Clever people versus good people

Solomon Bennett Freehof:

Years ago I preferred clever people. There was a joy in beholding . . . a mind . . . bearing thoughts quickly translated into words, or ideas expressed in a new way. I find now that my taste has changed. Verbal fireworks often bore me. They seem motivated by self-assertion and self-display. I now prefer another type of person; one who is considerate, understanding of others, careful not to break down another person’s self-respect. . . . My preferred person today is one who is always aware of the needs of others, of their pain and fear and unhappiness, and their search for self-respect. . . . I once liked clever people. Now I like good people.

[Richard Evans’ Quote Book (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1971), p. 166]

And, a very similar passage from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
…it is ever tempting to try to use cheap, mortal substitutes instead of building Christlike character. The substitutes—such as cleverness instead of goodness and smoothness instead of substance—do not survive when the winds and the rains pound on crumbling foundations.

Neal A. Maxwell, “The Precious Promise,” Ensign, Apr 2004, 42

How to Learn

How learn? In answer I offer you five words that have evolved from a lifetime of teaching. To my great joy, on the frontispiece of an old English book on prayer I found printed what I had already learned from experience. The five words were called steps to learning: (1) Read. (2) Listen. (3) Mark. (To me mark means also copy, clip, assemble. Do it now; tomorrow you will forget where you read it, and it will be gone…. Mark means get it in an accessible form while you are thinking about it, at the cost of some things that are less important.) (4) Organize. (Think and put things together. Get them cohesive, coherent. You will change them later, but organize them now.) (5) Digest. (As I understand it, that means getting the strength in your bloodstream, casting out the dross, and moving with energy.)  

Marion D. Hanks, “Good Teachers Matter,” Ensign, Jul 1971,  60 

In relation to Him, we kneel

Neal A. Maxwell, 1979“Whether descriptively designated as Creator, Only Begotten Son, Prince of Peace, Advocate, Mediator, Son of God, Savior, Messiah, Author and Finisher of Salvation, King of Kings—I witness that Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven whereby one can be saved! (See D&C 18:23.)

I testify that He is utterly incomparable in what He is, what He knows, what He has accomplished, and what He has experienced. Yet, movingly, He calls us His friends. (See John 15:15.)

We can trust, worship, and even adore Him without any reservation! As the only Perfect Person to sojourn on this planet, there is none like Him! (See Isa. 46:9.)

In intelligence and performance, He far surpasses the individual and the composite capacities and achievements of all who have lived, live now, and will yet live! (See Abr. 3:19.)

He rejoices in our genuine goodness and achievement, but any assessment of where we stand in relation to Him tells us that we do not stand at all! We kneel!” 

Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Ensign, November 1981, p. 8.

"Mediocrity will never do"

I love these remarks given by President Gordon B. Hinckely at the inauguration of President Cecil O. Samuelson, President of BYU:

There is a sign on the gate of this campus that reads: “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” I invite you, every one of you, to make that your motto. Mediocrity will never do. You are capable of something better. Give it your very best. You will never again have such an opportunity. Pray about it. Work at it. Make it happen. Drink in the great knowledge here to be obtained from this dedicated faculty. Qualify yourselves for the work of the world that lies ahead. It will largely compensate you in terms of what it thinks you are worth. Walk the high road of charity, respect, and love for others and particularly those who are less fortunate. Be happy. Look for the sunlight in life. Reach for the stars.

Remarks at the Inauguration of President Cecil O. Samuelson, 9 September 2003

Pleasure Versus Happiness

“The present is an age of pleasure-seeking, and men are losing their sanity in the mad rush for sensations that do but excite and disappoint. In this day of counterfeits, adulterations, and base imitations, the devil is busier than he has ever been in the course of human history, in the manufacture of pleasures, both old and new; and these he offers for sale in most attractive fashion, falsely labeled, Happiness. In this soul-destroying craft he is without a peer; he has had centuries of experience and practice, and by his skill he controls the market. He has learned the tricks of the trade, and knows well how to catch the eye and arouse the desire of his customers. He puts up the stuff in bright-colored packages, tied with tinsel string and tassel; and crowds flock to his bargain counters, hustling and crushing one another in their frenzy to buy.

“Follow one of the purchasers as he goes off gloatingly with his gaudy packet, and watch him as he opens it. What finds he inside the gilded wrapping? He has expected fragrant happiness, but uncovers only an inferior brand of pleasure, the stench of which is nauseating.

“Happiness includes all that is really desirable and of true worth in pleasure, and much besides. Happiness is genuine gold, pleasure but guilded brass, which corrodes in the hand, and is soon converted into poisonous verdigris. Happiness is as the genuine diamond, which, rough or polished, shines with its own inimitable luster; pleasure is as the paste imitation that glows only when artificially embellished. Happiness is as the ruby, red as the heart’s blood, hard and enduring; pleasure, as stained glass, soft, brittle, and of but transitory beauty.

“Happiness is true food, wholesome, nutritious and sweet; it builds up the body and generates energy for action, physical, mental and spiritual; pleasure is but a deceiving stimulant which, like spiritous drink, makes one think he is strong when in reality enfeebled; makes him fancy he is well when in fact stricken with deadly malady.

“Happiness leaves no bad after-taste, it is followed by no depressing reaction; it calls for no repentance, brings no regret, entails no remorse; pleasure too often makes necessary repentance, contrition, and suffering; and, if indulged to the extreme, it brings degradation and destruction.

“True happiness is lived over and over again in memory, always with a renewal of the original good; a moment of unholy pleasure may leave a barbed sting, which, like a thorn in the flesh, is an ever-present source of anguish.

“Happiness is not akin with levity, nor is it one with light-minded mirth. It springs from the deeper fountains of the soul, and is not infrequently accompanied by tears. Have you never been so happy that you have had to weep? I have.”

James E. Talmage, Improvement Era, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 172-73.  Also found in notes to chapter 17, Jesus the Christ, by James E. Talmage.

Listening and accessibility: immediacy vs. significance

Another quote from Augusta Read Thomas, taken from an interview in Composition Today.   

How important is it that music be accessible on first hearing?

…each time we revisit Bach’s Goldberg Variations or Berio’s Sinfonia or Boulez’s Pli Selon Pli we can always find new qualities, experience new awareness, enjoy new pleasures of discovery. So, when you ask how important it is for music to be accessible on first hearing, I have to say that the psychology of listening is very complex. I do believe however, that all music of substance should have an immediacy about it. It should convey an aura of significance, which is different from accessibility. If it has immediacy, an impressive presence, access can follow with effort and with great reward. Instant gratification is only a small part of music’s great treasure trove.

If you got everything out of it at first hearing, you wouldn’t ever need to hear it again.

Well, there is great comfort in familiarity, no doubt, but the things in life which we can easily digest – that are self evident – are usually not those things we want to spend a lifetime thinking about. We are attracted to enigmatic things such as nature, gravity, the cosmos, space travel, God and religions, advanced math, myths, love etc. I believe we find such mysteries in art. We shouldn’t panic – it’s not all bad to be baffled!

Do you have suggestions about how to listen to new music?

Yes! Don’t assume that someone else has the only “authentic” understanding of a work and that you “don’t know enough about it” to be engaged by it. Simply open your heart, ears and mind and listen YOUR way.


Concerning the character of the musician: Augusta Read Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas is coming to BYU again this month.  I reflected on the talk she gave last time she was here (1998) and thought this quote worth sharing (just one of many that impressed me):


To be self-reliant without being self-satisfied is no easy challenge, yet musicians are obligated to seek and maintain this balance.

 As a composer I know the stamina we musicians need to pursue music.

  • to love solitude as much as public acclaim
  • to know solemnity from the scintillating
  • to recognize what is seductive and what is sacred
  • to have a sensibility (which is in itself  responsiveness) and yet remain singleminded
  • to trust sensation yet reject the sensational
  • to search the soul but seize the moment.
  • to keep the equilibrium between self esteem and self control 
  • to break silence with sound

 All these we are required to place at the service of music in order that it reveals its secrets.  Let us celebrate our great good fortune in this burden.

Augusta Read Thomas, November, 1998, address to students at Brigham Young University