What Manner of (Wo)men ought ye to be

So As many of you have heard, I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting today on the Conference address of Elder Robbins from last general conference. Below is an audio recording of the talk as well as my prepared remarks. Notice the difference in the two and the ward’s reaction when they think I misspoke. I don’t know if you can hear it in the audio but there were lots of pockets of whispering throughout my talk following that line. Enjoy.
What Manner of (Wo)Men Ought Ye To Be? by 8cab5e5bf

Hi my name is David Baker and while some of you know me very well, others don’t know me from Adam. Thus I have the distinction of introducing myself AND speaking on Elder Robbins conference address entitled “What manner of men and women ought ye to be” so I’m looking forward to being *everybody’s* best friend after I get done telling everyone how they ought to be. Thanks Brother Durrett. 😉

I.

An old roommate of mine had this list of characteristics and qualities he wanted in a wife that he would take out and compared all the girls he dated to. He shared that list with me once and he was seeking “a woman who is temple-worthy, maternal, humorous, adventurous, empathetic, hopeful, attractive, healthy, and friendly”. Despite the absurdity of such a list it worked and his wife is awesome. His success inspired me to create my own list of what qualities I wanted in my husband. My list looks for a man who is believing, intelligent, family-oriented, challenging, political, loyal, slightly extroverted, patient, and optimistic.

Really, both our lists are our attempts to define the manner of men and women that ought to be. We are not alone in this endeavor and as Elder Robbins points out by opening his talk with a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet with the line “To be or not to be,” this is a question that has been asked for a long time with many answers. As I worked on this talk with that theme in mind I discovered that humanity is obsessed with this question that seems to burn in the minds of us all.

I love to read and so it wasn’t out of character for me to buy this 700 page tome entitled “What is a Man” last year. This is a book that demonstrates and documents our obsession with defining what manner of men and women we ought to be by collecting essays and letters on the subject from all throughout history. From Jane Austen to James Dean, Homer to Queen Elizabeth, and Chacher to Kurt Cobain and everyone inbetween. We are all is obsessed with this question.

II.

I’d like to take a moment to read from some excerpts from across the ages, some from this book and some from personal experience. These are designed to explicitly show the depth of thought to the question as posed by Christ “What Manner of Women and Men Ought Ye To Be.” I apologize in advance if my selection relies heavily on male-oriented or authored quotations as I am working from what I have gleaned from my reading. I am not a chauvinist but if any lady feels I unfairly left them out please let me know afterwards.

Rudyard Kipling’s famous Poem “If” ends with this stanza but the entire piece is a variation on this theme.
“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you
If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

The Scout Law states that a scout is “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent.” All characteristics designed to instill what they view men ought to be.

Mother Teresa had this poem tacked up on her spartan room to serve as a constant reminder of what she ought to be.
“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.”

The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

General Douglas MacArthur was quoted saying:
“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory. Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge. Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail. Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past. And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength. Then, I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

And President Hinckley was fond of the quote “Where ‘ere thou art act well they part”

Each of these women and men had a unique view of what explicitly men and women ought to be. Our society and humanity also has many examples that implicitly tell the same story.

III.

In the modern era we have pageants like Miss America and Mr. Universe that prop up a view of what women and men “ought” to be, however misguided their perceptions might be. On a more local level we have debutantes and beaus attending cotillion balls and we are bombarded by music, TV, and movies that implicitly hold up an image we are meant to strive for. Myths and stories that promote a vision of what we ought to be that contain pieces of Truth or opinion but in the end are way off the mark.

We can look back at ancient Mediterranean myths to the story of Procrustes who would invite people into his home for the night and while they were sleeping ensured they fit his mold of what women and men ought to be. Procrustes would measure the stature of a man against his bed and adjust the man accordingly. If the man was too short he would be stretched to fit and if too tall he would be literally “cut down to size.”

Socrates was so concerned with this topic that they gave a stunning oration on “How a Grown Man Should Live” that was included in Plato’s The Republic it reads in part:
“We shall have to say to that poets and storytellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable; … these things we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite”

Our own scriptures contain countless examples, many of which are dear enough to our hearts that as I say the names of these men you will recognize the implicit desire to emulate them and the light they uphold. The Sons of Helaman, Ruth, Ester, Nephi, Ammon. Each of their stories is an implicit answer to the ever asked question “What manner of women and men ought we to be.”

In Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat famously said “If it doesn’t matter where you get to, then it really doesn’t matter which way you go”. Each of the examples I just discussed provides a contrasting and often conflicting view of what we ought to be. From that I see one truth, that we are all is different and unique except in one single aspect. We are all Children of God. That is who we are and who we are meant to be.

IV.

So with this foundation and years of great men and women throughout the ages attempting to define and answer this great question there is little else I can add. But perhaps I can enlist the words of a few more great men who can distill these myriad answers to a take-home message that is a single kernel of light and truth for us all to grow from.

In his April 2010 general conference address, President Uchtdorf tried to drive that point home focusing a good portion of time on the fact that not just us but ALL are Children of God:
“I hope that we welcome and love all of God’s children, including those who might dress, look, speak, or just do things differently. It is not good to make others feel as though they are deficient. Let us lift those around us. Let us extend a welcoming hand. Let us bestow upon our brothers and sisters in the Church a special measure of humanity, compassion, and charity so that they feel, at long last, they have finally found home.

In truth, we “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We are all in need of mercy. In that last day when we are called to the judgment bar of God, do we not hope that our many imperfections will be forgiven? Do we not yearn to feel the Savior’s embrace?

It seems only right and proper that we extend to others that which we so earnestly desire for ourselves.

I am not suggesting that we accept sin or overlook evil, in our personal life or in the world. Nevertheless, in our zeal, we sometimes confuse sin with sinner, and we condemn too quickly and with too little compassion. We know from modern revelation that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” We cannot gauge the worth of another soul any more than we can measure the span of the universe. Every person we meet is a VIP to our Heavenly Father. Once we understand that, we can begin to understand how we should treat our fellowmen.

C.S. Lewis understood this principle and in arguably his most famous sermon said that we are all helping each other to either damnation or eternal glory and that quote:

“It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

These men remind us of the simple fact that we all are Children of God but beyond that we each have our own personalities and characteristics that are infinitely diverse. In light of this I look to the parable of the talents wherein a master gives each of his servants a different and unique amount of money. When the master returns he approaches the first servant to whom he gave 5 talents and the servant reports that he has invested and grown the initial sum and doubled it to 10. The master says “well done though good and faithful servant.” The process is repeated with the servant who was given only 2 talents who likewise had doubled his investment. Now notice that while the amount given was less, the reaction of the master was the same, “well done though good and faithful servant”. It was only at the last servant who had squandered what he was given that the master was wroth and said to the servant “thou wicked and slothful servant” to whom the then cast, quote “into outer darkness.”

The important principle in this parable is that, there WAS NOT a set bar of 10 talents unilaterally set as amount needed to earn the praise and recognition of the master. It was merely that they had worked with what they started and grew from there. We are not all given 5 talents as the first man. Some of us are given 2 and others only 1, but whatever we are given, by virtue of being here on the earth today we have immeasurable worth within us and unless we squander what we are given and forget that we are children of God, we will return to hear the lord say “well done thou good and faithful servant.”

So when asked “What manner of men and women we ought to be” our answer should be a remembrance that we are children of God and that we should grow from that. When I ask myself the question, as Elder Robbins did, of “To be or not to be” I simply at my finger and find the lines of the 1st act of Hamlet engraved into my ring answering back, “This above all else, to thine own self be true.”

These things I say in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.