Viewpoint: The Costs of Vanity Are High
Contributed By the Church News
The Hebrew word for vanity is hebel. Its basic definition means breath, but it also refers to condensed breath such as the fleeting vapor that is seen on a cold winter’s day. Cold breath is seen, it captivates our interest, but in moments, it is gone.
The prophet Brigham Young taught: “Men are greedy for the vain things of this world. In their hearts they are covetous. It is true that the things of this world are designed to make us comfortable, and they make some people as happy as they can be here; but riches can never make the Latter-day Saints happy. Riches of themselves cannot produce permanent happiness; only the Spirit that comes from above can do that” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 237).
A well-known story in Greek mythology speaks of a mighty hunter named Narcissus. He was renowned for his beauty and was exceptionally proud of how he dealt with those who loved him. One day, he saw his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it. So captivated by the beauty of his reflection, he would not leave it, and eventually he died by the pool.
The fruits of vanity are in complete opposition to the two greatest commandments—to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (see Matthew 22:36–39). To recognize vanity in our own lives, it’s interesting to examine the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder. The Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of narcissism as:
• Believing that you’re better than others.
• Fantasizing about power, success, and attractiveness.
• Exaggerating your achievements or talents.
• Expecting constant praise and admiration.
• Believing that you’re special and acting accordingly.
• Failing to recognize other people’s emotions and feelings.
• Expecting others to go along with your ideas and plans.
• Taking advantage of others.
• Expressing disdain for those you feel are inferior.
• Being jealous of others.
• Believing that others are jealous of you.
• Having trouble keeping healthy relationships.
• Setting unrealistic goals.
• Being easily hurt and rejected.
• Having a fragile self-worth.
• Appearing as tough-minded or unemotional.
An angel of God gave a direct definition of the great and spacious building shown in a glorious vision to two prophets. This edifice of iniquity was described as follows: “And the large and spacious building, which thy father saw, is vain imaginations and the pride of the children of men” (1 Nephi 12:18). Vanity and pride are two peas in a pod. Both are equally dangerous.
In the October 2001 general conference, President Henry B. Eyring, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and now First Counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about the dangers of vanity: “God is forgotten out of vanity. A little prosperity and peace, or even a turn slightly for the better, can bring us feelings of self-sufficiency. We can feel quickly that we are in control of our lives, that the change for the better is our own doing, not that of a God who communicates to us through the still, small voice of the Spirit. Pride creates a noise within us which makes the quiet voice of the Spirit hard to hear. And soon, in our vanity, we no longer even listen for it. We can come quickly to think we don’t need it.”
The scriptures warn that vanity and pride can separate us from God’s will when we attempt to further our own will. The result is the loss of the Spirit, as is described in the Doctrine and Covenants: “But when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).
In a talk during the October 2011 general conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “The great deceiver knows that one of his most effective tools in leading the children of God astray is to appeal to the extremes of the paradox of man. To some, he appeals to their prideful tendencies, puffing them up and encouraging them to believe in the fantasy of their own self-importance and invincibility. He tells them they have transcended the ordinary and that because of ability, birthright, or social status, they are set apart from the common measure of all that surrounds them. He leads them to conclude that they are therefore not subject to anyone else’s rules and not to be bothered by anyone else’s problems.”
Scottish poet William Knox wrote:
Oh why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
Man passeth from life to his rest in the grave.
Those who spend their mortal probation pursuing the vain things of the world might find they have no place in the world to come. President Thomas S. Monson said: “Our beloved Savior beckons us to follow Him. The choice is ours. You will recall the rich young ruler who asked the Savior what he should do to have eternal life and, when told to sell his possessions and give to the poor, ‘went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions’ (Matthew 19:16–22).
“He preferred the comforts of earth to the treasures of heaven. He would not purchase the things of eternity by abandoning those of time. He made, as Dante calls it, ‘the great refusal.’ And so he vanishes from the gospel history, nor do the evangelists know anything of him further. His riches and many possessions had become his God” (BYU Women’s Conference, 2001).