The Laws of Decreasing and Increasing Returns

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Allan K. Burgess

There are two basic laws that affect almost everything we do in this life, including developing a loving and spiritual family.  The first law is called the Law of Decreasing Returns.  According to this law, certain actions have immediate rewards, but the more time and effort that is spent on these things, the less rewarding they become.

This law was illustrated by two men who went to a restaurant where they were served all the barbecued spareribs they could eat.  One of them ate four full plates of spareribs.  Later, as the two left the restaurant, this man unknowingly explained the Law of Decreasing Returns perfectly when he said,  "You know, the first plate of spareribs tasted out of this world, and the second plate was almost as good.  But the third order didn't taste very good at all, and the fourth one made me sick."

There are numerous actions other than eating that follow the Law of Decreasing Returns, such as watching movies and television and participating in most other forms of entertainment.  Nearly everything that follows this law offers an immediate reward but few if any long-range blessings.

Almost all things of value, including family relationships and spiritual growth, follow another law, called the Law of Increasing Returns.  Actions that follow this law usually offer a small immediate reward, but the more time and effort that is spent on these things, the greater the reward becomes.

Two teenagers demonstrated their lack of understanding of this law when they decided they would work out with weights to develop their muscles.  One of them had just received a set of barbells for Christmas, so the two boys met at his house the following Saturday morning.  To start their muscle-building program, they placed as much weight on the barbell as they could lift and worked out for three or four hours.  They would lift the barbells as many times as possible, rest, and do the same thing over again.  It was a lot of work, but both of them could imagine how they were going to look with massive chests and bulging biceps.

By Monday morning neither of the young men could dress himself, let alone walk, without extreme pain and effort.  It took two weeks before they were able to move like humans instead of rusty robots.  That was the beginning and the end of their weight-building program.  They were not ready to invest the time and effort necessary for success.

Like many other worthwhile activities, physical conditioning follows the Law of Increasing Returns.  These activities may not seem too rewarding at the start, but the reward grows as consistent time and effort are invested.  Other activities that follow this law include playing a musical instrument, improving in a sport, developing occupational and other skills, gaining knowledge, and developing friendships.  Building family relationships and increasing testimonies definitely follow this law.

Referring again to physical growth, almost everyone (except possibly the above-mentioned teenagers) realizes that it takes consistent daily effort and time--lots of time--to develop muscles and maintain good physical conditioning.  Yet many people fail to realize that spiritual growth and the development of personal relationships also demand consistent time and effort.  Working at being a family every once in a while just will not get the job done. 

(Excerpt from the book: Teach Me to Walk in the Light, by Allan K. Burgess, 1995) From Chapter 1 --  The Importance of Good Parenting, p. 4-5: