Let’s begin our own detailed analysis of virtues with one of the most misunderstood of all major virtues: Meekness.
The Virtue of Meekness
My personal journal of virtue analysis began in 1998 with meekness. As I drove to work, I listened to a number of addresses over more than a year by Neal Maxwell about virtues, a few of which focuses on meekness.
From him I learned that my perception of this virtue as weakness was inaccurate. Meekness is not “shoulder-shrugging acceptance but shoulder-squaring—in order that we might better bear the burdens of life and others.”
Athletes have long recognized that flexibility is critical in avoiding injury. And flexibility is not mutually exclusive with strength. I remember as a young man observing that those most committed to flexibility are able to play professional sports the longest.
Meekness is the virtue of flexibility. The meek don’t need to make room for their own large egos; they are capable therefore of filling any needed role.
They don’t take offense easily, and so are well adapted to hazardous roles where reactions to other can derail the focus on strategy.
Is meekness incompatible with leadership? Why would it. Be? If they are two different skills, can one not chose when to deploy each strength.
One of Neil Maxwell’s talks quoted the Bible when speaking of the great prophet/leader Moses, noting “Moses was the meekest man upon the face of the earth.” It’s clear from this that meekness and leadership cannot be antagonist.
As I heard this quote, and understood this virtue better, I thought to myself, “Roland Nelson is the most meek man I have ever known.”
The following is a letter I wrote to his wife, Julie, in November 2005
Roland Nelson Virtue Letter
…[Thoughts of your husband] gave me the idea of forming my own Christ-like Attribute Hall of Fame, a personal list of people I had observed who were perhaps perfect in one particular attribute. I think many people are good in numerous ways, but some are exceptional in one area. My Hall of Fame currently contains four people. I use their examples in lessons and talks. Last fall, I decided I should tell their families what I had observed about them, and since Roland was the inspiration for the idea, obviously Roland’s family should head the list.
Perhaps the first experience was watching Roland take accounting tests at BYU. We studied together for almost all of our accounting classes, and Roland understood all the material as well as I did if not better. Yet he seemed jinxed when it came to taking tests. Although disappointed, I never sensed resignation or complaining. It was a perfect example of Elder Maxwell’s statement that the meek “do not engage in shoulder-shrugging acceptance but in shoulder-squaring,” (March 1983 Ensign). Roland persevered and his subsequent professional success certifies that tests may not always accurately measure comprehension.
The second experience was one summer night after you moved to Chicago. Roland, in Utah on business, visited our apartment in Taylorsville. I gave him an update on my job. As we said a long goodbye at his car while the sun set, I asked about his calling. Roland reluctantly admitted he was in the bishopric. I remember surprise that he would have such a significant responsibility so young. And yet the way he said it was so meek. There was no pride, no ego. Looking back, I suspect I was so observant and impressed by it because I knew I did not understand meekness nearly as well.
In all our interactions since then, including day and night together on a long, hot trip to Kirtland and Palmyra, his “meekness record” is spotless. …And as you noted in your Christmas card, meekness and leadership are certainly not incompatible, as evidenced by his current service for six years as First Councilor [in your local church congregation]..
I am grateful for his example. His nearly perfect meekness has made me a better person, and helped me look for the best in others. We love you, and are grateful for your friendship, even across the many miles.
These observations began for me decades of observing others and identifying virtues.