5 And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings.
6 And he did erect him an exceedingly beautiful throne; and he did build many prisons, and whoso would not be subject unto taxes he did cast into prison; and whoso was not able to pay taxes he did cast into prison; and he did cause that they should labor continually for their support; and whoso refused to labor he did cause to be put to death.
7 Wherefore he did obtain all his fine work, yea, even his fine gold he did cause to be refined in prison; and all manner of fine workmanship he did cause to be wrought in prison. And it came to pass that he did afflict the people with his whoredoms and abominations.
8 And when he had reigned for the space of forty and two years the people did rise up in rebellion against him; and there began to be war again in the land, insomuch that Riplakish was killed, and his descendants were driven out of the land.
I’ve been thinking today about the effect positions of authority can have on people. I’m starting from the assumption that leadership roles are temporary. I may be a manager at work today, but tomorrow, someone else may be leading the team, and I may be contributing in another way. This is also true of church callings, where roles like bishop or relief society president are passed from one member of the ward to another over time. Government offices also generally have specific terms of service, and as the story of Riplakish demonstrates in the passage above, even the title of king may prove to be temporary.
What interests me today is this: assuming that positions of authority will end, what kind of relationship will a leader and a follower enjoy when their roles change? What effect does the role have on each of them and on their relationship with each other?
In the case of Riplakish, the effect was disastrous. Because he abused his position so shamelessly, and because he displayed so little empathy and respect for his people, they ultimately “[rose] up in rebellion against him.” He lost his throne and his life. Would he have been so cruel if circumstances had been different, if the people around him had not been obliged to obey him, if they had been able to constrain his behavior more easily? We can’t know for sure, but the power he possessed as king surely inhibited his growth and impaired his ability to develop meaningful relationships with other people. It was too easy for him to do wrong, and he never developed the self-discipline to do choose the “harder right” (Thomas S. Monson, “Choices,” General Conference, April 2016).
In contrast, King Benjamin exercised remarkable self-control and earned the love and admiration of his people. He reminded them at the end of his life that he had spent his days in their service and had not “sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches” from them. He had not “suffered that [they] should be confined in dungeons, nor that [they] should make slaves one of another,” but he had “labored with his own hands” to serve them and to minimize their taxes. He had done all of this so that “there should nothing come upon [them] which was grievous to be borne” (Mosiah 2:12-14).
Today, I will think about my leadership roles: at home, at church, and at work. Am I leading unselfishly as King Benjamin did? Or am I in any way abusing my authority and taking advantage of the people I lead? I will choose to discipline myself, to see my leadership roles as responsibilities, not as privileges, and to act unselfishly in the interest of the people I lead.