Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Friend I Thought I Knew

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “A good example is the best sermon.” A person may be blessed with eloquence in speaking; they may be able to convey in words alone that which is of most meaning to them. These are gifts, to be sure. However, if a person does not embrace by their actions that which they speak, it is almost as if they never spoke those words in the first place. Another Benjamin, my close friend Benjamin Steig, embodies those precious words spoken by Franklin. He is fully capable of speaking about any given subject, but more often than not, the way he lives and carries himself demonstrates who he really is. I’ve known Ben since I was nine, and we’ve shared many experiences and laughs over the years. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are at least four people who know more about Ben than myself: His parents, his Heavenly Father, and him.
            Not everyone has understood or recognized Ben’s ability to stand up for his beliefs, especially in the face of immense pressure. Two instances from his life are worth mentioning. His mother told me about a common misconception people have about Ben: “Many people think that he is not tough enough for the real world.” Before his mission, Ben worked in Salem, OR at Taco Bell, sometimes during the late night shift. In the back of the kitchen, some fellow employees often used vulgar and cruel languages, something that Ben is very sensitive to. I would add that Ben is very sensitive to anything that he knows is wrong, and I consider that one of his great strengths. As to these employees and their swearing, it was difficult for Ben to listen to it on a nightly basis, especially considering that he was trying to foster good thoughts and habits in preparation for his mission. Eventually, Ben informed his supervisor that he was quitting the job because he could no longer stand to listen to such vulgar and immature language. He was mocked and ridiculed by these employees, one of whom was his own cousin. As his mom said, “They laughed at him and said that he would never make it in the real world.” Then came this valuable lesson from that experience: His boss asked him to come back and apologized for allowing such awful behavior. He knew that Ben was a devout member of the Church and was working there so he could have money for his mission. This boss then shared with Ben that he too was LDS but hadn’t served a mission because he gave in to pressure situations, and he was grateful that Ben had the resolve to defend himself and his beliefs. Ben agrees with that assessment: “The most difficult aspect in my life has been overcoming my own self doubt, and believing in myself. Sometimes when you feel like you are walking alone in life is when you are growing the most.”
A lot of people see meekness as weakness. Not the case. Meekness does not mean being a doormat; one definition of the word that I like is, “great power under restraint.” Jesus Christ is the greatest example of meekness; He had plenty of moments during His life where He was surrounded by pressure, especially people who wanted to kill Him. He never backed down from what His purpose was, nor from any of the things He taught, particularly by example. Likewise, He never lost control of a situation, but still could demonstrate righteous indignation, particularly when casting the money-changers out of the temple. Ben is much the same way; he seldom raises his voice or loses his temper, but he is not afraid to tell someone when they are wrong.
            The second story that demonstrates Ben’s ability to hold up under pressure happened when he was being interviewed for his Eagle Scout award. On the interview board were Ben’s leaders, who were LDS, and also a man who was not. This man, Ben said, “Started asking me some pretty tough questions, that to some might seem pretty touchy and almost too personal. I'm not going to lie, I felt very uncomfortable and very nervous.” One question and comment from the man made the situation especially tense. This man said to Ben, “I'm not sure that you know who really are. You seem like the person that only likes to please people." I would add here that nothing could be further from the truth. This is a common misconception that I’ve noticed about Ben: Some out there think that because he is such an enthusiastic and ambitious person(another great strength) that he is only acting like it so as to get attention. Ironically, these same individuals think that he is too quiet. It would be difficult to imagine how I might feel if I found out someone was assuming things like this about myself. When this man said that to Ben, he said that he sat there for what felt like eternity, unsure of what to say next. Finally, he spoke the first thing that came to his mind: “You are wrong. I know who I am. I am a son of God.” Ben said that the man’s whole countenance changed, and he spoke of how special a young man Ben really was. A good lesson, I believe, about not making assumptions or judgments about a person, especially when you hardly even know them.
            I mentioned Ben’s enthusiasm, and it bears repeating. His mom pointed out to me that he has always been this way, even before he was born. Her story below illustrates:
            “I remember before Ben was born I had impressions that a very excited little boy wanted to come NOW to earth. His older sister was only 9 months old when I started feeling these impressions.  I was not at all ready for another baby so soon.  As I tried to put these impressions to the back of my mind, they only intensified over the coming months. So much so that I knew without a doubt that this child was a boy, a happy excited boy, and he was connecting with me from the other side of the veil.  He was ready, and he was coming whether I was ready or not.  Sure enough, Benjamin was soon on his way. He was the sparkplug in our family… always excited, passionate about everything he did in his life… from coloring as a 2 year old, to riding his bike, to sports, to church, and friends..  This child of ours is unique… I felt his personality, his character before he was even conceived.  And I knew when he was very young that he would be a great example of love and service.”
            I believe it would be fair to say that Ben’s greatest demonstration of this love and service would be his mission to Mendoza, Argentina. Every missionary faces different challenges that they have to overcome. For Ben, it was the challenge of learning and mastering the Spanish language. The lesson that he learned is a lesson that I believe every sincere missionary comes to learn eventually: As long as you do your absolute best and then hand the rest over to the Lord, your efforts are acceptable to Him. I learned this while in Ohio and Kentucky, and Ben certainly learned it in a country thousands of miles from home and in an environment different from anything he had ever experienced. The end result was that he now has a great desire to teach Spanish to others; such was the Lord’s gift to Him for his obedience and righteous desire to do what the Lord wanted Him to do. This is something I’ve long admired about Ben, and anyone else for that matter. It is that when people are humble enough to recognize that life is not about them, and that the Lord only asks that we do our best and do it His way, each day is so much more enjoyable and rewarding. Likewise, you want to spend as much time as possible being around those people. It goes back to the point I made earlier: It’s how you live and not what you say that sets you apart and defines your character. One of my favorite quotes comes from William G. Jordan: “Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or for evil. The quiet, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what man really is, and not what he pretends to be.”
            When I asked both Ben and his mom about what is the most significant trend in Ben’s life, their answers were harmonious with each other. Like mother, like son; no big surprise. His mom’s words were, “He is able to take challenges where he feels overwhelmed and inadequate and turn them into strengths.  I have seen it over and over again in his 22 years.  His character has developed from his biggest trials and his biggest fears.”
Ben’s response was, “I suppose that what has surprised me most is probably being able to adapt to change. I've often struggled in my life with big changes, but somehow I've always been able to work through it all and adapt in a positive way. One trend has been going after what I really want in life. Many times I've had to step outside of my ‘bubble’ and do things that seemed challenging to me. Those things in turn made me a stronger person today.”

At this stage of his life, Ben is now preparing for what promises to be his greatest challenge, but the one which will bring him the greatest growth and blessings possible. This past weekend, Ben was engaged to his girlfriend, Ashley. Of all the people in Ben’s life who have influenced him and helped him become who he is now, Ashley is the one who will complete him. All of these previous experiences I have shared, along with many others, have prepared Ben for this time. It’s amazing to me how much time is spent preparing for major events in life, and then all of a sudden it’s right there in front of you. Those opportunities, if you’re not prepared or looking for them, can and do pass by very quickly. Regret is the only thing that remains from such times. I am not concerned in the slightest for Ben. As I have attempted to show, he knows exactly who he is and where he wants to go. And with a future eternal companion at his side, along with many others helping him through life’s adventures, he will continue to demonstrate that he is unique from everyone else. Not because others expected it or because he tried to get attention for it, but simply because that is who Benjamin Randall Steig is: A son of God and of his earthly parents, a brother, a fiancé, a friend, and one who I am glad to call among my most influential people I have known. As Ben has often said, which he has also embodied, “You be the change you want to see in the world.” Great words spoken by the friend that I thought I knew.


  1. Wow Son. What a beautiful tribute to a dear friend. I cannot fully express my gratitude for the wonderful blessing good friends have been in the lives of my children. I am so glad that you have had Ben. I am so glad that Ben has had his parents, the Lord and you too. Nicely said.
    P.S. Did you interview Randy & Donna for this?

  2. Thanks Mom. I think it's the best paper I've written for my English class so far. I was able to talk with Sis. Steig about it, and as you can see, she shared some neat stuff.

  3. Wow what a great friend Ben is to have and interestingly we often choose friends who share our values and qualities. That would be true here aas well.

  4. I love your writing, Isaac! This is a really neat essay.