Reviewed by Catherine K. Arveseth
New Life-changing Advice
Deseret Book trumps this publication as “New Life-changing Advice from Stephen Covey.” That’s a strong, assertive claim, but any skepticism I had about such a claim was quickly squelched. In no inflated sense of the phrase, Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s latest work does offer “life-changing” advice. 6 Events was twenty years in the making, a long-term project for Covey, the result of unchartered thought and creativity. Covey utilizes six events of the Restoration as a model for solving life’s problems. The model is fascinating, squeaky clean, makes perfect sense, and will help readers examine life from a heightened perspective.
6 Events is Covey’s first book written specifically for an LDS audience in a long time. It strives to bring readers to a whole new level of conversion, understanding, religious practice and personal efficacy. Most of Covey’s books, like 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, focus on universal and timeless principles with which persons of any or no faith can identify–integrity, kindness, service, fairness, continuous improvement and so on. Covey explains, “These principles, when lived, will lead any person or organization to greater effectiveness, peace, happiness and contribution. But many of the greatest challenges, deepest desires, and richest opportunities in life and eternity can never be met by these principles alone. These require more – principles, covenants, and ordinances on an entirely different level” (xiii – xiv).
So in this work, Covey moves beyond the universal, without apology. He wants to discuss ideas that can lead us to the kind of life God and Christ live. It is an ambitious project, tackled with discipline, sensibility and passion. I found myself consuming one chapter after the next. I felt stretched spiritually, magnified with perspective and calmed by Covey’s wisdom and intelligence. It was a sacred experience for me to consider the Restoration from such a sequential, powerful angle.
The 6 Transcendent Events
Sequencing themes have always been of interest to Covey, but never so much as in the writing of this book. Covey takes a view of the Restoration that is new, different and very in-depth. He focuses on six Restoration occurrences from 1820 – 1844 that were “transcendent”, meaning “superior to, absolutely necessary, supernally important and beyond comparison” (6). They are:
The First Vision
The restoration of the gospel in the form of the Book of Mormon
The restoration of the priesthood
The restoration of the Church
The restoration of the keys to salvation (for both living and dead)
The restoration of temple ordinances
Covey explains how these events, when used to answer life’s questions, offer us the perfect model for solving life’s problems. The following paragraph is Covey’s simple, smart and pointed explanation of the need for a Restoration.
“The Restoration was the Lord’s response to a very specific problem: His children all over the earth were in a state of immense darkness. Not only had they lost their way technologically, but this darkness pervaded every field of knowledge. By the early 1800’s, the world had lost a complete and correct understanding of God, of Christ, and of man. The principles were changed, the ordinances had been counterfeited or lost, and the priesthood was no longer on the earth. The world was deeply mired in apostasy. Darkness covered the minds and the hearts of the people, to the extent that one part of this period of time was even called the Dark Ages.’ Numerous creeds abounded, and yet millions of God’s children were coming into the world with little chance or likelihood of ever finding the fullness of light and truth” (7).
Covey continues with Bruce R. McConkie’s words, “Angels no longer ministered to their fellow beings; the voice of God was stilled, and man no longer saw the face of his Maker; gifts, signs, miracles and all the special endowments enjoyed by the saints of old were no longer the common inheritance of those in whose hearts religious zeal was planted” (7).
Do these words not cry out to the heavens for light, communication and true religion? By posing the world’s greatest problem and drawing upon six events that answered that problem, Covey unveils a pattern. “In solving the world’s problem, the Lord has shown us how to solve ours, because we face the same challenge he did – how to help those around us discover their true identity and fulfill their divine potential. He said he would show us a pattern in all things’ (D&C 52:14), and I believe that the pattern by which he restored light and truth to the earth is the perfect model by which we can restore light and truth to our own lives and to the lives of others, especially…those within our stewardships” (8).
The Power of True Doctrine
As reasoning for the Restoration model, Covey explains that individuals can change their attitude and behavior if they want to make small life improvements. If they want to make quantum improvements, a change in paradigm is needed. Consider the example of following a map. Covey explains, “If you were trying to find your way around Los Angeles by using a map of Chicago, and if that map were your only source of information, you’d be hopelessly lost. If someone told you to try harder,’ you could double your speed, but you would simply get lost twice as fast, because you’d still be following a false map. After a while you would probably get discouraged and just quit in frustration. Someone might see you looking dejected and say, You’ve got an attitude problem. Be positive.’ So you could try to think more positively and start again…you’d be more cheerful, but you’d still be lost. The point is that your ability to reach your destination has far less to do with your attitude or behavior than with the accuracy of your map” (9-10).
True doctrine leads to accurate maps. When Joseph Smith left the Sacred Grove he had a new map of reality.
He saw everything in a new light. “From that point on,” Covey says, “looking through anything other than a celestial lens to understanding the meaning and purpose of life would be like holding up a flashlight to get a better view of the sun” (12).
For this reason, Covey’s Restoration Model is extremely powerful – it is based on truth. And truth shows “things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24).
7 Foundational Questions
Additional power is found in 7 foundational questions posed by Covey. He reminds us we are trying to understand the personal significance of the six events listed above, their ability to change our individual attitudes and behaviors. The first six questions are respectively answered by the first six events. The final question is answered in the sequence of the six events. Each question affects our capacity to fulfill our divine potential:
Who? Who is God? Who is Christ? Who am I? Who are you?
Whose? To whom do we belong? Who paid the price? Who is the source of our salvation?
How? How do I get back to my God, my Father, my Creator?
Where? Where do I go? Where can I find support, opportunity to serve, and direction for my life?
What? What do I do? What is my work in mortality?
Why? What’s it all about? Why am I on earth?
The final question is about timing. Here we begin to understand Covey’s fascination with sequencing themes. Covey believes sequence is crucial. He writes, “knowing when to do what is the essence of wisdom” (224). Each Restoration event builds upon the prior, as do each of the foundational questions. By sequentially gaining a testimony of each event and finding the answer to its corresponding question, solid conversion is created; real covenant-keepers are made. Skipping an event can convert an individual to the wrong thing before they are ready, before they have the supportive foundation in place. For example, if we try to get people into the Church before they understand who they really are and who paid the ultimate price for them and how they can return to God, we violate the sequence. This can lead to serious problems later on that may be difficult to resolve.
The Lord has graciously showed us the way He solves problems with his own sons and daughters. This can become our frame of reference as we try to help the people we care most about. Who wouldn’t want to understand this plan, this sequential model for life-help? Covey writes that the Lord’s pattern is “so brilliant in its design and so complete in its execution that any serious and sincere learner would feel overwhelmed, humbled, grateful beyond expression, full of praise and wonder and awe and humility and softness and openness” (24).
A Plan of Action
Readers are encouraged to wholly internalize each of the six events. Covey advocates a one-year project with a two-month focus for each event. For purposes of this review, I read the book cover-to-cover, hoping for a high-speed internalization process – is there is such a thing? Optimally, it would be best to carve out time to internalize the six events and focus on the “personal initiatives” offered at each chapter end. These “personal initiatives” or challenges coincide with an event. The challenge for the first event is to “offer daily, listening prayers of faith” (71). For the second event, “ponder the scriptures daily” (103) and so forth. Each is worthy of prolonged work, dedication and devotion.
Covey has the remarkable gift of being able to teach us about honest inter-personal relations without hypocrisy. It is apparent his life has been one pursuant of self-mastery and discipline. He has worked to press down the natural man and its solicitations for self-worth through comparison, rather than divine understanding. Let me illustrate with several principles he teaches that can change how we view others and ourselves.
Scarcity versus Abundance – “People with a scarcity mentality have a difficult time being genuinely happy for the successes of others, even family members or close friends…They’re always competing, always comparing…Become increasingly Christ-centered, [and] the tendency to compare [will] recede and might eventually be eliminated altogether. [You won’t] feel the pain of people’s anticipated judgments…because [you] will feel so strongly the love of the Lord” (53).
The Affirming Power of Love – “Listen to what people are saying with their hearts. Receive them to yourself. Don’t be so quick to rush in with your teachings. You really can’t influence people until they feel they have influence with you. Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. So listen with the intent to understand” (63).
Who We Really Are – “One way we can counteract [certain] kinds of social conditioning is to reflect to each other the divine mirror that was given to Joseph Smith in the sacred grove. That is, in addition to bearing testimony of god, Christ, the prophets, and the Restoration, we can bear testimony of people and who they really are. We can look into the eyes of our children or others and say, You are God’s own child. You are of infinite worth, and you have divine potential'” (59).
Receiving Christ – “All who come to the gospel and the Church must wean themselves from the world’s comparison culture and graft themselves to the root of the Lord’s vine…This requires us to lay down on the altar our weaknesses, our lack of faith, our envy and jealousies – which sometimes make life so interesting for us – and our comparison-based self-worth, which makes us feel falsely important. Then we must be willing to let the Lord polish us like a stone with the demands of membership in his Church and kingdom” (137).
Covey’s final chapters illustrate the need for constant renewal.
He believes each of us must go through a personal restoration, sometimes more than once. We knew the truth pre-mortally, now we are re-learning it. For some, the process will be long and require great patience. Sequencing of the Restoration Model teaches we need to give adequate time to this process, without rushing or skipping ahead.
Once the process is complete, we will have to return to our “personal Sacred Grove” daily. Covey writes, “one day we will arise and discover that we are no longer dependent on other people for our sense of identity and security because it comes from a higher source. Then we can love others as the Lord does, even those who don’t return our love” (249).
In his final paragraph, Covey expresses love for those who will read his book. He gives his witness of the six events, along with his belief in Christ’s testimony of the individual. Speaking directly to the reader, he declares, “I believe in Christ’s testimony of you – that you are a literal son or daughter of God with infinite worth and potential; and that you have a significant, entirely unique mission in life and eternity…if we pay the price to have the gospel restored to us every day, we will gain greater hope in Christ and gradually become more like Him and our father in Heaven” (264).
Covey wisely exemplifies the first event in his final testimony by witnessing to each reader of his or her divine ability and calling. 6 Events can be affirmatively labeled a “life-changing” book. While it does not give a detailed history of the events surrounding the Restoration, it does supply sufficient background. The primary focus is upon the personal significance of those glorious Restoration moments. What do they mean for us? How do we internalize them? How do we use them to solve life’s problems? This is the heightened level to which Covey takes his readers.
Stephen R. Covey’s 6 Events speaks to all relationships – parents who want to successfully lead and influence their children, marriages, co-workers, and Church members who long to more effectively share the message of the restored gospel. His tools and teachings are tangible, fresh and advanced. Reading Covey’s book was like climbing out of a familiar valley to the top of an untouched mountain for a broader, more eternal perspective. Upon descent, I felt empowered to return to my work and relationships in the valley. This book is a lifetime of Covey-thought, magnificently crafted and worthy of genuine internalization.