Minister’s forum: On the banks of moral character
Most families have certain guidelines and specific guidelines that must be met in order to receive certain privileges. While I was growing up, one major rule in my family was that in order for me to obtain my driver’s license, I had to earn my Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. My family was actively involved in Boy Scouts and it was both encouraged and expected that I complete the program as an Eagle Scout. This never came to be an issue with me until I turned 16 and desperately wanted my driver’s license. I begged my parents to change their rule. I even tried to manipulate them into feeling sorry for me, and tried leading them to believe that my life would be over without my driver’s license. Of course, nothing I tried changed my parent’s mind, they stood strong. It was difficult for me to understand why they would not budge. I felt trapped, forced, and facing the two options that most teenagers face – to flee from frustration and parent’s rules or face it and follow the guidelines. I must admit the first option sounded the best. However, my love for my parents greatly out-weighed my selfishness and I decided to do whatever it took to get my Eagle Scout and in turn earn the privilege of receiving my driver’s license.
The experience of eventually getting my Eagle proved to be one of the greatest things that I could have done with my time and talents as a teenager. This article entitled, “On the Banks of Moral Character,” came to me because I love rivers. They are rough, dangerous and fun. Indeed, a river is a product of its banks – if steep and narrow the water is treacherous and dangerously fast moving. If a river has many banks, it has many curves and tends to be slower moving but with its difficulties as well. Thus, a bank is what controls the river. So too, in our own lives moral banks guide principles of happiness that provide support, and direction to the constant rushing of life. Our goal obviously is to stay in the boat. We can be at a place of control and learn from the banks as they control the flow of our lives. We have seen the destructive power of real water when it overflows its banks; can you imagine the destruction that happens to our self respect and happiness if our own banks weaken?
Here are a few of the principles and values of morality that I learned through the Boy Scouts of America contained in the Scout Law, which states: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” How I love these basic principles of morality. They are timeless and have been proven that if applied, lived, and embodied true happiness can be achieved. Indeed, they may stand, if you will, as banks that provide direction to our souls enabling us to experience happiness as we navigate through each of our individual rivers of life. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves – to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. (2 Ne. 10:23)
I am sure that you would agree that our society is a product of both the bad and the good choices made by ourselves, and those before us. I would like to share a brief experience to illustrate these literal banks that we build and how they are weakened by our agency. As a teenager, I chose to work on a ranch to prove my independence to my parents, and that I could stand on my on two feet. I was asked by the ranch boss to repair a flood gate out in the north pasture. I was excited as I thought this sounded easy and I quickly wanted to finish the job thus impressing my new boss and show my parents up. I arrive at the spot and I quickly learned what a flood gate was. It crossed the river so that cows could not escape. I found the flood gate immersed in mud and green water smelling of a horrible stench. Quickly, my young mind went to work to find the quickest, easiest way to get the fence back to its appropriate bank. I found a lasso on the truck and pulled the truck down to the edge of the water where my plan began to take form. I thought if I could lasso the fence I would prevent myself from getting dirty and accomplish the job easily. To my surprise the lasso fell on the fence exactly where I thought it should be. I smiled within myself. I quickly tied the rope on the truck and began to drive off, to my surprise however, rather then moving forward the rear of the truck sunk deep in the soft bank. So I hit the gas harder and harder thinking I am sure I can get out of this if I go fast enough. Finally, when I jumped out of the truck it became very apparent that indeed I had a problem. The bank was level with the driver’s side door. Again, driven to impress and prove to the world that I can take care of my self I ran and drove a large tractor to pull the truck and at the same time finishing my job with the fence as the rope was still tied onto the truck. After hours of working, sweating, praying, and frustration I found myself not only with a stuck truck but a large tractor stuck as well. My first natural response was to blame God because I had prayed and he had not answered. Unknown to me, my answer would soon be heard but not in the way I expected. After night fell I looked through the blackness and saw the lights of my father’s jeep coming down the road to pick me up at work. I felt humiliated and humbled as my father kindly helped me correct my mess and then encouraged me to walk into the river of muddy green stinky river to retrieve the fence. Oh! How I should have called for help earlier.
So often in our lives we find ourselves doing as I have done, softening our banks of morality through avoiding challenges that surely strengthen our character. Looking for the easy way out often comes with weakening consequences. This happens when we are prideful, selfish, dishonest, and we lack the will power to stand for something good and holy. The Savior taught through one of his prophets, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19) The minute we become all knowing, full of pride and selfish we relinquish control to that natural man or women which calls us to forever break down our banks we have built allowing our lives to run off course to uncertain destruction. Our natural selves love laziness, hypocrisy, and self will, they would prefer not being told what to do! They reject change because it is uncomfortable instead they glory in their own way. I am sure many of us in this condition feel that true freedom comes from no boundaries. May we check ourselves during this month were we remember those we love. Let us strengthen those banks in our relationship and within ourselves a little more that true happiness from a clean life can be felt. Much more can be gained from improving our character by being our best selves than choosing easiness just because it is fun for a moment. Surely, I need to improve with all of you here are five questions that I am considering that would help me evaluate the conditions of my moral character.
1. Am I the first to repair hurt feelings or do I expect others to repair mine?
2. Have I seen my own weakness? Do I have the desire to change them? Do I work at it daily?
3. Do I compromise personal commitments because of outside pressures?
4. Am I hard working? Or is my free time filled with positive moral things? (The character of a man or women is measure by what they do in their free time)
5. Do I complain constantly when life is hard and blame others for my problems?
The Savior taught that we should be: “Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Timothy 6:19) Who, would have ever guessed? That my parents were right after all! They encouraged me to obey the scout law and oath which says, “On my honor I will do my best To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. (Scout Oath, Boys Scouts of America) May our foundations be found solid, strong, and constant that our lives my truly be happy, that we can love as Christ loved and serve as Christ served and live as Christ lived.
– Travis K. Lee is bishop of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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