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Cover image via Francesco Dazzi.
This is the 162nd post in the General Conference Odyssey. Today, we’re covering the welfare session from the April 1982 General Conference.
There were two clear themes to me from this session. The first, and the dominant theme, was the virtue of work. “Work is a blessing from God,” Elder Richard J. Clarke said in The Value of Work, “It is a fundamental principle of salvation, both spiritual and temporal.” Hard work is part of Latter-day Saint theology, but it’s also part of our identity and cultural heritage. “This intense commitment to the work ethic is our tradition,” Elder Clarke stated, and “[it] has left its mark upon every piece of land we have occupied.”
Having been raised out East in the Bible Belt, I don’t always really relate to the specific Pioneer legacy of the Saints, but I do related to the legacy of work. But… why? What’s the big deal with work? Elder Clarke’s talk presents a couple of reasons:
- To build character: “the Lord [knows] that from the crucible of work emerges the hard core of character.”
- To be happy: “Work is honorable. It is good therapy for most problems. It is the antidote for worry.”
- To build a life: “We have a moral obligation to exercise our personal capabilities of mind, muscle, and spirit in a way that will return to the Lord, our families, and our society the fruits of our best efforts. To do less is to live our lives unfulfilled. It is to deny ourselves and those dependent upon us opportunity and advantage. We work to earn a living, it is true; but as we toil, let us also remember that we are building a life. Our work determines what that life will be.”
The last rationale really speaks to me. It reminds me of Socrates statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I have long understood this to mean that if we don’t examine our lives, then we can’t really take ownership of them. We may end up spending our allotted time here on Earth only to find out that we never did anything more than unthinkingly echo the society around us, the habits we picked up from peers, the dispositions our genetics pointed us towards, etc. We might find, in short, that we were merely passengers in our own life story.
The same applies with work, I think. To fail to work—to pass up the opportunity to exert ourselves consistently and strenuously across the years we have been given—runs a similar risk of finding out, when all is said and done, that we were passengers instead of captains of our fate. That we coasted when we could have striven. And I want to strive.