Correlation FAIL -part the second

So we get to have conference talk hash in adult priesthood/relief society meetings once a month. We get the opportunity to hear from different members of the group on these Sundays, by design I think, so that new folks get a chance to be heard, and mostly this is positive. But Zig Ziglar’s doppelganger left his side and came to visit us a few weeks back.

As a result, we got harangued about using the word “try” in reference to our attempts at gospel living. I was going to point out that Yoda had said it best, but I thought it might be too diverting.

“The scriptures never tell us to ‘try’ living the Godly life, they tell us to do it.”

In spite of the quotes, that’s a bit of a summary. One member who felt it his duty to dispute this “obvious” Gospel Gaffe pointed out a few examples, but got a semantic shout down for his trouble. The teacher’s long-winded insistence on the point meant we basically missed the points of President Eyring’s address under discussion.

It made me wonder, not for the first time, how important is our use of words? I think the lesson giver had a point, and so did his foil. But how do we deal with terminology in the Church?[1] Not very well I think. A good example is the phrase, “keys of the priesthood.” Subject to the Nauvoo/Utah transition (I’ve blathered on about this here recently) it’s meaning was focused so sharply for (no doubt important) bureaucratic expediency, that the historical context was all but wiped from institutional memory.

[1] President Uchtdorf’s recent moderation of President Ezra Taft Benson’s “Pride” address was welcome but I suspect involved considerable soul searching. Language can be institutionally holy, even if it’s wrong. Stability is often more important than history.

9 Responses to Correlation FAIL -part the second

  1. DavidC says:

    Your “use of words” is so subtle here, I’m having a hard time understanding exactly what happened. I don’t remember Zig Ziglar, I had to look up doppelganger, and it is unclear to me what the gaffe was and the dispute were about. I do remember Yoda’s “do!, there is no try” though that may not be the full quote.

    I would also appreciate it if you to point me to one of your clarifications about keys. I’ve thought you’ve said some fascinating things in the past, then later forget in exactly which post you said them. I’m finding that the subject of semantic shifts digests slowly.

    • WVS says:

      DavidC, Zig is a motivational speaker. Makes a lot of money rejuvenating corporate cultures. Google him. I used his name in vain here just to illustrate the sort of “football coach” mentality our guest instructor employed – my way or the highway brother! Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.” His class member critic pointed to Alma and the sort of “give the gospel a try” idea of Alma 32, etc. The whole argument was one of semantics and on one level, that’s what we often engage rather than meaningful discussion of change or understanding. As far as “keys of the priesthood” goes, I think I’ll come back to that one at some point since it plays an important role in one of Joseph Smith’s funeral sermons. 😉

  2. Clark says:

    I think the problem is that most people when they say they are going to “try” give reduced effort whereas those concentrating on completing the task rather than whether they put forth effort tend to give more effort. It’s a psychological thing.

    On the other hand my dad (a physics prof) was in a training meeting years back and something similar to what you outline happened. The visiting GA was asking for commitments and my dad said, “I’ll do my best.” This didn’t please the GA who presumably recognized the distinction I was making and that your teacher was making. So he got a bit huffy and angry and said that wasn’t good enough or words to that effect. My dad gives a puzzled look and replies, “but best by definition is that upon which can not be improved.”

    I think the problem with focusing on language is that language rarely means what it “literally” says. Words always connote as well as denote. It’s just that sometimes the connotations aren’t paid sufficient attention to by many people. (Let us say this is a common failing of the scientific class, for instance)

    • WVS says:

      Clark, I’m sure that was the teacher’s point. His insistence on agreement with his starting thesis sort of deadended things. Your dad’s GA experience recalls a few I’ve seen. Rigidity is in this sort of thing is usually just fighting the wrong war.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Stability is often more important than history.

    Perspicacious observation, my friend.

  4. David Tayman says:

    I think the “Gospel doesn’t ask us to try, it tells us to do” meme survives due through “The Miracle of Forgiveness” still being assigned and read as if it were canonical.

  5. Paul says:

    Clark, all I could think about as I read your comment was President Hinckley’s regular admonition that we should do our best. That same thought is echoed by Elder Scott when talking about “ideal” families vs where we really are (April 2001), by Elder Wirthlin (October 2001), and even President Monson (April 2009). Seems your dad had pretty good company.

  6. jks says:

    ” I think the lesson giver had a point, and so did his foil. ”
    I agree. Sometimes you have to be willing to commit. You can’t go around just trying. If I ask one of my older kids to feed and put my 3 year old to bed while I’m gone, I want them to say “Yes!” Not, “I’ll try.” I realize that it might be hard. I realize they might get frustrated. I also know they might be lazy or forget. I want them to commit to not forgetting, not being lazy and to commit to dealing with whatever little tantrum the 3 year old might have that is difficult to deal with but ultimately (barring the house burning down) they are capable and should say yes.
    On the flipside it is silly to think we can do it all. We can’t. So we simply put in our widow’s mite and have faith that it is enough.

  7. Paul 2 says:

    My heart literally soared when I read this post. I know that it is totally important to use language in the right way in the church.

    I think the reason that “try” is suspect is because it can be the Mormon version of “If God wills it”–it is the easiest way to deal with social pressure. If you flake out enough times, they will stop asking you but you never risk open defiance, the least socially acceptable path for Mormons.

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