President Worthen urges students to develop a ‘backbone of humility’

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President Kevin J Worthen speaks to a BYU audience during the Jan. 4 devotional address. He encouraged students to focus on developing a “backbone of humility.” (Decker Westenburg)

President Kevin J Worthen encouraged the BYU community on Jan. 4 to focus on developing a “backbone of humility” by surrendering to God’s will.

President Worthen called humility a “remarkable trait” and explained it as one of the most underappreciated virtues in a society that devotes so much attention to self-promotion.

Benefits of having humility include academic achievement, advantages in social relationships and better organizational outcomes, President Worthen explained.

Humility, he said, is both critical to individual success and BYU’s institutional setting.

“In essence, we are trying to create Zion — or at least, a Zion-like society,” he said. “And one of the primary obstacles to achieving that lofty, yet attainable, goal is the contention that is so much a part of daily life in the world around us.”

President Worthen urged the BYU community to eliminate pride, which is the root cause of this contention. He quoted President Ezra Taft Benson who once taught, “The antidote for pride is humility.”

President Worthen shared six characteristics of humility from June Tangney, an author and psychology professor at George Mason University.

These characteristics are: an accurate assessment of oneself, acknowledgement of one’s mistakes and limitations, openness to other viewpoints and ideas, keeping one’s accomplishments and abilities in perspective, low self-focus, and appreciating the value of all things, including other people.

The characteristics of humility can have deeper meaning when viewed through the lens of gospel truths, President Worthen explained.

For example, “accurately assessing oneself” can not only help someone identify their weaknesses, but also their divine potential, he said. Additionally, acknowledging mistakes and limitations functions as part of the repentance process.

Having a low self focus and appreciating the value of other things, especially other people, is also linked to gospel truths such as serving and loving others, President Worthen explained.

“The key determinative role of humility in our eternal progress is evidenced by the fact that God will, at times, humble us, hoping that the experience will cause us to change,” he said.

Ultimately, however, individuals must choose for themselves to be humble. “Our conscious choice to humble ourselves by submitting our will to God’s is the essence of true humility,” he said.

“Developing and practicing that kind of humility takes great courage and strength because it requires us to surrender to God the one thing that is truly, uniquely our own — our will,” President Worthen said.

It takes what one Navy SEAL commander called having “a backbone of humility,” he added.

To develop this “backbone of humility,” individuals must understand humility more deeply and accurately and then choose to humble themselves by understanding and following God’s will, he said.

During the address, President Worthen also urged the BYU community to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and follow all university and health guidelines.

“That is the best thing we can do to ensure that we can continue the semester without major disruption,” he said. “Please consider the impact of your actions on the entire community and help make this semester a success for everyone.”

Sister Peggy S. Worthen shares how individuals can avoid harshly judging others during the Jan. 4 devotional address. Looking at situations from a perspective of charity or good faith is one way to do this, she said. (Decker Westenburg)

Sister Peggy S. Worthen also spoke during the devotional and discussed how individuals can avoid harshly judging others.

First, be slow to assume bad intent in others, she said, adding that it’s easy to rush incorrect judgements. She suggested looking at situations from a perspective of charity or good faith.

She then advised individuals that when they do misjudge others, it’s important to remember they themselves are not perfect.

“Just as we should assume good faith in the actions of others, we should also interpret our own actions in a charitable manner, giving ourselves credit for the things we do well even in the midst of our imperfections,” Sister Worthen said.

Sister Worthen’s third piece of advice was to diligently keep focus on the Savior, who can help in avoiding misjudgments. “Nothing invites the Spirit more than fixing your focus on Jesus Christ.”

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