciated by potential employers who see volunteer work as a sign of commitment and team spirit. For parents of young children, there is always an opportunity to help in school. This will also provide an opportunity for further bonding with our own children and even their friends. What a great opportunity to make a difference!
Now, someone may say: this is easier said than done. I understand. Life has not been easy for me. Let me share a story that inspired me and continues to inspire people all over the world. It is the story of Michael Oehr, a football player with the Baltimore Ravens. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Michael was one of twelve children to Denise Oher. His mother was an alcoholic and crack cocaine addict, and his father, Michael Jerome Williams, was frequently in prison. Due to his upbringing, he received little attention and discipline during his childhood. He repeated both first and second grades, and attended eleven different schools during his first nine years as a student. He was placed in foster care at age seven, and alternated between living in various foster homes and periods of homelessness. Oher’s biological father was a former cell mate of Denise Oher’s brother and was murdered in prison when Oher was a senior in high school. In 2004, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, a couple with a daughter and son attending the same school Michael was attending, allowed him to live with them and eventually adopted him. The family began tending to his needs after becoming familiar with his difficult childhood. They also hired a tutor for him, who worked with him for twenty hours per week. He finally emerged as a strong defense football player and the rest is history.
When interviewed on CNN about a year ago, Michael was asked if his life would have been different without the help of his adoptive family. Michael’s answer was unequivocal. He said that it may have taken a bit longer but he was going to get where he is now anyways. He had made the decision to remove himself from the vicious cycle of desperation that all of his family and friends were riding and continue to ride, and he succeeded. At 26, he has become a role model by simply being true to his personal commitment. He also decided to share his experience for the benefit of others and wrote a book (“I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to The Blind Side) which is already inspiring many. I would say that most of us are in better shape than Michael. Most of us have a wonderful support network that starts with our family, our friends and neighbours – and from my personal point of view mainly God is on our side. In another modern revelation, we are also told: “Therefore he (God) giveth this promise unto you with an immutable covenant that all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good and to my name’s glory saith the Lord.” (D&C 98:1-3). How hard then it is in front of this glorious promise to show our level of commitment waiting patiently for blessings that surely will come? In a society that has become more accustomed to immediate gratification and entitlement, the value of work is becoming more and more difficult to find. The exercise of our hope and faith with longsuffering in times of tribulations is a measure of our integrity, self-respect and balance in all things. Hence, it has become more imperative and critical to apply those principles. Spencer W. Kimball, a religious leader whose life exemplified hard work, once said: “God does notice us and watches after us. But it is usually through another mortal that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom.”
I certainly hope that people of all beliefs that will read this article will take what really matters most to them and that together we can start working on a better 2013 for the world around us!