Individuals must choose their standards carefully, said Paul Farnsworth on Tuesday, July 13, during BYU's weekly devotional in the de Jong Concert Hall. Standards are used to gauge an individual's moral and spiritual progress, he said.
"The choice of poor standards can lead on one extreme to smugness and spiritual complacency and on the other to feelings of worthlessness and depression," Brother Farnsworth said. "Only by choosing the correct spiritual standards can we reach the divine potential that each of us possesses."
Brother Farnsworth, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, spoke of the conscious effort that is needed to avoid adopting poor standards. He shared three personal experiences to illustrate his points.
First, he related a story about when he was in college and the competition he had with one of his classmates to achieve the top grade. During his competition, Brother Farnsworth was more concerned about being the best, rather than really learning the subject.
"A destructive by-product of the use of others as standards is that it is easier to find a comparison that makes us feel good than it is to improve our own behavior," he said.
By comparing oneself with others, individuals create a sense of moral superiority but an equally damaging sense of inadequacy, he said.
The second example Brother Farnsworth used was of an experience he had while cycling the south fork of Provo Canyon. It was a beautiful day, he felt great and he was paced for a personal best time. As he was riding, he heard another bicycle approaching him. As the man rode past him, his entire view changed. He no longer felt great about his efforts and started to compare himself to the other rider.
"My circumstances and native abilities, not to mention my age, were obviously completely different from those of the other cyclist," he said. "It's sometimes less obvious that each of us has different spiritual gifts and backgrounds. That unawareness of differences in circumstances or abilities leads to danger in the use of others as gauges of our spiritual progress."
Although others can be a great example for inspiration, they should never be measuring sticks for an individual's personal progress, he said.
"Our society's emphasis on material success is a constant force that, if not resisted, can distort priorities and cause permanent damage to ourselves and our families," he said. "If our standard of success is a strictly material one, chances are that we will come up with the wrong answers. … My real treasures are friendships, family and opportunities to serve."
The last example Brother Farnsworth shared included the sliding values in much of the culture and media.
"As pervasive as these worldly standards are, we need never be far removed from the correct ones," he said.
Looking to the righteous examples in the scriptures, along with the words of modern prophets, are the most important standards to live by, Brother Farnsworth said.
Just as a machine or instrument needs maintenance, so do individuals' testimonies.
"We require frequent and regular reference to good quality standards to keep ourselves spiritually calibrated," he said. "Our weekly sacrament meeting attendance and daily scripture reading and personal prayer all serve as protection against short-term spiritual drift."
Not only are good standards protection against spiritual drifts, they also give direction in times of need, Brother Farnsworth said.
"In the course of a lifetime, each of us will face challenges and difficult questions for which there is no obvious spiritual precedent," he said. "They will be questions relating to our professions, our families, or our Church service. We can take comfort in the knowledge that we are entitled to personal revelation through the gift of the Holy Ghost. …
"The admonitions that we receive from our leaders to attend Church, pray, read the scriptures and remain worthy of the influence of the Holy Ghost can be viewed as reminders to regularly correct our courses by reference to divine standards."