“The Quest for Excellence,” Ensign, Sept. 1999, 2–5.
President Hinckley calls on us to stand a little taller, rise a little higher, and be a little better.
We are all children of God, and there is something of His divinity within each of us. We are of the family of God, with such a tremendous potential for excellence.
I want to invite us all to walk a higher road of excellence. Recently I read Lytton Strachey’s Life of Florence Nightingale. I had read it once before, but my rereading brought a new sense of admiration and respect for this great young woman of England.
She was born to the upper class, to party and to dance, to go to the races and look pretty in society. But she would have none of it. Her great desire was to [relieve] pain and suffering, to hasten healing, to make less dreadful the hospitals of the day. She devoted herself to nursing and became expert according to the training then available.
Britain became embroiled in the Crimean War, and she was appointed head of the hospital in Scutari, where thousands of the victims of the war were brought.
The picture that greeted her here was one of absolute despair. An old warehouse served as a hospital. Wounded men were crowded in great rooms that reeked of foul odors and were filled with the cries of the suffering.
This frail young woman, with those she had recruited, set to work. I quote from Mr. Strachey: “Wherever, in those vast wards suffering was at its worst and the need for help was greatest, there, as if by magic, was Miss Nightingale.”
The beds that held the suffering men stretched over four miles, with barely space between each bed to walk. But somehow, within a period of six months, “the confusion and the pressure in the wards had come to an end; order reigned in them, and cleanliness. … The rate of [death] among the cases treated had fallen from 42 per [hundred] to 22 per thousand (Life of Florence Nightingale , 1186).
She had brought to pass an absolute miracle. Lives by the thousands were saved. Suffering was [reduced]. Cheer and warmth and light came into the lives of men who otherwise would have died in that dark and dreadful place.
Perhaps no other woman in the history of the world has done so much to reduce human misery as this lady with the lamp.
You will find your greatest example in the Son of God. I hope that each of you will make Him your friend. I hope you will strive to walk in His paths, extending mercy, blessing those who struggle, living with less selfishness, reaching out to others.
The prophet Moroni declared, “In the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way” (Ether 12:11). You have the witness of that faith. You have the testimony of that faith. You have the example of that faith. Let us all try to stand a little taller, rise a little higher, be a little better. Make the extra effort. You will be happier.