Gardeners or Engineers?
By Gary C. Lawrence

A recent article referenced a comment by Nobel-prize winning economist Friedrich von Hayek that if we are to have a robust economy, we would do well to emulate gardeners rather than engineers – to create an environment for growth instead of applying direct action.

His observation triggered a few thoughts: Could this be applicable to our efforts to spread the Gospel? Should we as members build the Church or grow it? Will engineering principles or gardening principles produce the stronger and more vibrant membership?

As we talk with those of other faiths, should we be engineers or gardeners?

So I analyzed the differences:

  • Engineers manipulate inanimate objects; gardeners nurture animate things;
  • Engineers tackle problems directly; gardeners work indirectly;
  • Engineers bend objects – steel, concrete, drywall, glass – to their will; they force shape, function, and utility. Gardeners can only prepare the soil, water, fertilize, cultivate and nurture, and then hope; they cannot force seeds to grow;
  • Engineers have projects; gardeners have environments;
  • Engineering projects progress only under constant attention and pressure; gardens grow even while the gardener sleeps.

Seems to point to a certain conclusion, doesn’t it?

Then I thought about the scriptures and Alma 32 came immediately to mind. Alma advised the Zoramite poor to consider his words as a seed – to plant it as an experiment, to exercise desire and a particle of faith (water, weed, fertilize, and cultivate), and see if the seed will grow. Sounds like gardening to me.

I recalled the Savior’s parables and divided them into animate and inanimate categories. It was virtually a shutout. The mustard seed, the fig tree, the wheat and the tares, the vineyard (especially the vineyard), the good Samaritan, the two sons, the prodigal son, and on and on. Even apparently inanimate-based parables – the lost coin, the widow’s mite, the oil in the lamps – are at their core focused on the person involved.

Don’t get me wrong, you engineers. I love what you do – homes, freeways, power plants, technology – all the things that improve our quality of life. As long as you are working, things get built, but take away constant pressure and nothing further happens. A nine-story building will never become a ten-story building on its own. Engineering principles do not produce anything that grows.

In short, success in increasing our membership and strengthening testimonies will be more likely to happen with gardening principles, not engineering principles.

So as we talk with those of other faiths, we are in harmony with gardening principles when .

  • We prepare the environment and do not seek to control;
  • We do not treat people as projects;
  • We deem our friend our equal and not an object to be molded;
  • We invite rather than challenge;
  • We suggest rather than push;
  • We mentor rather than manipulate;
  • We are patient and take time;
  • We practice the Golden Rule.

So the next time you are talking with someone of another faith, it might be useful to ask yourself: How am I treating this person? What principles are in play? Am I a gardener or an engineer?

Hayek was right. Just as a successful economy – the result of human attitudes and behaviors – does not and cannot yield to controlling engineering principles but has to be coaxed with gardening principles, so too the success of our efforts to increase our membership and members’ testimonies.


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