June 13, 2014
Lately I've been thinking a lot about stewardship. A stewardship is something you are responsible for, something you have a duty to care for, to develop, to preserve, to protect. Some have high-profile stewardships, significant callings in their church, positions of great responsibility in their governments. But, for most of us, our stewardships are more local, more close to us. For me, I see my stewardships as my religion, my family, and then my work, my community, and more loosely my nation and then, even more loosely, mankind as a whole.
I've been thinking a lot about stewardship lately because reading the news makes me angry; and then my frustration at the blind foolishness I see consumes me, tearing away time, energy, and emotion from my primary stewardships, making me the greatest fool of all.
I'm reminded of a talk given by Dallin H. Oaks, one of the leaders of my church (I'm a Mormon), called "Good, Better, Best." Put simply, it's possible for good things to distract us from doing the best things. It's good to be aware of what is going on. It's good to be involved in our communities and our nation. But what if that pulls us away from what is best? What if that pulls us away from our primary stewardships, from our families, from our friends?
Yet, I still feel drawn to what is going on, especially with all the craziness surrounding same-sex attraction. I look at the way people talk about it and the assumptions they make about it, and it's aggravating to me, as if millions of people were simultaneously scratching on a chalkboard together. Even those who seem to agree with me about same-sex attraction—those who agree it should not be indulged, those who oppose same-sex marriage—even they often misunderstand same-sex attraction and how we should approach it. Too often they say things like "gay men should be celibate", not seeing the trap they have created for themselves with their very words. (This trap is explained in my short story "The Unneeded Panic Room").
And now that I have a website up, I can see what queries people type in that lead them to it. (Don't worry, I can't see who types them.) I can see the emotions people are feeling—the desire to be rid of the same-sex attraction they feel, the worry that feeling same-sex attraction means something about themselves, that it makes them different from those around them, different from those whose lives they wish to emulate. This is part of the reason why I wrote my novel "The River Is Always Waiting". I want people to ignore what the world is telling them. The world claims that our attractions define us, but I'm telling you now that they do not. I want people to realize that attraction can be resisted, that it is resisted, and that the current direction of society will only open the floodgates, requiring more and more to actively resist what would not have been a challenge in the past. I want people to understand that feeling same-sex attraction is normal. That it means nothing about them, nothing more than that they are human. Many feel it to some degree, more than admit it openly, more than admit it to themselves. I want people to understand that feeling it, no matter how deeply, does not change their obligations nor does it change what's expected of them; and, more importantly, I want them to understand that it doesn't mean they cannot live the life they were taught, and they want, to live.
So I want to help. I want to encourage people to turn their backs on the world and to make the most of their lives; yet I also don't want to lose focus of my primary stewardships, especially of my family. That is why I am so grateful for books. I can put forth effort to write one, recording all my thoughts in my best attempt at persuasion, and then after it's published, I'm done. My focus stays with my family, but the words I wrote remain forever, my work now capable of perpetually helping others. I spent years writing "The River Is Always Waiting", but I've forgotten most of the time that went into it. The work is done, the book is done, and my attention has turned elsewhere; yet my opportunity to help others remains, all thanks to the wonder of books and the written word.
In the technology industry, we often talk about whether something is scalable or not. To be scalable means that something works on a large-scale rather than just on a small-scale. In this crazy world, it's easy to get lost, to view the whole world as our problem, to be overwhelmed and angry at all the injustices we see and all the things we feel must change; but that simply doesn't scale. We find ourselves so stretched outside of our capacity that we are only capable of sending a hashtagged tweet before turning our attention to the latest outrage, which will also only merit a hashtagged tweet, and on and on. We're spreading ourselves too thin. We need to stop it. We don't have the time to care so much about the triviality of stranger's lives, whether celebrities or not. We don't have the energy to maintain close contact with hundreds (thousands?) of social media "friends." Humans weren't made to be spread so thin. It isn't scalable. It causes us to neglect the best as we chase after the good.
So what is scalable? Focusing on our own stewardships, on our own families, on our own responsibilities—that is scalable. That is what each of us should do. Imagine if everyone placed their primary focus on providing and caring for their own family and then, and only then, turned their attention outward. Imagine what that would do to the level of want and need within our society.
And so, I urge you to attend to your own stewardships, to place more of your focus on the best rather than on the good. I cannot take care of all of your families; my energy and ability simply cannot scale that far; but I can take care of my own, and I can take the time to write this post and then leave it forever written, forever counseling and encouraging you to focus on what matters most and to not allow yourself to be distracted by the wider world. Focus on your stewardships. They are yours. Attend to them. Be diligent with them. That is the way to a better life and a better world.