"There are those today who say that man is the result of his environment and cannot rise above it. Those who justify mediocrity, failure, and even weakness and criminality are certainly misguided. Surely the environmental conditions found in childhood and youth are an influence of power. But the fact remains that every normal soul has its free agency and the power to row against the current and to lift himself to new planes of activity and thought and development. Man can transform himself. Man must transform himself....
"Self-mastery, then, is the key, and every person should study his own life, his own desires and wants and cravings, and bring them under control.
"Man can transform himself and he must. Man has in himself the seeds of godhood, which can germinate and grow and develop. As the acorn becomes the oak, the mortal man becomes a god. It is within his power to lift himself by his very bootstraps from the plane on which he finds himself to the plane on which he should be. It may be a long, hard lift with many obstacles, but it is a real possibility....
"As we have stated before, the way to perfection seems to be a changing of one's life—to substitute the good for the evil in every case. Changes can come best if we take one item at a time. For instance, it's not difficult to be perfect in tithe paying, for if one pays one-tenth of his income annually, he is perfect in that respect. It is not difficult to become perfect in avoiding a swearing habit, for if one locks his mouth against all words of cursing, he is en route to perfection in that matter. If one studies the scriptures with all reasonable devotion, he has approached the perfection in that matter also."
- Spencer W. Kimball, "Be Ye Therefore Perfect," BYU Devotional, September 17, 1974
Click here to read or listen to the full talk
"That's how I am, and I can't help it." I've heard those words spoken, and probably have thought them about myself on occasion. We are tempted to "justify mediocrity" and shortcomings by blaming our inherent nature or character, or pointing to patterns developed in our upbringing. And President Kimball acknowledges that "environmental conditions" impact who we are; but he rejects the idea that we can't change or overcome those tendencies. We can, we must, transform ourselves, lifting above the limitations we imagine are there.
So one key suggestion he offers is for each person to "study his own life, his own desires and wants and cravings, and bring them under control." Sincere personal evaluation will identify tendencies or character traits that might not be appropriate; we can then work to change the direction and achieve self-mastery. This is a process that should be ongoing throughout our lives!
Perfection will only come through change—learning to "substitute the good for the evil in every case." President Kimball finds strength in doing those changes one at a time; gradual and continual progress will, over time, bring about the transformation we all seek, and keep us moving along the road to perfection.
(Compilation and commentary by David Kenison, Orem, Utah, 2017)