You Have Entered the Twilight Zone

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

In his book Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership, author and historian John Dickson argues that humility (Greek tapeinos; Latin humilitas) was not a virtue in the Greco-Roman world. In this ancient honor/shame society, humility was most certainly associated with the latter. Humility before the gods or emperors was appropriate, largely because they held the power to end your life. Humility before an equal or a lesser, however, was seen as immoral or unjust. The world order was understood to be rational, with people in their present statuses because they (for lack of a better phrase) deserved it. Yet, Jewish tradition focused on the downtrodden and the humiliated; a tradition borne out of exile and defeat. In the case of Jesus, God Incarnate was placed at the lowest, most shameful place in the ancient world. And from that low point, he revolutionized the moral fabric of Western civilization.

BYU professor Bradley P. Owens has conducted some of the most in-depth studies on humility and its impact on organizational outcomes.1 Owens and colleagues developed a model they call “expressed humility” by focusing their attention “on the expressed behaviors that demonstrate humility and how the behaviors are perceived by others.”2 They define “expressed humility” as “an interpersonal characteristic that emerges in social contexts that connotes (a) a manifested willingness to view oneself accurately, (b) a displayed appreciation of others’ strengths and contributions, and (c) teachability.”3 A significant finding in Owens’ study was that “expressed humility has a compensatory effect on performance for those with lower general mental ability. In other words, though expressed humility had a relatively small positive impact on performance for those with high general mental ability, expressed humility made a considerable difference in performance for those with low general mental ability.” In fact, “[c]ompared with self-efficacy, conscientiousness, and general mental ability, expressed humility was the strongest predictor of individual performance improvement…”4 Humility is the key to growth and development.

I was reminded of all this when William H. Bennett declared in the Tuesday afternoon session,

It is important that we remember also that no matter how intelligent we may be, no matter how hard we work, no matter how good our teachers are or how favorable the other conditions for learning, in our allotted span of years on earth we can master only a very small fraction of the total field of knowledge; and what we do master usually is in a narrowed-down, specialized area. Consequently, we, in and of ourselves, have limitations. Our thinking is often highly selective and segmented and our judgment is often faulty.

Economist Thomas Sowell has argued that “it is doubtful whether the most knowledgeable person on earth has even one percent of the total knowledge on earth, or even one percent of the consequential knowledge in a given society.”5 This realization is likely one of many reasons Nathaniel has written extensively on epistemic humility and its relationship to faith. And it seems that Bennett is addressing this very same concept. He stresses the need “to get at the facts and at the causes and to see relationships among them clearly,” so that “we are in a good position to interpret correctly and to arrive at sound conclusions.” The more “we just fool around with opinions and symptoms, we may prolong our difficulties and postpone the time for arriving at lasting, satisfying solutions.” But given our inability to gather and analyze all the “facts” and “causes,” what are we to do?:

As we journey along through life we, as individuals, come in contact with many shaded areas, twilight zones, and even dark alleys, where we, unless aided by a higher power, are not able to see clearly, to interpret correctly, and to come to sound conclusions. Some of these shaded areas are found in the physical world, some in the intellectual world, and some in the realm of the spiritual. Let us remember, however, that the Lord has said that all things unto him are spiritual (bold mine).

For Bennett, there is a way out of these twilight zones:

If we will just live the way we should and do our part, we can experience what a great strength and blessing the Holy Ghost can be in our lives. It can broaden and extend our horizons and can turn the lights on for us so that we can see more clearly in the shaded areas of life and, in fact, in all areas of our living. Some people seem to be more inclined to disbelieve the scriptures and the teachings of our present-day prophets than they are to believe them. I have said in my heart that if they would put forth the same effort to believe that they do to disbelieve, and would humble themselves, exercise faith, and study diligently, the Holy Ghost would help them, and they would find that they believe many of the things they now think they disbelieve.

Parley Pratt’s description of the Holy Ghost’s power seems apt:

The gift of the Holy Ghost adapts itself to all these organs or attributes. It quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.6

In Bennett’s mind, the Holy Ghost can help us see “things as they really are, and…as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13). The Holy Ghost can help us exit the twilight zones of life and step back into the light. The Holy Ghost can, in the words of Neal A. Maxwell, “lift ourselves above the secular smog.”

While the above talk caught my attention, there were others with some excellent counsel and/or worthwhile quotes. Delbert Stapley reminds the saints that honesty is a major part of the 13th Article of Faith: “Honesty embraces many meanings, such as integrity, sincerity, according to the truth, just, honorable, virtuous, purity of life, moral character, and uprightness in mutual dealings. These principles are required virtues of true Latter-day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands for the highest ideals, principles, and standards known to man.” The talk focused on “the building of character,” explaining that “little omissions lead to more serious errors and subtle practices.” These small omissions range from returning surplus change to the cashier to employees actually giving an honest day’s work. “One can overlook many sins,” he says, “but the sin of dishonesty is most difficult to forgive. We are sympathetic to the weaknesses of men and tolerant in our relations with them, but there is nothing that upsets or disturbs confidence more than dealing with a dishonest individual.”

Paul H. Dunn7 makes an excellent point about the importance of parent/child relationships and their shaping of individuals:

In today’s fast-moving, materialistic world, unfortunately many fathers place their business affairs ahead of their children. I am appalled as I look around me, as was Eddie Cantor some years ago, when he said that a man will spend a whole week figuring out what stocks to buy with $1,000—but he won’t spend an hour with his child, in whom he has a greater investment. Is it any wonder that many of our young people are troubled with identity problems? We who are older speak of building a better world, but our progress is slow. Real generosity to the future lies, then, in giving all that we have to the presentNow, you young people, listen to the counsel of your parents. They love you. We are not perfect. One day you will stand where we stand, and you will have a similar challenge of rearing your young. Will you go with us the extra mile in trying to understand our true nature and purpose?

While I wasn’t overly impressed with Henry D. Taylor’s talk, I did love this quote from Lorenzo Snow on the testimony he received from the Holy Ghost:

I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray…than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge. … I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the holy Priesthood, and the fulness of the Gospel. It was a complete baptism—a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water.8

Finally, Joseph Fielding Smith invites those not of our faith, “Keep all the good you have; cleave unto every true principle which is now yours; but come and partake of the further light and knowledge which that God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever is again pouring out upon his people.”

A satisfying conclusion to the first conference in the General Conference Odyssey.9

Here are the other posts in this week’s installment of the General Conference Odyssey: