True Character and Friendship
Excerpt from the talk titled: Don’t Drop the Ball by Gordon B. Hinckley
At Brigham Young University we have had some great athletic coaches. We have them now and we have had them in the past. One of these of long ago was Eugene L. Roberts. He grew up in Provo and drifted aimlessly with the wrong kind of friends. Then something remarkable happened. I read you his own words. He wrote:
“Several years ago when Provo City was scarred with unsightly saloons and other questionable forms of amusement, I was standing one evening on the street, waiting for my gang to show up, when I noticed that the [Provo] tabernacle was lighted up and that a large crowd was moving in that direction. I had nothing to do so I drifted over there and went in. I thought I might find some of my gang, or at least some of the girls that I was interested in. Upon entering, I ran across three or four of the fellows and we placed ourselves under the gallery where there was a crowd of young ladies, who seemed to promise entertainment. We were not interested in what came from the pulpit. We knew that the people on the rostrum were all old fogies. They didn’t know anything about life, and they certainly couldn’t tell us anything, for we knew it all. So we settled down to have a good time. Right in the midst of our disturbance there thundered from the pulpit the following [statement]:
“‘You can’t tell the character of an individual by the way he does his daily work. Watch him when his work is done. See where he goes. Note the companions he seeks, and the things he does when he may do as he pleases. Then you can tell his true character.’
“I looked up toward the rostrum,” Roberts continued, “because I was struck with this powerful statement. I saw there a slim, dark-haired fierce-eyed fighting-man whom I knew and feared; but didn’t have any particular love for.”
As he continued, “[The speaker] went on to make a comparison. He said: ‘Let us take the eagle, for example. This bird works as hard and as efficiently as any other animal or bird in doing its daily work. It provides for itself and its young by the sweat of its brow, so to speak; but when its daily work is over and the eagle has time of its own to do just as it pleases, note how it spends its recreational moments. It flies in the highest realms of heaven, spreads its wings and bathes in the upper air, for it loves the pure, clean atmosphere and the lofty heights.
“‘On the other hand, let us consider the hog. This animal grunts and grubs and provides for its young just as well as the eagle; but when its working hours are over and it has some recreational moments, observe where it goes and what it does. The hog will seek out the muddiest hole in the pasture and will roll and soak itself in filth, for this is the thing it loves. People can be either eagles or hogs in their leisure time.’
“Now when I heard this short speech,” said Gene Roberts, “I was dumbfounded. I turned to my companions abashed for I was ashamed to be caught listening. What was my surprise to find everyone of the gang with his attention fixed upon the speaker and his eyes containing a far-away expression.
“We went out of the tabernacle that evening rather quiet and we separated from each other unusually early. I thought of that speech all the way home. I classified myself immediately as of the hog family. I thought of that speech for years. That night there was implanted within me the faintest beginnings of ambition to lift myself out of the hog group and to rise to that of the eagle. …
“There was instilled within me that same evening, the urge to help fill up the mud holes in the social pasture so that those people with hog tendencies would find it difficult to wallow in recreational filth. As a result of constant thinking about that speech, I was stirred to devote my whole life and my profession toward developing wholesome recreational activities for the young people, so that it would be natural and easy for them to indulge in the eagle-type of leisure.
“The man who made that speech which affected my life more than any other speech I ever heard, was President George H. Brimhall. May God bless him!” (Raymond Brimhall Holbrook and Esther Hamilton Holbrook, The Tall Pine Tree, n.p., 1988, pp. 111–13).
That simple story, told by a great teacher, turned around the life of a drifter and made of him an able and gifted leader. I repeat it tonight because I think that most of us are constantly faced with a choice of whether we wallow in the mire or fly to lofty heights.