In first BYU devotional of the year, President Worthen discusses a trait that ‘will change your life dramatically’

In his first address to students during a new semester and a new year, BYU President Kevin J Worthen spoke of a trait that, if adopted and refined, “will change your life dramatically,” he promised. 

This trait will aid students in their academic work, enhance their social relationships and prepare them for future leadership roles, President Worthen said. Most importantly, it will help them remain in the covenant path that leads to the fulfillment of their eternal destiny as children of heavenly parents.

What is this trait? The answer may be surprising, President Worthen told listeners. “Humility is one of the most underappreciated virtues in contemporary society, which devotes so much attention to self-promotion. Yet, over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in scholarly research about the positive impact humility has on people’s ability to learn, lead and relate to others.”

Speaking from the Marriott Center on BYU campus on Jan. 4, President Worthen cited several scholarly studies that show humility can help individuals develop academic, social and leadership skills. 

To explain what humility is, he quoted June Tangney’s list of six central features of humility: “1. an accurate assessment of oneself; 2. acknowledgment of one’s mistakes and limitations; 3. openness to other viewpoints and ideas; 4. keeping one’s accomplishments and abilities in perspective; 5. low self-focus; and 6. appreciating the value of all things, including other people.”

Humility is critical not only to individual success but also to BYU’s institutional success, President Worthen said. 

“As I hope all of you know, one of our current goals and challenges is to create an environment of belonging in which our hearts are knit together in love, and in which all feel a part of the community. In essence, we are trying to create Zion — or at least, a Zion-like society. 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.”

Read more: BYU President Worthen shares his vision for how to create a community of belonging, with ‘hearts knit together in love’

President Worthen quoted a talk given by President Ezra Taft Benson, who taught, “Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.” Later in the same talk, President Benson noted: “Another face of pride is contention. Arguments, fights, unrighteous dominion, generation gaps, divorces, spouse abuse, riots and disturbances all fall into this category of pride.”

And if the root is pride then the antidote is humility.

During a leadership summit last April, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged university leaders to strike at the root of important issues by focusing “on the spiritual and practical substance of solutions and not just on superficial symbolism.”

“I believe we can begin to fulfill that charge by individually and collectively working to develop and apply the qualities of Christ-like humility,” President Worthen said at the Tuesday devotional. “Doing so will help us eliminate the pride that is the root cause of contention and the primary barrier to establishing a Zion-like campus community.”

Humility will more than improve academic, dating and career success, or provide insight into campus challenges. “In the long run, our individual eternal destiny depends on our humility,” President Worthen noted.

Christ promised that He would “make weak things become strong unto” (Ether 12:27) those who humble themselves, that He would give them “answers to [their] prayers” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:10) and that “inasmuch as they [are] humble they might be made strong, and bless[ed] from on high and receive knowledge from time to time” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:28).

BYU President Kevin J Worthen speaks during the first devotional of the winter semester, in the Marriott Center on BYU campus in Provo, Utah, on Jan. 4, 2022.
BYU President Kevin J Worthen speaks during the first devotional of the winter semester, in the Marriott Center on BYU campus in Provo, Utah, on Jan. 4, 2022. Credit: Brooklynn Jarvis

President Worthen then showed how each of the six characteristics of humility in academia is given deeper meaning when viewed through a gospel lens.

“For example, from a gospel perspective, the humility that manifests itself by accurately assessing ourselves will not only help us identify our weaknesses, it will also help us understand our divine potential. This understanding, along with the promised help of the Savior, gives us confidence that we can overcome those weaknesses,” he said.

Similarly, when individuals have the humility to acknowledge their own mistakes and limitations, it functions as a key component of the repentance process on which ultimate exaltation is dependent, President Worthen explained.

Being open to other viewpoints and ideas includes openness to insights that come through divine revelation. The humility that is evidenced by keeping one’s accomplishments and abilities in perspective likewise emphasizes that all are dependent on the Lord for all their accomplishments. By focusing less on one’s self and more on others, individuals will experience the refining and exalting power of service. And appreciating the value of other people will help individuals understand and keep the second great commandment to love others, each of whom are also beloved children of God, President Worthen said.

God will, at times, humble individuals, hoping that the experience will cause them to change, he noted. “But in the long run, the result is up to us. We must choose for ourselves to be humble. … It is when we voluntarily submit our will to His, when we choose to humble ourselves, that God can turn the temporal kind of humility which academic scholars have examined into an eternal transformational attribute that becomes part of our permanent nature,” President Worthen said.

Willingness to submit to God’s will — or to “let God prevail” as President Russell M. Nelson has said — “is the single best definition of what true humility is.” 

In the same “remarkable” talk, President Benson listed specific ways individuals can humble themselves: by esteeming their brothers and sisters as themselves, by receiving counsel and chastisement, by forgiving those who have offended, by rendering selfless service, by preaching the word, by going to the temple and by confessing and forsaking sins.

Students gather in the Marriott Center at BYU in Provo, Utah, to listen to remarks by BYU President Kevin J Worthen and his wife, Sister Peggy Worthen, in the first devotional of the new semester, on Jan. 4, 2022.
Students gather in the Marriott Center at BYU in Provo, Utah, to listen to remarks by BYU President Kevin J Worthen and his wife, Sister Peggy Worthen, in the first devotional of the new semester, on Jan. 4, 2022. Credit: Brooklynn Jarvis, BYU photo

To President Benson’s list, President Worthen added, “We can choose to humble ourselves by consciously and consistently responding to President Nelson’s urgent plea to ‘make time for the Lord … each and every day’” (October 2021 general conference).

President Worthen concluded: “My prayer and plea for you, as you start this new semester, is that you choose to humble yourselves in all your endeavors, that you choose to be open to new ideas, including those that come by revelation, that you fully and accurately recognize your individual talents and potential as literal offspring of heavenly parents, that you recognize that same divinity in every other person with whom you interact, that you avoid contention, that you love and serve others, and most of all — that you come to know the Savior more by making time for Him each and every day. As you do so, you will develop the powerful and exalting Christ-like characteristic of humility, and, as a result, your life will be more full of joy.”

In her remarks to students, BYU first lady Peggy Worthen shared a story of a woman who had unjustly ascribed guilt to a man, only to find out later that she was the one who was in the wrong and it was too late to apologize.

“Can you relate to this story?” Sister Worthen asked. “Have you ever had an experience in which you harshly judged someone and then learned that you were seriously mistaken — and that it was too late to apologize for the error you made?”

She then shared three suggestions to help avoid or respond to such situations.

First, be slow to ascribe to others bad intent. “If we learn to look at situations from a perspective of charity or good faith, we can avoid experiencing the feelings of guilt and regret that arise when we are too quick or too harsh in forming our opinions.”

Second, misinterpretations and misunderstandings happen. “Sometimes we spend too much time focusing exclusively on the things that we did wrong …,” Sister Worthen pointed out. “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.”

Third, diligently keep focus on the Savior. “He can help us avoid misjudgments, and He can help us improve and overcome all our mistakes and weaknesses,” she said.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen and his wife, Sister Peggy Worthen, site on the stand prior to offering remarks during the first devotional of the new semester, in the Marriott Center on BYU campus in Provo, Utah, on Jan. 4, 2022.
BYU President Kevin J Worthen and his wife, Sister Peggy Worthen, site on the stand prior to offering remarks during the first devotional of the new semester, in the Marriott Center on BYU campus in Provo, Utah, on Jan. 4, 2022. Credit: Brooklynn Jarvis, BYU photo