‘People can be either eagles or hogs in their leisure time.’
My subject is derived from an experience of Eugene L. Roberts’ originally shared by himself, and repeated by Gordon B. Hinckley. With a backdrop of warning us “against the misuse of our time, especially our idle time,” he relates this story:
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.
What we do in our leisure time can make such a tremendous difference. Pity the poor man or boy of low purpose and weak ambition who, after a day of work, finishes his evening meal and then turns to the television screen for the rest of the evening to watch pornographic videotapes or sleazy late-night programs. Can you think of any picture which more nearly approaches President Brimhall’s description of the hog that seeks the mudhole in the pasture and wallows in the mire?
The question we might pose to ourselves is simply this: am I an eagle or a hog?
You can learn a lot about someone by observing how they use their leisure time. Why is that? Well, the word leisure means “time free from the demands of work or duty,” it is our time to do what we want! One of the most “self-evident characteristics of the conscious mind . . . [is that] . . . the mind attends to one thing at a time.” (Nigel Calder) If, as humans, it is only physically possible to think of one thing at a time, it would seem logical that we therefore can really only do one thing at a time as well. In considering the reason for this condition, Hugh Nibley says, “But why this crippling limitation on our thoughts if we are God’s children? It is precisely this limitation that is the essence of our mortal existence. If every choice I make expresses a preference, if the world I build up is the world I really love and want, then with every choice I am judging myself, proclaiming all the day long to God, angels, and my fellowmen where my real values lie, where my treasure is, the things to which I give supreme importance. Hence, in this life every moment [especially every leisure moment] provides a perfect and foolproof test of your real character, making this life a time of testing and probation.”
That is the test – how we will choose to think and act in the time given, all the while proclaiming what is important to us, and revealing what our hearts are really set upon. This is where sin comes in, we again turn to Nibley, “Sin is waste, it is doing one thing when you should be doing other and better things for which you have the capacity.” The sin may not be found in the nature of the thought or act itself, but can be found in the fact that we have the capacity to think and act on a higher moral and righteous level, and yet choose not to do so. President Hinckley said we are “constantly faced with a choice of whether we wallow in the mire or fly to lofty heights” We are led to conclude that we have the capacity to do either, the choice is up to us. We may feel like we have been placed in a circumstantial mire, but it is our choice to wallow in it. The Lord can deliver us from a mire just as well as a prison. (See earlier post) He did so with the Israelites, “Ye have seen . . . how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Exodus 19:3-3)
Brigham Young said, “What have we? Our time. Spend it as you will. Time is given to you; and when this is spent to the best possible advantage for promoting truth upon the earth, it is placed to our account, and blessed are you; but when we spend our time in idleness and folly it will be placed against us.”
Will we spend our free time as an eagle “promoting truth upon the earth”, spreading our wings and flying higher into the “clean atmosphere and the lofty heights”? Or will we spend it as the hog in “idleness and folly”, rolling and soaking ourselves in filth?
Jesus said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6) Muddy hogs or swine, do not appreciate shiny pearls. If we find our self in the hog group, how could we expect any pearls of knowledge to be given to us if we spend our time viewing pornography or “spending endless hours scoring meaningless points on pointless video games”? (Elder Pearson) Points are a counterfeit to pearls, one provides a real sense of spiritual progression leading to the upper air of wisdom while the other offers a false sense of progression to higher levels in a fake reality. Along the same theme, President Hinckley pities the “poor man [or woman] of low purpose and weak ambition who, after a day of work, finishes his [her] evening meal then turns to the television screen for the rest of the evening.” Ezra Taft Benson said, “too much television viewing can be destructive.” We are looking for packets of pearls, not buckets of hogwash.
Spencer W. Kimball has given counsel on how spare time could be used flying “in the highest realms” , “Read in spare time. Numerous leisure hours have been available to men. It is noticeable that many use these extra hours for fun and pleasure. Certainly an increased part of it could profitably be used for gaining knowledge and culture through the reading of good books.” Quoting Brigham again, “After suitable rest and relaxation there is not a day, hour or minute that we should spend in idleness [in the muddiest hole in the pasture], but every minute of every day of our lives we should strive to improve our minds and to increase the faith of the holy Gospel.”
We have been counseled by the Lord, “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118, 109:7) “Will we be meek and listen to Him? Or will we be like the Gadarene swine, that pathetic example of totus porcus – going whole hog after the trends of the moment?” (Neal A. Maxwell) Do we value the trends of the moment or the things of eternity? A recent report from GlobalWebIndex reveals that adults in the U.S. spend approximately 1.72 hours per day on social media. Inciting a doleful comparison to the spiritual swine-like Athenians in Greece who found no interest in the words of the Apostle Paul because their time was to be spent “in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” (Acts 17:21) Unfortunately after a while, the world runs out of “new things” to tell, and then we reach the point where sadly, as Nibley puts it, “For our age the message is the medium because we have run out of message.” On the other hand, Elder Maxwell calls the Gospel inexhaustible.
Now more than ever, our society is in need of eagles who will soar above the cultural conditioning Satan has applied to our generation, and spend their time on meaningful things – like treasuring up the truth, no matter what kind of glares or snorts are being received from hogs below. Otherwise we are in danger of becoming as the ancient Romans. Aaron Stern observed, “The Roman Empire provides a richly detailed description of the decline of a great society. The symptoms of its fall centered around a critical schism between the older and younger generations. It was reflected among the young by an increase in drug usage, by a growing experimentation in homosexuality and bi-sexuality, and, perhaps most symptomatic of all, by a strident demand for more leisure that was accompanied by an unwillingness to accept responsibility for government, family, and other institutions.” Eagles allow their leisure time to be accompanied by responsibility, hogs do not.
One final note, President Henry B. Eyring once related a striking experience that has stuck with me, he said “I’ve come to understand something that happened to me in my early teens. I was in a hurry when I felt, not heard, a voice, an impression, which I knew then was from God. It was close to these words: ‘Someday, when you know who you really are, you will be sorry that you didn’t use your time better.’ I thought then that the impression was odd, since I thought I was using my time pretty well and I thought I knew who I was. Now, years later, I am beginning to know who I am.” I think if we all knew who we really are, and if we recognized that every moment of this life is a test and with every choice we are judging ourselves, we would strive everyday to become more like the eagle and less like the hog.