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Neal Cox

Want a Happy Life? Put Others First

      So good to be here with you today. I am touched by the Spirit. And if you don’t learn anything else today from what I’ve prepared and what I’m anxious to share with you, I want you to know that the gospel is true, it’s been restored, there is a God in heaven who is our Father, He loves us, He’s provided a Savior who gives us purpose and hope in life. What a blessed message that is, a message that much of the world doesn’t really comprehend, and we continue to share with the world, as we always want to do.

      Not too many months ago, while I was still working at Brigham Young University, I had a chance to participate in a devotional there. And I’m not going to repeat in any way what I shared with the students at Brigham Young University that day, because you don’t need it. I felt an urgency to encourage them to better fellowship one another and friendship one another, to speak to each other, to say hello; and just standing at the doorway here as many of you entered, I can see that that’s a custom, a valued custom, a tradition that needs to be preserved here. I salute you for that. That is a gospel principle. The Book of Mormon records a time when the people were living very happily and in great prosperity, and they did fellowship with one another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy [see Helaman 6:3]. I can see that that’s the case, so you don’t need that message. But I’d like to visit with you about the purpose of your studies, because this is a time of preparation for you. It’s a time when you’re working hard to prepare for the future.

      I suspect if I were to give a questionnaire to each of you and ask, “Why is it that you’re pursuing a postsecondary education here at LDS Business College?” I’d get a variety of answers. Perhaps some would say, “I want to have a good job.” That’s an honorable thing, especially if that job will be a support system for other good things you will do with family, with church, with your communities, with the countries from which you come. Others may say, well, this wouldn’t happen. I was thinking maybe of, “I need to pay off my gambling debts,” but that wouldn’t happen here. I suspect for a lot of university students going to college and universities elsewhere, they might have that goal in mind. But let me recommend to you that the real reason you ought to be studying is so that you can better serve other people. Because careers are opportunities to serve other people. Last night we had a power outage in Provo. In fact, when we left our home this morning the power was still out, and I’m grateful for the Provo City employees who were out en masse in all their big trucks, serving the needs of the communities. They have skills and abilities that we lack, and I’m hoping that the power’s on when we get back. I do have a generator running the freezer and refrigerator; we don’t want all the food to spoil. In the neighborhood, there are others doing similar things.

      It was mentioned that I spent time at Snow College, which is a two-year community college, founded as an LDS Academy originally. And I worked closely, while there, with the, we call them “student leaders.” Everyone’s a leader, President Hinckley reminded us, reminded the youth especially, “You can be a leader, you must be a leader,” (“Be a Leader in Honorable Causes,” BYU Devotional, September 1996) were his words. I worked with student leaders there, and later had, for over a decade, the opportunity to do similar work at Southern Utah University. I found out that many students when they first began their service as a servant leader, or as a leader, they forget or maybe lose focus of what it’s all about.

      Let me give you an example: early in the school year a new group of student leaders put together a list of their prioritized activities, things they would like to accomplish. If at the top of the list there were things like, “We need nice uniforms,” or “We need better furniture in the office” or “We need bigger badges so people will know we’re somebody,” you know that there’s a challenge there. If, on the other hand, the students come together and say, “What will we do when the new students arrive? What can we do to lessen their anxiety? Could we maybe greet them and help them move their things into their apartments? What could we do to help others?” So, it’s a matter of living this way for self, looking out for self, or this way, looking out for the needs of others. There are, indeed, two kinds of leaders.

      The Savior taught that lesson effectively one day. He was meeting with the Twelve Apostles when two of the Twelve, James and John, came to Jesus and, I’ll paraphrase grossly here, they said, “We have a favor to ask of you.” Jesus said, “What is it?” As He was prone to serving the needs of other people, that’s what He does. James and John said, “Well, we’d like to sit one on the right and one on the left in your glory. We’d like to be sort of second and third in command. We’d like to be somebody, in other words.” There’s something inside of all of us that says, “I’d like to be somebody.”

      Jesus responded to their request saying, “What you ask I cannot grant. You don’t understand what you’re asking for.” And then [He] proceeded to teach a lesson. And this quote that’s on the screen here is from a more modern translation of the New Testament, because the King James, and I love the King James, but it’s a little bit garbled in what it means; I hope this will make sense to you. Oh, by the way, before Jesus gave this lesson to all the Twelve, the scriptures record in the 10th chapter of Mark that the other 10 were very displeased with James and John. They didn’t want people to be better than others; it’s not a contest to see who’s better. It’s to elevate everyone. Jesus said that, “You know the so-called rulers in the heathen world, or gentile world, lord it over them.” Or, “You will do what I say – lord it over them.” “And their great men have absolute power.” That’s been the case during much of the history of the world. “But it must not be so among you. It must not be so among you. Know whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all. And if he wants to be first among you, he must be the servant of all men. For the Son of Man himself is not come to be served but to serve. And to give His life to set many others free.” You get the point, he was teaching a lesson that leadership is all about serving other people [referring to Mark 10:35-45].

      You don’t have to even read the scriptures to figure that out. Experience will teach you that. There was a man named Robert Greenleaf who grew up in Indiana. And while growing up, his father, a blue-collar worker, a good man, was elected to serve on the City Council in the city in which they lived. When he began service there he recognized that many of the other city leaders were living this way: “What’s in it for me? How can I become more important? How can I better myself?” Rather than, “How can I look after the needs of the citizens of the community?” That really disturbed him, and he often spoke at home when Mr. Greenleaf was a young boy. It disturbed him. Then, he spent a lifetime working for a large corporation, saw the same tendencies in people, and we have the seeds of that in all of us. He took an early retirement and coined the phrase, “student leader,” and wrote about the importance of servants, leaders being servants to the public. Among other things, Mr. Greenleaf wrote, “The servant-leader is a servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Serve, serve, serve,” (The Servant as Leader, by Robert K. Greenleaf).

      I’m going to tell you something, I hadn’t planned to do this, and this will reveal my real self. But, it was mentioned that in high school I had been elected to an office. I actually wasn’t the student body president; I was the senior class president in high school [corrected in the introduction]. I was elected—I didn’t campaign, they just called us together in a group like this and somebody said they nominated me, and I was elected. And I felt pretty important. And then I spent that whole year feeling important but doing nothing, confident that when the yearbook came out my picture would be bigger than the others, and it was. But I didn’t do anything. When it came time for the senior prom, a bunch of good girls in the class put a senior prom together; I don’t remember having anything to do with it. I went, but I was a dismal failure because I was living like this. Other things were more important than serving my classmates, which I had been invited to do by being elected. At the end of that year at graduation, it was held in a tabernacle, a church building. And I had this feeling of failure. And I committed that if I ever had a chance again to serve I would do it differently. I would try and do this; I had seen others do this successfully. It’s not a good feeling when your attention goes this way.

      I went to BYU and I was really happy to find that the student leadership program there, or what some would call “student government,” a term that we didn’t use there, is BYUSSA. It stands for the Brigham Young University Student Service Association; emphasis on service is intentional here, because that’s what leadership is all about. Students serving students; that was the model. And it worked.

      Here are a couple of different types of leaders. Can you tell who this king is [in painting]? Can you see the picture well enough to recognize this famous king from the Book of Mormon? Yeah—Noah. Named after a good person, but what kind of a leader was he? Was he looking after himself, or was he looking this way? I can hear the conversation now, once he dispatches Abinidi from his court there, he’s probably saying, “Hey! What’s up with the wine you just gave me? It’s warm, and it’s a hot day outside. I expect my wine to be cool.”

      And the servant who brought the wine in would probably say, “But the refrigerator is out, the wine cooler isn’t working.”

      “Well, get it fixed, buy a new one!”

      “Well, we don’t have any money left.”

      “What happened to all the money?”

      “Well, we bought those new chariots for the priests, and all those nice clothes for your concubines, and we’re out of money, can’t do it.”

      And so he said, “How much do we charge the people?”

      “One-fifth, or 20 percent.”

      “Well, we’ll have to up the rate then.” Because, he was walking after the desires of his own heart, not considering the welfare of others.

      I appreciate what Joshua challenged us to do today, to reach out and serve others that might need our help in one way or another, whether it be living up to the commitment you’ve all made to live the Honor Code, or anything else. We are committed to helping each other.

      By contrast, how about this king? Who is this [at left]? Can’t quite hear. Benjamin, yeah, King Benjamin. Built the tower, and he’s up there, he’s nearing the conclusion of a very productive life. In fact, he’s probably saying, “I need to wrap up here, because even though I’m growing old, I need to meet my son Mosiah, we’ve got to go weed our garden.” Because they took care of themselves, they didn’t live off the land. He’s the one who coined the phrase we often recite, “When you’re in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God,” (Mosiah 2:17). That’s what he would instruct us to do, to live this way.

      Missionaries, the returned missionaries in the room can fill in the blanks here. “Therefore, ye that embark in the service,” thank you—a good word. It appears in the scriptures many times, “See that you serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. Therefore if ye have desires,” that’s your motive, you have to have a motive to do this, “if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (D&C 4:2-3). A less-often quoted scripture at the bottom from King Benjamin’s address, can you guess which words are missing there? Yeah. “Teach them to love one other and to serve one another” (Mosiah 4:15). Because, our motive is love, genuine concern about others. That’s servant-leadership, that’s divine-centered leadership. That’s leadership of the kingdom.

      Now, some would say that, “Yes, but if you’re kind and nice to people, that’s weak leadership. People won’t respond appropriately. You have to rule with an iron thumb.” Does it really work? There’s an important case study in the Book of Mormon, where we read through 3rd Nephi of the appearance of the Savior. The resurrected Savior came to the Nephites, He taught them, He set a great example for them, He spent considerable time with them. And what was the end product of all of that? What kind of life did they have when they practiced servant leadership? There could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. That’s what kind of society occurs when everyone is looking out for everyone else, and we are truly servant-leaders.
      I recently read some things about George Washington as we prepared for the 4th of July. Impressed that he is a great example of a servant-leader. He spent years away from his beloved Mount Vernon estate, and he lamented that he’d given up much, he’d sacrificed a great deal in order to see a new country born. But he knew that the cause was important and that many people, even many unborn people, us included, would be the beneficiaries of the work that he would do. And so he continued in the cause. One day he was writing a letter to a member of the Continental Congress who was a pretty severe critic of Washington, and said publicly a lot of unkind things about him. Very critical of Washington. But at the conclusion of his letter, which, by the way, was not filled with rancor and bad feeling, this is how he closed the letter: “I’m your humble, obedient servant.” Or, a letter to the entire Continental Congress, and this was customary. This is two of many, many examples. “I promise to exert every power I possess in your service.” Hard though it was…no wonder the Congress gave him absolute power, as though he were a king. He could do most anything; they knew he would not abuse that power, because he was one who lived this way, not this way.

      In the church we find the same thing. We know that the Prophet Joseph was quick to respond to the needs of others. The occasion at Nauvoo when there was much sickness, and he himself was stricken and not feeling well. And he proceeded go throughout much of the city giving blessing after blessing after blessing. On the march at Zion’s Camp when wagons would break down, he’d be the first one, according to those that were there, the first one to render assistance. He wrote a letter to the church detailing, among other things, baptisms for the dead. That letter is now a part of the Doctrine and Covenants, section 128. He concluded that letter, “I am, as ever, your humble servant, and never deviating friend,” (D&C 128:25). I think that word, “deviating,” as in, never deviating, is important. Because it’s not a matter of doing something nice once in a while, it’s making it part of your very being. That was the prophet Joseph. You read and study about his life, and you’ll see ample evidence that he was a humble servant and a never-deviating friend to all. Even those who disliked him.

      How about President Monson? I got thinking, probably every hospital in this valley, the people at the front desk know him by his first name, because he’s always there, visiting people. That’s one way that he has, over the years, chosen to serve people. In General Conference a few years back he referred to himself by saying, “As your humble servant, I desire with all my heart to do God’s will and to serve Him, and to serve you” (“Until We Meet Again,” General Conference October 2011). That’s the prophet—“To serve you, to serve you.”


      Now, you’re business students, though. What’s this got to do with the world, business, if anything? Well, it does. Here’s a story I really like. The male that you see up there, J. Willard Marriott [left], was a young man born in a place called Marriott Settlement near Ogden, Utah. At age 19 he served a mission and went to the New England states. And in 1921 when he concluded that mission, he visited Washington, D.C., on his way home. It must have been, I don’t know what time of the year it was, but it was hot like today, except the hot in Washington is different from the hot here, because it’s a humid hot. And he’s out there in the sweltering heat, and sweating profusely, wishing he had something to drink, because this insatiable desire to drink, but there was nothing available. Then he saw a man with a little wagon, and he was selling lemonade. But before he could get there to buy the lemonade, the man had sold out the limited supply that he had.

      He remembered that as he returned to his home in Utah. He did what you’re doing, he went to school, he completed his studies, and in 1927 he acted on an impulse he had had earlier when he saw these thirsty people walking the streets of Washington, D.C. He and a friend acquired a franchise for a new product called “A&W Root Beer.” Not so new now. They set up a little place, had nine stools, and served A&W Root Beer to help serve the people. They served A&W Root Beer to people who needed something to drink. That was the beginning of something big, as you know. Then, they decided that sometimes people were hungry, and they got a recipe for some kind of taco, I think it was, from the Mexican Embassy there, and tacos probably weren’t commonly eaten in those days. They made tacos that developed into a chain of restaurants called, “Hot Shops.” Later, other chains as well. You know this man as the pioneer, the founder of the Marriott Corporation. And when J. Willard Marriott died in 1985, that’s quite a while ago, nearly 30 years ago, his company that year grossed 4.5 billion dollars and had over 150,000 employees. It all started with trying to serve the needs of some thirsty people in a place where it got hot.

      Now one of the big secrets of this corporation is J. Willard Marriott’s attention to the needs of other people; not only did he try to provide for their needs, but he would regularly check up on customers to see what complaints they might have. He read personally the complaint cards for the company for many years. He was known to drop in at unannounced times to visit with the employees, to buoy their spirits up and encourage them. He cared about people. And today, if you join the Marriott Corporation as an employee, you’ll be schooled in their “Bible,” so to speak, or their manual which is called “The Spirit to Serve,” a book about service, created by a returned missionary who saw some thirsty people and thought, “I’d better do something about that.”

      Meet this lady, President Colleen Barrett. She may not look like a president, but she was, for several years, the chief operating officer of a large, large corporation, one that you all would know if I told you, which I will in a minute. She had limited education, she had, actually, a two-year degree, but it was well suited to what she did in life. She was a secretary for an attorney. And this attorney decided that he wanted to start a small airline. And in so doing, he brought her with the airline, grew into a very large airline, and she became the president and chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines, and some people said, “What credibility does a leader like that have, running a major airline?” You see, her interest was in people. She said that her mother really loved people, and she acquired that same genuine interest in people from her mother. On one occasion, she said, “We are in the customer-service business. We just happen to fly airplanes.” Putting customer service above airplanes—“we just happen to fly airplanes”—it was as though that was secondary to their customer service.

      Oh, I have a hard time with this one, I’ll tell you quickly, but this is an important story. This man was my high school basketball coach [left]. And on July 4th we went to a tennis tournament held in his honor. He died four years ago. While serving in the military, and having learned of the death of his brother, who’s picture he’s holding in that [displayed on screen], he was severely wounded in Europe; so severely he was hospitalized for 18 months. And while in a trench, bleeding profusely, thinking he was going to die and join his brother, he made a commitment to his Heavenly Father that if he was allowed to live, he would return to his small hometown and serve the youth of that community.

      So, he came back and did what you’re doing; he learned in order to serve. He went to school here in Utah, and then in Michigan, and returned to his hometown as a high school teacher and coach. He coached tennis for the next 52 years, basketball for only 37. And when he retired, there were literally thousands of people whose lives had been impacted for good by this man. Last Sunday night on KSL television there was a feature about him. The tennis tournament that’s held every year in his honor is a tribute to him being a servant-leader. He lived in, I wouldn’t say poverty, but was borderline poverty, because he gave everything he had to the youth of the community. He was my coach, he coached our boys, and he coached, as I said, thousands of others. A great servant-leader.

      Or, Jonas Salk. You likely are familiar with the story of this Jewish research scientist who developed a cure for poliomyelitis, which was a ravaging disease that took its toll on many, many people, including two of my classmates, creating serious health problems, sometimes death, usually crippling effects. Dr. Salk spent seven years working 16 hours per day, seven days a week, and then when he felt confident that he’d perfected a vaccine that would eradicate polio, it was administered to nearly 2 million school kids in 1954. I was one of them. It wasn’t that cool, because we didn’t want to get a shot, but looking back at it, nobody else ever got polio after that.

      But the story doesn’t end there. Word went out that the Salk vaccine worked, and it was on April 12, 1955, exactly 10 years to the day that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away, he had polio, they made an announcement that polio had been eradicated. And they asked Dr. Salk, “So what are you going to do with the patent? You’ll get really rich, won’t you?” He said, “It wouldn’t be right for me to patent this. The patent belongs to the people. Can you patent the sun?” He said. He took no personal reward for what he had done but gave this gift to the world. And polio, you probably haven’t even heard of it, but it was serious disease until this servant-leader came along.

      I don’t have time to tell you much about Alvin York. If you want to see a great movie, though, the 1941 (yes, there were movies in 1941, black and white), but the movie called “Sergeant York” is really worth watching. The story of this man, who was an expert marksman who grew up in extreme poverty in the hills of Tennessee, who went kind of kicking and screaming to war in World War I, and took command of a unit of men that were under fire with German machine guns. And heroically, he went behind the machine gun nest and took out, one by one, the machine gun nest with, he didn’t have a machine gun, either, he had a semi-automatic rifle. And in the end, he, along with seven surviving members of his unit, took 132 German soldiers captive. He became a hero of World War I, a very, very famous man.

      But later in life, after he’d helped establish a Bible School in the area in Tennessee where he lived, and a technical school—the man had good sense, a technical school to give opportunity to those who lived in Tennessee—he said this, “I don’t want to be remembered as a warrior but as one who helped others.” He was offered all kinds of lucrative business opportunities. He declined all of those, because he wanted to help others. He wasn’t in it for himself.

      Well, you get the picture. Going back to what President Richards said; by the way, President Richards serves all of you. And that’s a term we use a lot in the Church; think about it. The next time you hear, “I serve as a Sunday School teacher,” you’re serving. That’s what it means. Steven R. Covey: “You’ll find that as you care less about what others think about you, you will care more about what others think about themselves.” You’ll be going this way. “Including their relationship with you.” So it all comes back, better than if you were just living this way; much, much better.

      Now, one last point, and this is really important, really important. There are people in this room who are thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this. The tests are so hard, the books, I’m not understanding.” Perhaps some of you are struggling with the language, and you’re saying to yourself, “I can’t do this.” Elder Boyd K. Packer gave you a promise, and the promise is that your learning of subject matter, your acquiring of subject matter will be much easier if, would you like to know what you need to do? It’s probably what you’re already doing. This is his promise: “If we learn now or in the future in order to serve,” if service is our motive, “to give to others, to feed others, we will find the acquisition of subject matter much easier.” Our motive for study is to better prepare ourselves to serve. We then are trying not to glorify ourselves, but to teach others; we’re living this way. “And then there will come to us the full meaning of the scripture, “He that findeth his life shall lose it,” in the service of others, “and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it,” (Teach Ye Diligently, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1975).

      I testify that that principle is true. I testify that service is what we ought to be about, because our Maker is doing the same thing. It’s a blessing to be of service to others. What could you do today to help someone? What would you do today, or tomorrow, or five years from now, or 20 years from now? Please don’t tire of service. The Lord teaches us in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Be not weary in well doing, for you are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great,” (D&C 64:33). I testify that that is true. I’m thankful for a church that teaches responsibility, that teaches living for other people, not just for self. And I testify, most importantly, that life is good, life is happy, life is fulfilled, when we are able to live this way. So please don’t be the kind of person I was as a senior in high school, ignoring the needs of others, or going about thinking of myself too much. Please, be like the Savior would have us be. This is my charge to you, as I again bear testimony that the gospel is true; I know that. And I know that you know that. And I thank our Heavenly Father for the blessing of sharing this time together today. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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