Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sometimes I am not a very nice person

I've had two occasions in the last twenty-four hours that have been honestly challenging my sense of myself as a tolerant person. (Maybe the trick is that I'm not really tolerant--I just imagine myself to be so).

I have been thinking a lot lately about some of the things said in the General Conference broadcast for my church: specifically, the idea that we need to be more invested in service and the concomitant idea that we are all equal. And not just in a lip-servicey idea of equality or equal rights, but the sense that every person has equal value before God. Sometimes it's hard for me to wrap my mind around that idea; the world spends so much time and energy trying to put people into their respective places (popular culture, economics, etc. all try to sort us into hierarchies of value) that it's sometimes hard to see outside of that. And I think I'm as guilty of anyone of wanting to feel *special*--somehow better, or more gifted, than other people. I don't think I have a lot of forms of prejudice, but I do have to confess to something like academic snobbery: I don't think I'm necessarily more beautiful, or morally superior, to a lot of people, but sometimes (and I'm almost hesitant to post this openly, except that I know only a handful of people read this), sometimes I do think I'm smarter than people. I try to fight this--honestly I do--but reminding myself that a) that's only a specific kind of intelligence--it doesn't include emotional or social intelligence (both of which I'm not so blessed in) and b) even if I am smarter on some kind of empirical scale, that doesn't make me more valuable.

Even so, it's still frustrating to me when I'm in a situation that invites me to be judgmental--and worse, when I accept the invitation. Last night I had the opportunity to go to a book group meeting where Ally Condie (author of YA novel Matched) was our guest speaker. She was an amazing person, and that aspect of the event was great. But. But. Some of the other guests honestly drove me crazy with some of the questions and comments that they made, some of which revealed a kind of insular thinking. I really struggled (and, yes, largely failed) not to be judgmental of them. For instance, one girl commented on the love triangle in Matched and, bringing up Twilight (Condie's agent also represents Stephenie Meyer), came to the bizarre conclusion that love triangles must be some kind of Mormon thing. Um, hello? Have you any other YA literature? Another guest, when Ally mentioned that she doesn't read reviews of her work (unless her agent sends them to her), agreed that it would be difficult, especially since some of the people who review books don't have the same standards we (i.e., Mormons) do, and so they might be comparing her book to a wider spectrum of books. Where, when you compare it to other, decent, clean books . . . I admit it. I just don't get comments like that. Since when do Mormons have any kind of monopoly on virtue, in the first place? And since when is literary judgment also a moral judgment? Can't you simply not like something? Anyway, there were other things, but I'll limit it to that for now.

The other instance was a sacrament talk given this morning. I should say up front that the speaker was a good, honest, upright young man who probably would be appalled to know that I took his earnest words so wrongly. Anyway, the speaker in question is heading out on a mission for the LDS church this week, and had been asked to give a talk on the priesthood. My thought is, if you have a topic like that and you're speaking to the entire conversation, find a way to make it relevant to everyone. Instead, he talked about he importance of being worthy to hold the priesthood (and where does that place me, as a woman, when I can't hold the priesthood and am clearly not part of the "we" he speaks of?). He brought in several examples of how to live worthily--all good examples (like President Hinckley's "Be-Attitudes")--but I was a little frustrated by the fact that he didn't acknowledge that such attributes were just as useful for women to develop. (He also brought up scouting--and, while I know the program does a lot of good things, it is *not* synonymous with church doctrine). When he finally did bring up women in this talk, it was basically in the context of, men need good wives to be better. And when women honor the priesthood, it makes men want to try harder. All of which are probably true, but I was frustrated by the take-away idea that the primary reason why women should be virtuous is to make life easier for men. I don't think that's true AT ALL. (And quite possibly, this is not at all what the speaker intended me to take away.) It's true that good women can inspire their husbands; but it's equally true that good men can inspire their wives--I've seen that in my own marriage. And it seems to me that the primary reason we (men AND women) should honor the priesthood is because God asks us to do so and because it will bring us closer to him. Although we should do what we can to aid others on their spiritual journeys, ultimately, we're primarily responsible for our *own* souls. My primary motivation for being good should not be to make my husband better. That, to me, seems a trivialization of my own individual worth before God.