The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday is the simple fact that self-reliance and freedom are connected. Self-reliance is a basic welfare principle. Holy prophets have taught the simple truths contained in the welfare principles since the world began. The more self-reliant we are, the less we need help from anyone, including the government. Self-reliance has an impact in every area of our lives, including our spiritual development. A self-reliant person has the capacity to earn his or her own way.
President Marion G. Romney, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke about self-reliance in an address entitled “The Celestial Nature of Self-reliance” in 1982 President Romney explained that prophets have taught self-reliance since the beginning of this world. “The Lord places so much emphasis on this principle because it is tied so closely to freedom itself.” He quoted Elder Albert E. Bowen, “The Lord must want and intend that His people shall be free of constraint whether enforceable or only arising out of the bindings of conscience. … That is why the Church is not satisfied with any system which leaves able people permanently dependent, and insists, on the contrary, that the true function and office of giving, is to help people [get] into a position where they can help themselves and thus be free.” (The Church Welfare Plan, Gospel Doctrine manual, 1946, p.77.)
President Romney continued his address by stating that “many programs have been set up by well-meaning individuals to aid those who are in need. However, many of these programs are designed with the shortsighted objective of `helping people,’ as opposed to `helping people help themselves.’ Our efforts must always be directed toward making able-bodied people self-reliant.”
To emphasize his point, President Romney told a story from the Reader’s Digest about sea gulls. “In our friendly neighbor city of St. Augustine great flocks of sea gulls are starving amid plenty. Fishing is still good, but the gulls don’t know how to fish. For generations they have depended on the shrimp fleet to toss them scraps from the nets. Now the fleet has moved. …
“The shrimpers had created a Welfare State for the … sea gulls. The big birds never bothered to learn how to fish for themselves and they never taught their children to fish. Instead they led their little ones to the shrimp nets.
“Now the sea gulls, the fine free birds that almost symbolize liberty itself, are starving to death because they gave in to the `something for nothing’ lure! They sacrificed their independence for a handout.
“A lot of people are like that, too. They see nothing wrong in picking delectable scraps from the tax nets of the U.S. Government’s `shrimp fleet.’ But what will happen when the Government runs out of goods? What about our children of generations to come?
“Let’s not be gullible gulls. We … must preserve our talents of self-sufficiency, our genius for creating things for ourselves, our sense of thrift and our true love of independence.” (“Fable of the Gullible Gull,” Reader’s Digest, Oct. 1950, p. 32.)
President Romney continued, “The practice of coveting and receiving unearned benefits has now become so fixed in our society that even men of wealth, possessing the means to produce more wealth, are expecting the government to guarantee them a profit. Elections often turn on what the candidates promise to do for voters from government funds. This practice, if universally accepted and implemented in any society, will make slaves of its citizens.
“We cannot afford to become wards of the government, even if we have a legal right to do so. It requires too great a sacrifice of self-respect and in political, temporal, and spiritual independence.
“In some countries it is extremely difficult to separate earned from unearned benefits. However, the principle is the same in all countries: We should strive to become self-reliant and not depend on others for our existence.”
President Romney explained that governments are not the only “guilty parties” who make “gullible gulls” out of others. Parents who are too “permissive” and give from the family resources without requiring effort from their children are failing to teach their children self-reliance. Church leaders can also be guilty of making “gullible gulls” out of the members of their church by allowing their members to become financially and emotionally dependent on them.
Even though we do not have much control over what the government does, but “we can control our own homes and congregations.” We must understand that “a dole is a dole whatever its source.” We should make sure that all of our “actions [are] directed toward making our children and others self-reliant. We can live and teach self-reliance principles and “do much to counter the negative effects which may exist in government programs in any country.”
President Romney knew – and I realize – that there are some people who cannot become self-reliant. President Romney included the following quote from President Henry D. Moyle: “This great principle does not deny to the needy nor to the poor the assistance they should have. The wholly incapacitated, the aged, [and] the sickly are cared for with all tenderness, but every able-bodied person is enjoined to do his utmost for himself to avoid dependence, if his own efforts can make such a course possible; to look upon adversity as temporary; to combine his faith in his own ability with honest toil; to rehabilitate himself and his family to a position of independence; in every case to minimize the need for help and to supplement any help given with his own best efforts.
“We believe [that] seldom [do circumstances arise in which] men of rigorous faith, genuine courage, and unfaltering determination, with the love of independence burning in their hearts, and pride in their own accomplishments, cannot surmount the obstacles that lie in their paths.
“We know that through humble, prayerful, industrious, God-fearing lives, a faith can be developed within us by the strength of which we can call down the blessings of a kind and merciful Heavenly Father and literally see our handicaps vanish and our independence and freedom established and maintained.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 5.)
Then President Romney stated, “Self-reliance is not the end, but a means to an end. It is very possible for a person to be completely independent and lack every other desirable attribute. One may become wealthy and never have to ask anyone for anything, but unless there is some spiritual goal attached to this independence, it can canker his soul."
After stating that the “welfare program is spiritual,” President Romney quoted President David O. McKay, “The development of our spiritual nature should concern us most. Spirituality is the highest acquisition of the soul, the divine in man; `the supreme, crowning gift that makes him king of all created things.’ It is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the infinite. It is spirituality alone which really gives one the best in life.
“It is something to supply clothing to the scantily clad, to furnish ample food to those whose table is thinly spread, to give activity to those who are fighting desperately the despair that comes from enforced idleness, but after all is said and done, the greatest blessings that will accrue from the Church [welfare program] are spiritual. Outwardly, every act seems to be directed toward the physical: re-making of dresses and suits of clothes, canning fruits and vegetables, storing foodstuffs, choosing of fertile fields for settlement – all seem strictly temporal, but permeating all these acts, inspiring and sanctifying them, is the element of spirituality.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 103.)
President Romney continued by stating that “self-reliance is a prerequisite to the complete freedom to act” [but] “there is nothing spiritual in self-reliance unless we make the right choices with that freedom….”
When we are self-reliant, we have the freedom to make many choices. Once we have secured the necessities of life for ourselves and our family, we are then free to help and serve others. Service to others is one way we can bring more spirituality into our own lives. We know that the Lord expects us to help others, and we should willingly and lovingly do so.
President Romney said, “We lose our life by serving and lifting others. By so doing we experience the only true and lasting happiness. Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”
Becoming self-reliant is prerequisite to service. We cannot give food to the hungry from an empty pantry or clothes to the naked from an empty closet. We cannot give money to the needy from an empty purse. We cannot give understanding and support if we are emotionally needy ourselves, and we cannot give spiritual guidance if we are spiritually empty.
President Romney said, “There is an interdependence between those who have and those who have not. The process of giving exalts the poor and humbles the rich. In the process, both are sanctified. The poor, released from the bondage and limitations of poverty, are enabled as free men to rise to their full potential, both temporally and spiritually. The rich, by imparting of their surplus, participate in the eternal principle of giving. Once a person has been made whole or self-reliant, he reaches out to aid others, and the cycle repeats itself.
“We are all self-reliant in some areas and dependent in others. Therefore, each of us should strive to help others in areas where we have strengths. At the same time, pride should not prevent us from graciously accepting the helping hand of another when we have a real need. To do so denies another person the opportunity to participate in a sanctifying experience.”
I believe that we should all work towards becoming self-reliant. I also believe that any program – private or public – will lead to slavery if it does not encourage self-reliance. Just as the sea gulls became dependent on the shrimp fleet for their food, we can become slaves to others if we accept the bondage of dependency on government handouts or personal doles. None of us will ever be truly free until we are self-reliant.