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May 31, 2012
In The Village
Respect As the Coin of the Village Economy
by Orson Scott Card

We are not paid for our service in the Mormon village. We create the experience of the Church for each other, in the service of Christ and under the guidelines provided by the prophets.

The labor is divided into many callings, and we accept whatever calling is offered to us, serving as best we can until we are released.

From the world we get money for our labors, and we call our employment path a "career." But we do not have careers in the Mormon village. We have lives.

Over time, though, as we get to know each other, we learn which people are unfailingly reliable. Which Saints show up to do the extra or unpleasant jobs. Who visits when no visit is required. Who helps when no help was asked for.

We learn whose understanding of the gospel is deep and true, who knows the scriptures and sticks close to the doctrines of the Kingdom. We learn which humble people are truly in tune with the Spirit of God.

And we rely on them. We listen to them. We ask their counsel; we emulate their service; we aspire to earn their respect. That reliance, listening, asking, emulation, and aspiration are the respect we show them.

Metaphorically speaking, this is the coin with which we are paid the only salary that can be given in the economy of the Mormon village. We pay it to each other without even thinking about it; when respect is earned, it is given, bound up as it is with trust and love and gratitude.

Alas, some Latter-day Saints get confused about the difference between respect and prestige.

And when that confusion becomes widespread, it can cause damage.

1. Worldly Prestige. It is perilous when members carry the "honors of men" into the village. The world confers prestige for many reasons, some of them quite worthy -- but all of them are irrelevant and distracting if they become a substitute for respect in the village.

In the village, Dr. Smith and Professor Jones are Sister Smith and Brother Jones.

For that matter, if the Queen of England were converted, she would be Sister Windsor, and the worldly titles of governors, senators, mayors, and other officials should have no place within the village, where all are brothers and sisters.

The world treats rich and famous people with absurd amounts of attention and deference, especially considering how whimsically money and celebrity are bestowed.

When a person who is famed for some worldly achievement moves into a ward, the people of the village may recognize his name, but they still don't know whether he will show up every week to teach the deacon's quorum.

When a large house or fancy car are used in the service of the ward, the gift is gladly received -- but with no more honor than when a small house and humble car are put into the Lord's service. What other lesson did the Savior mean us to learn from the example of the widow's mite?

2. Prestige of Office. We know that every calling in the Church is equal to every other -- in theory. If you serve faithfully and well in whatever calling you are given, you are judged worthy -- by God.

The Lord is no respecter of persons. Regardless of the offices you have held, you are measured by the same standards: Do you love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself?

But because some offices carry the authority to make decisions, which others are then expected to obey and support, we can easily become confused and think that the authority of the office is an attribute of the person who holds it.

The mantle of office often elevates people beyond their previous abilities -- but this is as true for teachers and clerks as for those who preside. Too often we regard the kind of person who is given leadership callings as being more prestigious than people who do not have or have never had such callings.

The result is a division of the village into classes: leaders and non-leaders. Those who conduct meetings and those who sit in them.

Too often leadership offices are used as markers of "success." How many times have we heard about missionaries who were made zone leaders or assistants to the president -- as if that meant they were better missionaries than those who were not.

No harm is intended by statements like this: "This scoutmaster/bishop/deacon's adviser was so remarkable that his troop/ward/quorum produced nine bishops, seven stake presidents, three mission presidents, two temple presidents, and three General Authorities."

Yet such statements are toxic, for two reasons. First, because they can lead people to become ambitious and aspire to office, becoming resentful or impatient when they "fail" to get such callings.

Second, because the idea that leadership offices are markers of success steals value from true respect within the village. When you use high offices as a measure of "success," you are revealing that in your heart, you regard those who never have those offices as unsuccessful, as less valuable.

That idea is false -- and must be seen to be false, for the village to be healthy. For when people see high office as the key to respect, it makes many good people believe that their faithful service has failed. It robs them of the joy of knowing that their good work has earned the respect of the wise.

Within the village, respect is earned only by faithful service, regardless of office. All callings can be magnified, and when they are, respect is in proportion to the service, not the office.

All kinds of people, with all kinds of talents, are needed to make the village work well. "The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (1 Cor. 12:21).

There are fine bishops and stake presidents who make boring speakers or inaccurate clerks. Do their talent-sets make them more honorable than those who are excellent teachers or efficient secretaries?

Then let us cease to speak and think as if they did.

In healthy wards, the people who show up early to set up chairs, who take dinners to the needy or repair the widow's screen door or sing faithfully in the choir or do their home teaching and visiting teaching without fail -- these are as honored by the wise of the village as those who have led.

Respect is the salary we pay to those who have earned it. It is theirs by right. "The laborer is worthy of his hire" (1 Timothy 5:18).

The wise give honor to the honorable, respect to the respectable. It is the coin God pays in, when he says, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).

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