Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Attempting the Impossible

This entry is part of my general conference application series.

Attempting the Impossible, by Elder Jorge F. Zeballos
Of the Seventy

As an undergrad at BYU, I took an great course on ethics in engineering—it really helped open my eyes on many aspects of life (not just engineering). I have often remembered one small example of one lecture of one module in one class. It was the story of Genichi Taguchi and the Taguchi principle.

From what I remember (without extensive review), Taguchi introduced in Japan a different view of acceptability in manufacturing (than what we still use, largely, in this country). My brief summary is that he set sights on perfection, as opposed to simply being within a specified tolerance.

For example, pretend you need a screw, say, of a certain size to help make something air- and water-tight. If the screw is too big, it won't fit in the hole. If it is too small, it might let fluid leak out. Under this scenario, would you rather purchase the screw from a company that specified acceptability based on the measured size falling within a tolerance (e.g. 10 mm, plus-or-minus 0.25 mm), or from a company that consistently changed its methods in order to more closely meet the desired size?

In the first case, screws coming off the manufacturing line are considered equally "perfect" if they are 10 mm, 10.25 mm, or 9.75 mm (or anywhere in between these values). The parts' size in the second case have a higher probability of being 10 mm, and only parts measured 10 mm are deemed "perfect."

The Taguchi principle, of course, follows the second case.

When I think of the requirements of the gospel, which Elder Zeballos expounded, I'm reminded of the Taguchi principle. The command to be perfect (see Matt. 5:48 and/or 3 Ne. 12:48) isn't classified as being perfect, plus or minus so many sins—perfect is perfect.

As Elder Zeballos rightly reminds: "From a purely human point of view, at first this seems to be an impossible task." He then spends the rest of his address reminding that because of the Atonement of Christ, we can be made perfect, "subject only to total and sincere repentance."

He also provides encouragement with this explanatory definition:

The Lord does not expect that we do what we cannot achieve. The command to become perfect, as He is, encourages us to achieve the best of ourselves, to discover and develop the talents and attributes with which we are blessed by a loving Eternal Father, who invites us to realize our potential as children of God.

As I read Elder Zeballos' explanation of what God requires, I was strongly reminded of the Taguchi principle. See if you do, too:

God will not require more than the best we can give because that would not be just, but neither can He accept less than that because that would not be just either.

Understandably, many people are entirely uncomfortable with the idea of having to be "perfect." (Perhaps this is why so many [falsely] think that God allows the biggest tolerances imaginable.) Perhaps being absolutely aware of this, Elder Zeballos continues with the following reassurance and clarification:

Therefore, let us always give the best we can in the service of God and our fellowmen. Let us serve in our families and in our callings in the Church in the best manner possible. Let us do the best we can and each day be a little better. ... Yes, it is possible to achieve eternal life. Yes, it is possible to be happy now and forever.

In my personal quest for perfection, I hope I can successfully set my sights high (to Christ) instead of lulling myself into feelings of safety in the broad Valley of Tolerance—thinking that I don't really have to do much more, that my past efforts are sufficient (compare to 2 Ne. 28:21).

It's fun to think of the Taguchi principle in optimizing things in life, but it's more joyful to think of the "Savior function," and how it applies to our Father's perfect plan for the perfection of his children.

0 thoughts