This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.
I liked Elder Simpson’s talk on The Lord’s Support System. He starts with an analogy about how a multil-billion-dollar space mission can be held up by something as trivial as a flaw in a thirty-cent part.
Just as space probes depend upon tens of thousands of other lesser components in their so-called support system, so does the Lord depend upon tens of thousands in His support system, that His ultimate objective of blessing the lives of people and qualifying them for eternal life might be accomplished on schedule.
He also uses an analogy of life being like a school drama where there are only a few starring roles to go around. For the rest of us? We’re the spear carriers. But then comes this interesting paragraph:
There could be many surprises in the hereafter as we look up ahead and exclaim in our amazement, “But he was only a home teacher.” You know and I know that if he was the kind of home teacher that the handbook talks about and if he lived worthily, that man could likely stand eligible to inherit all that the Father has. And there is no greater blessing than that.
I remember one day in high school when I happened to be standing at a friend’s open locker and noticed she had taped up a black-and-white photo of several male models. (I think it was a cologne ad or a jeans ad or something.) I stared absently at the models for a minute or two, wondering if I’d ever be as good-looking as they were. In theory, I figured I could have muscles as toned as them if I really worked at it. But when it came to their faces? Not really anything I could do in that department. I’m not a bad-looking guy (if I do say so myself), but I’m not a model either and it occurred to me for the first time then that that was never going to change. They say you can be anything you want when you grow up, but it’s not true.
I’ve had a few experiences like that since then, for example in playing competitive sports with people who are simply not in my league, where no matter how hard I try I not only couldn’t win; I couldn’t even make it a challenge. I’ve met people who are so smart, that it takes everything I’ve got just to recognize their intelligence. Here’s the reality: I’m never going to be that good looking, that strong, or that smart. I’m just not.
I suppose that could be depressing, but I’m not really depressed by it at all. For a variety of reasons. But here’s the one that’s relevant: I’ve come to honestly believe that the only kind of excellence that matters is excellence relative to your talents and opportunities. I’ve come to believe it doesn’t matter at all—not even a tiny bit—what you end up with. It only matters what you did with what you started with.
I do have a collection of real talents: things I’m good at, opportunities I inherited from my parents, and so on.1 My goal in this life is make the most out of them that I can and to do so in the service of God and my fellow humans. If—God willing—I succeed then I will have achieved the only measure of success that really matters.
So, in a way, I kind of reject the analogy of the spear carriers and the thirty-cent transistors inside of rockets or satellites. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good analogy. It’s just not quite far enough. What I’m saying is that in God’s view a thirty-cent transistor isn’t valuable because the billion-dollar space telescope can’t work without it (or whatever). That’s an instrumental theory of value, albeit implicitly. What I’m saying is that if the thirty-cent transistor is the best thirty-cent transistor that it can be, then it’s worth exactly the same as the billion-dollar space telescope without caveat or qualification. Not because it enables the space telescope, but because all that matters is being excellent relative to our opportunities and privileges. Nothing else counts.