If you’re familiar with Dallin H. Oaks, you know he is nothing if not certain when he speaks. As the senior apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some might even describe him as intimidating. I have felt that too, until about a year ago when I heard him being interviewed, alongside his wife, on a podcast. Hearing him speak freely, as opposed to giving a speech, humanized him to me. It was then I had new respect for the man.
Life’s Lessons Learned, published in 2011, is a book with a simple format. President Oaks (he is called “president” because of his current Church calling in the First Presidency) shares different events from his life and the outcomes of those events. The oldest of three children raised by a single mother after his father died of tuberculosis when he was 11, Dallin H. Oaks is the definition of self-made. Trained as an attorney, his legal resume is very impressive. However, the majority of his adulthood has been devoted to Church service, and it will be that way for the rest of his life.
The book is divided up into three chronological sections, each with brief experiences and the lessons learned from them. The sum of its parts being that anything we go through, good or bad, has something to teach us. The more self-aware person will take that information and apply it. Sometimes the lessons come from observing others as well.
There are many wonderful things to glean from the book, but I think my favorite was the one on “labeling.” Here is an excerpt:
“We should be careful not to label or define ourselves (or others) by some temporary quality. The only single quality that should characterize us is that each of us is a son or daughter of God. That fact transcends all other characteristics….
“When we choose to define or label ourselves (or others) by some characteristic that is temporary or trivial in eternal terms, we de-emphasize what is most important about us (or them) and overemphasize what is relatively unimportant. This label can lead us down the wrong path and hinder our eternal progress.”
I could not help but think about recent events and run this section through that particular filter. Lately it feels like excessive labeling (and generalizing) is leading to society’s downfall.
That is only one of many examples, all taken from his own life. President Oaks will be the first to tell you he is not perfect, something he freely admits. But he also shares ways he and all of us can improve, both from a spiritual perspective and from Life’s lessons.
His writing is clear and well-organized–the kind of intuitive organization I appreciate. I recommend this book and look forward to reading more.