Personal Online Journal

Monday, August 31, 2020

What is it that men value in others?

Stephanie was reading this from the epilogue of The Way of Kings. It was not the first time she has shared it. I think it is instructive into the hubris of humans.  

Wit began playing the enthir. "Let us have a conversation to pass the time. Tell me. What is it that men value in others?"

The music played toward an audience of silent buildings, alleys, and worn cobblestones. The guards didn't respond to him. They didn't seem to know what to make of a black-clad, lighteyed man who entered the city just before evening fell, then sat on boxes beside the gates playing music.

"Well?" Wit asked, pausing the music. "What do you think? If a man or woman were to have a talent, which would be the most revered, best regarded, considered of the most worth?"

"Er… music?" one of the men finally said.

"Yes, a common answer," Wit said, plucking at a few low notes. "I once asked this question of some very wise scholars. What do men consider the most valuable of talents? One mentioned artistic ability, as you so keenly guessed. Another chose great intellect. The final chose the talent to invent, the ability to design and create great devices."

He didn't play a specific tune on the enthir, just plucks here and there, an occasional scale or fifth. Like chitchat in string form.

"Aesthetic genius," Wit said, "invention, acumen, creativity. Noble ideals indeed. Most men would pick one of those, if given the choice, and name them the greatest of talents." He plucked a string. "What beautiful liars we are."

The guards glanced at each other; the torches burning in brackets on the wall painted them with orange light.

"You think I'm a cynic," Wit said. "You think I'm going to tell you that men claim to value these ideals, but secretly prefer base talents. The ability to gather coin or to charm women. Well, I am a cynic, but in this case, I actually think those scholars were honest. Their answers speak for the souls of men. In our hearts, we want to believe in - and would choose - great accomplishment and virtue. That's why our lies, particularly to ourselves, are so beautiful."

He began to play a real song. A simple melody at first, soft, subdued. A song for a silent night when the entire world changed.

One of the soldiers cleared his throat. "So what is the most valuable talent a man can have?" He sounded genuinely curious.

"I haven't the faintest idea," Wit said. "Fortunately, that wasn't the question. I didn't ask what was most valuable, I asked what men value most. The difference between those questions is both tiny and as vast as the world itself all at once."

He kept plucking his song. One did not strum an enthir. It just wasn't done, at least not by people with any sense of propriety.

"In this," Wit said, "as in all things, our actions give us away. If an artist creates a work of powerful beauty - using new and innovative techniques - she will be lauded as a master, and will launch a new movement in aesthetics. Yet what if another, working independently with that exact level of skill, were to make the same accomplishments the very next month? Would she find similar acclaim? No. She'd be called derivative.

"Intellect. If a great thinker develops a new theory of mathematics, science, or philosophy, we will name him wise. We will sit at his feet and learn, and will record his name in history for thousands upon thousands to revere. But what if another man determines the same theory on his own, then delays in publishing his results by a mere week? Will he be remembered for his greatness? No. He will be forgotten.

"Invention. A woman builds a new design of great worth - some fabrial or feat of engineering. She will be known as an innovator. But if someone with the same talent creates the same design a year later - not realizing it has already been crafted - will she be rewarded for her creativity? No. She'll be called a copier and a forger."

He plucked at his strings, letting the melody continue, twisting, haunting, yet with a faint edge of mockery. "And so," he said, "in the end, what must we determine? Is it the intellect of a genius that we revere? If it were their artistry, the beauty of their mind, would we not laud it regardless of whether we'd seen their product before?

"But we don't. Given two works of artistic majesty, otherwise weighted equally, we will give greater acclaim to the one who did it first. It doesn't matter what you create. It matters what you create before anyone else.

"So it's not the beauty itself we admire. It's not the force of intellect. It's not invention, aesthetics, or capacity itself. The greatest talent that we think a man can have?" He plucked one final string. "Seems to me that it must be nothing more than novelty."

Sunday, August 30, 2020

United Voice of the Bretheren

“I have discovered in my ministry that those who have become lost [and] confused are typically those who have most often … forgotten that when the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve speak with a united voice, it is the voice of the Lord for that time. The Lord reminds us, ‘Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ [D&C 1:38].” ("Stay in the Boat and Hold On!", M Russell Ballard, GC Oct 2014)   

"the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve" will never "lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Ensign 2 [July 1972]:88).

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

"Gospel Topics, Essays, and Other Resources" Again

Yesterday, my son and daughter were introduced to the KnoWhy series that is hosted by Book of Mormon Central yesterday in their seminary class. My daughter was not aware of it before. I love that there are simple, short videos on a variety of topics. Book of Mormon Central is listed by the church as a trusted source for answers. (See the ** at

I referred to "Gospel Topics, Essays, and Other Resources" when I was a full time teacher. I have been substituting seminary the last few days. Today I shared as a relevant example of a question a student might ask, "Why did the Ammonites Covenant Not to Take Up Arms?"

I have a set of slides I used a couple years ago to more fully address How do I “Seek Further Understanding through Divinely Appointed Sources”? See my post from Sep 2018.