Revisiting Good, Better, Best

Note: I know this is long, but I put a lot of thought into it and would appreciate feedback.

During the last General Conference, Elder Oaks presented a talk titled “Good, Better, Best.” I came away with a very positive opinion towards this talk and found its message very comforting and somewhat of a departure from traditional LDS teachings during the past 20 years. Over the past 6 months, however, I have heard other church members refer to Elder Oaks’ talk during church meetings or in casual conversation, and it has become clear that they had a very different impression of what Elder Oaks was trying to say than I had. After reviewing Elder Oaks words a second time, I feel like he was sending somewhat of a mixed message. Let me explain a little bit, and then I would appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

Elder Oaks presents the idea that there are many more good activities than we have time to complete during this life, so we should be certain we are participating in the best activities. He gives several examples of good, better, and best activities. Most of his examples follow a simple pattern: there are three activities, one is good, one is better, and one is best. We should forego the good activities to make time to participate in the best activities.

For example, he recounts how Jesus commended Mary for choosing not to involve herself in the good activity of housework, instead choosing the best activity of listening to the savior. He cautions against the “overscheduling” of childrens activities and suggests that children should forego some good activities to ensure that there is enough time for the best activities involved in spending more time with family. He encourages us to reduce the amount of time we spend on good activities like television, surfing the internet, or playing video games, to make additional time for families.

Elder Oaks even applies this thinking to church meetings, activities, and callings. He states that “Church meetings and activities can become too complex and burdensome if a ward or stake tries to have the membership do everything that is good and possible in our numerous Church programs. Priorities are needed there also.” He encourages us to simplify our callings, ensuring that the essentials are accomplished, but allowing some good activities to fall by the wayside so as not to overwhelm or overburden ourselves and others. For example, he encourages Sunday School teachers to teach simple lessons consisting of quotes from the selected manual and classroom discussions, suggesting that to do more, or supplement with other good materials, would not be the best option. Elder Oaks even states the following: “Suppose Church leaders reduce the time required by Church meetings and activities in order to increase the time available for families to be together. This will not achieve its intended purpose unless individual family members – especially parents – vigorously act to increase family togetherness and one-on-one time.” Again, this is an example of giving up something good to pursue the best option.

As I re-read the talk, however, I found at least two examples of good, better, and best that don’t seem to correlate with the other examples, and they appear to be the inspiration for the comments made during church that didn’t agree with my original understanding of his words. These examples seem to suggest that we pursue the best option in addition to (not instead of) the good option. For example, Oaks states that it is “good to hold a meeting, better to teach a principle, best to actually improve lives as a result of the meeting.” This is not an example of foregoing the good option to accomplish the best option. In this example, the best option cannot be accomplished without completing both the good and better options. The best option involves additional time, effort and thought beyond what would be required to simply accomplish the good option. Elder Oaks did not suggest canceling the meeting and instead finding a simpler way to accomplish the objectives.

Another example: “good to visit our assigned families, better to have a brief visit in which we teach doctrine and principle, best to make a difference in the lives of some of those we visit.” Again, he isn’t suggesting that instead of visiting families or teaching principles, we find some other way to make a difference. In fact, he is more likely suggesting that we visit our families, and teach principles, and make a difference in their lives, which likely requires much more time, effort, and thought than simply making a monthly visit.

These two examples don’t seem to correlate with my original interpretation of the talk, and leave me a little unsure of his intent. I might be mincing words here, though. I hope and suspect that what Elder Oaks was trying to say in these two examples is that the best options don’t need to be elaborate or taxing. I suspect he’s trying to encourage us to find very simple ways of improving our home teaching and improving the quality of our meetings without it becoming taxing or burdensome. Is he suggesting that the best way to improve the quality of our meetings or the effectiveness is through simplifying our approach? Perhaps. Such an interpretation would be more in line with the rest of the talk. However, the comments I have heard during church that have referenced this talk have assumed a “more is better” approach.

For example, my current bishop said something along the lines of “good is attending the temple, better is attending the temple with members of your ward on the designated temple night, best is attending the temple with members of your ward on the designated temple night and completing work for those whose genealogical details you have compiled and submitted on your own.” In his example, the best option clearly requires more work and effort beyond the good option. I’m not sure if this is an appropriate application of elder Oaks’ words or not.

QUERY: Do you think the two examples I’ve cited from his talk are in agreement with the rest of his words and intent?

QUERY: Do you think the comment I heard from my bishop appropriately applies the good, better, best theme as proposed by Elder Oaks?

5 comments to Revisiting Good, Better, Best

  • My impression was your first interpretation of the talk. In regards to your second query, I think that is a poor extension of the principle. I would agree that going to the temple with names that you prepared is better than just going to the temple. I understand the idea behind ward temple days – you can go and serve with fellow members of the ward and fellowship with them. I enjoyed going with the singles when in Dinkytown, but we have yet to go to the temple on a ward day (probably because we worked at the temple for the majority of the time we've been married and didn't feel the need to go an additional time). It seems that your ward member is just really pushing ward temple day. I'm not convinced that going on ward temple day is any better than going on any other day of the week/month/year. But then, this is cynical old me writing.

    I personally haven't heard anyone use the good, better, best phrases in church.

  • Perhaps Elder Oaks is suggesting that once we have determined what the best activities are, we should try to put more energy into those. Maybe if we weed out the good activities and focus on the best ones we will have more time to do more for the best ones? I don't know, just throwing out another idea.

    I'm still not sure what the rules for determining the BEST activities are though, but I do find it comforting to hear the leadership of the church acknowledge that members do feel pressured to participate in all the church activies and that the phrase "maximize your calling" often makes members feel guilty that they are not making more sacrifices to do more for their callings.

  • Rory

    My answer to your first question is that both examples seem consistent with the overall message of his talk, just applied differently. I came away from that talk feeling like his point was to look at the bigger picture and shift priorities accordingly. In one setting, the "best" choice may indeed replace a good one, whereas in another, the "best" may simply be doing a little extra, to get a lot more mileage out of what good choice you made anyways. I also felt like Elder Oaks was making the point that some decisions may be best for one person, but not so for another. People are at different phases in their lives, and thus, different priorities must take the lead. The "best" decision for a young, married, sunday school teacher who is a new father may be to spend Saturday night engaged in family activities. 40 years later, that same teacher is now retired and has no children at home, so his "best" decision may be to put a little extra into his lesson, or attend the ward temple night with his spouse.

    So I guess my answer to your second question is that I think that ward member may be correct in referencing the talk to motivate him/herself, but should be careful when using it to motivate others to attend and prepare names. The bishop of my ward in NY has used the talk in reference to the time we spend in meetings, and to encourage us to cut each other some slack, ie "judge not" if a meeting or activity is missed.

    My personal feeling is that Elder Oaks was trying to convey a message that would cause each of us to individually reflect on our responsibilities and priorities, and make a shift towards making the "best" decisions that will help us fulfill them, and eliminate the watse. That being said, one man's "waste" may be another's "best," so we can't enforce our priorities on another person.

  • Thanks for everybody's input.

    Rory, I like your analysis of how the member of my ward used the good, better, best comparison. and you've raised important questions about who gets to determine what is good, better, or best that I may choose to address in another post in the future.

    At any rate, this is my favorite GC talk from the past conference.

  • Follow Up: Upon reading the article a third time, I noticed that Elder Oaks says the following at the very beginning of his talk:

    "Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all."