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August 20, 2009
In The Village
Seek to be worthy of praise
by Orson Scott Card

On the one hand, we're supposed to "seek after" things that are "of good report or praiseworthy" (Philip. 4:8).

On the other hand, if we "aspire to the honors of men," we're doing something wrong (D&C 121: 35)

How can we seek to be praiseworthy -- without seeking praise? That sounds like a bit of a tightrope walk to me!

There is a subtle distinction that we should not miss: Paul does not tell us to seek praise, but rather to seek after things that are praiseworthy and of good report.

In other words, we emulate, not what is praised, but what should be praised; not just things that are reported, but things that are of good report. And there is no implication that we should seek to have others give good reports about us.

Oh, wait. There's Matthew 5:15-16: "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

So we are supposed to let "men" see our good works, while at the same time we do not "aspire to the honors of men."

In the words of Strong Bad: My head a splode!

Yet perhaps the distinction is quite simple after all. When men see our good works, it is so they will glorify God. When we aspire to the honors of men, it is so they will glorify us.

That's familiar ground, isn't it? Council in heaven, Christ's attitude versus Satan's.

But we can't control what other people think. Even if we say, "Don't praise me, praise God," that can actually come across smarmily, as if we were saying, "Whatever I do, that was really God doing it," which claims a certain chumminess with the Lord.

It's something any hypocrite can say, and most do.

I've seen writers make claims of divine guidance about the worst writing, devoid of ideas or truth or talent or skill.

When I worked as an assistant editor at the Ensign back in the 1970s, it seemed that the only submissions that the authors claimed were inspired by God were those that were hopelessly unpublishable.

And besides, right alongside "Let your light so shine before men" we have: "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward" (Matt. 6:2).

Let's make our fine distinction even finer. The King James version was translated in an era when the distinction between "thou" and "ye" was still clear. "Thou/thee/thy" was singular, and "ye/you/your" plural.

So the Savior was telling us as a group to let our light shine before men, while as individuals we are supposed to conceal our good works: "When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth" (Matt. 6:3).

There are some careers in which fame and success cannot be separated. If you're an actor, for instance, or a musician, or a writer, it is hard to do your work secretly -- what's the point, if there's no audience?

And if you do your work well, and many people seek to enjoy it, and tell their friends, then you will be, to one degree or another, famous.

It is very easy, in such careers, to start measuring your success by the amount of fame or honors you receive.

Fame is like nicotine: Even a single dose can set up a dependency. Many begin to shape their work and their lives in order to get more and bigger hits of fame.

Speaking as one who has had a little bit of splash in a very small pond, I have seen how the hunger for awards and recognition and fame -- "the honors of men" -- sours the lives of those who can never get enough of it.

And you can never get enough of it.

Why? Because the thrill of fame lasts about fifteen seconds, and then it's gone.

Or else you start to believe the praise and think you deserve it -- not your work, you -- which leads to a sense of entitlement that makes you miserable to live with.

Our job -- whether we're in a fame-inducing career or not -- is to do the best work we can, in both senses of "best": best in quality of workmanship, and best in moral value to those who receive it.

Those who do good work will usually have the respect of those who know what good work is. If you aspire to do good things and do them well, then respect will come from those whose respect is worth having.

If there are large numbers of people who value your work, good for them -- but you are no better than any other person who does good, and does it well.

Fame -- being known to ever larger numbers of people, winning prizes, getting magazine and television coverage -- is not worth crossing the street for.

Because fame is the admiration or adulation that comes to you; what makes you happy is the love you give to other people.

Fame comes and goes with the whims and tastes of the public. The love you give stays given.

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