The basic story about not inhaling is part of a talk on pride.
When I was called as a General Authority, I was blessed to be tutored by many of the senior Brethren in the Church. One day I had the opportunity to drive President James E. Faust to a stake conference. During the hours we spent in the car, President Faust took the time to teach me some important principles about my assignment. He explained also how gracious the members of the Church are, especially to General Authorities. He said, “They will treat you very kindly. They will say nice things about you.” He laughed a little and then said, “Dieter, be thankful for this. But don’t you ever inhale it.”
That is a good lesson for us all, brethren, in any calling or life situation. We can be grateful for our health, wealth, possessions, or positions, but when we begin to inhale it—when we become obsessed with our status; when we focus on our own importance, power, or reputation; when we dwell upon our public image and believe our own press clippings—that’s when the trouble begins; that’s when pride begins to corrupt.
Before that talk were ones that President Kimball and Elder Evans gave about being elected to office in Rotary Club and how they realized that people praised them not for themselves but merely for the office, something that would be there for a year and then gone when the praise would move on to the next president.
But we don’t really talk about the full meaning of “don’t you ever inhale it.” This is more true now that inhaling is used to winnow potential leaders.
- The first layer of not inhaling is whether or not people start to believe that they deserve things. Their office, the praise, additional callings. Those who start to buy into that have inhaled. Think of every stake president you’ve known who was making plans to become a general authority and was nonplussed when the call did not happen.
- The second part of “don’t inhale” is not to be flushed with the feeling of being one of the “cool kids.” To inhale the praise and attention from those you would like to have as peers. Many good leaders cannot avoid that feeling and it often separates area authorities who succeed from those who fail.
- The third party of “don’t inhale” is to not be affected by criticism. From Bruce R. McConkie (who dealt with people constantly criticizing him for drinking cocoa and eating white bread) to more recent leaders, all leaders deal with a flood of criticism. Engaging a critic will draw more criticism (as you will be perceived as accessible). Anything a leader does, from the choice of which tie to wear to what food they eat to more substantive matters will draw criticism and they are trained to ignore it as just part of the background noise.
- It is only at four layers in that we get to being obsessed with importance, power, or reputation — with press releases and praise — that we get to what is normally thought of as “do not inhale.”
- The fifth layer is being filled with a sense of one’s own correctness. The thought that they way God communicates with you, as limited by your own language, knowledge and flaws, is the complete and superior truth. That others are the blind men, but you see the elephant. That blocks one from revelation and limits the flow of inspiration to things that are already within your understanding.
I hope that understanding the full scope of “do not inhale” helps you to understand something about the Church and how it functions.
There are many good things about the instruction not to inhale and many good things about filtering leaders for those who do not inhale. However, it also makes them very resistant to any input outside of the in group or society of leaders they are a part of. Neither praise, nor popularity, nor criticism generally will penetrate. The good is that they are not pushed to and fro by every wind of popular thought or publicity. However, it also creates a layer of isolation.
It also makes for interesting dynamics in that it not only isolates leaders somewhat, it also makes the members feel isolated from their leaders (much like happens in any group with millions of members), especially with general authorities no longer regularly speaking in stake conferences. The regional broadcast stake conferences are one of the efforts to reverse that.
The layer of isolation also makes most protest movements (a term that includes anything that is intended to change current practice or policy) extremely ineffective. They are seen primarily as protest movements regardless of what they intend themselves to be (e.g. when Ordain Women attempted to get seating at the Priesthood Session). It is a dynamic that is often unappreciated and that does not reward either confrontational approaches and name calling (which is just brushed off as more criticism) or any approach that is not long ranged, steady and wide spread.
Worth thinking about.