Monday, March 30, 2009

Living Our Religion Will Help Us Rise Above Mediocrity And Excel In Our Professions

The Transcontinental Railroad is the popular name of the U.S. railroad line (known at the time as the Pacific Railroad) completed in 1869 that tied to our nation together as one.  It was opened for through traffic on May 10, 1869, with the driving of the "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah.

Several years ago I read Stephen Ambrose's wonderful book "The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad."  It is an incredible story of engineering and technology, political intrigue, and hard backbreaking work, as well as unbelievable endurance in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

I found it intriguing to realize that the Transcontinental Railroad was built across the state of Utah in 1868-69 when Brigham Young was governor of the territory and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  The Saints had only been in Utah approximately 20 years when the Transcontinental Railroad was being built across the state.  The Railroad Company needed to hire many men to get the Railroad built across Utah in a timely fashion and then to maintain it.  The economy of Utah was still very fragile and Brigham Young saw this as a great opportunity for the men of the Church to earn some valuable income for their families and to bolster the local economy.

In a general meeting with the Saints, Brigham Young, always very practical as well as visionary, said: "We want the Saints to increase in goodness until our mechanics, for instance, are so honest and reliable that this Railroad Company will say, “Give us a ‘Mormon’ Elder for an engineer, then none need have the least fear to ride, for if he knows there is danger he will take every measure necessary to preserve the lives of those entrusted to his care.” I want to see our Elders so full of integrity that they will be preferred by this Company for their engine builders, watchmen, engineers, clerks, and business managers. If we live our religion and are worthy [of] the name of Latter-day Saints, we are just the men that all such business can be entrusted to with perfect safety; if it can not it will prove that we do not live our religion." (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Brigham Young Book on page 24.  Also found in Discourses of Brigham Young, 232-33). 
I believe Brigham Young's counsel given in the 1860s to be timeless.  Given today's fragile economy and with millions losing their jobs, to follow his admonition is to exercise great wisdom.

Actually, my good friend and former Bishop, Brent North, put me onto the Brigham Young quote.  He also gave me permission to quote him as follows:

"I think that one of the most important things we can do in this economy is to excel in our jobs.  Just collecting a paycheck, just doing our jobs is not enough.  We must excel in them.  When we do, we will be so irreplaceable that the marketplace will not be able to do without us.  When I was a junior in high school and was beginning to consider whether or not to become an attorney, I expressed my concerns to the only attorney that I had ever met—a man named Richard King who spoke at a Rotary Youth Leadership Camp that a teacher nominated me to attend on scholarship.  I told him I worried about what I had read about how there were too many attorneys and that I wasn’t sure I would be able to find work.  He said something that never left me.  “Mediocre will always be crowded in every profession, but there will always be room at the top.  If you are going to excel, don’t worry about how many others there are in the profession.”  That gave me the courage to launch my career."  [Brent North]

I hope my grandchildren will read what Brigham Young and Brent have written and take it to heart.  I know I have worked hard to try to excel in my profession as a quadriplegic on life support so I would never have to worry about being replaced as numero uno quadriplegic on a ventilator by the many others that are out there vying for my position.  I surely wouldn't want to be replaced at the top of my profession and fall into the ranks of the "mediocre," commonplace quadriplegics on life support.  Heck, I might even get fired -- I wonder how that would be? 

Brent also gave me permission to share the following wonderful story, having gained permission to do so from Walter Dellinger.

"A friend of mine is Walter Dellinger, former Solicitor General of the United States.  During the Watergate trial, Judge Sirica's chambers were constantly beset with attempts to get leaked information.  He had asked Walter Dellinger for a recommendation for a clerk before Watergate fell into his lap.  His first clerk was a good LDS attorney, but his tenure was expiring.  Judge Sirica went to Walter again and explained that his first clerk’s tenure was ending and he had to find another one, but that the next one had to be LDS too.  He explained that given the nature of the position and the pressures on it, he absolutely had to have confidence and trust in the integrity and work ethic of the clerk.  The clerk that Walter recommended and who was hired as Judge Sirica's second Mormon clerk was Lynn Wardle. The first one, hired before the Watergate trial began, was none other than D. Todd Christofferson.  Isn't that a great story?" [Brent North]

Yes, Brent, that is a great story!  I believe that you and Brigham have taught us all a great lesson given the fragile status of the nation and the world at this time. 

There always has been and always will be a need for excellence in any profession.  It never really is crowded at the top.  "Mediocre" will just never ever do it for us!