Expectations, or Why People should just mind their own business!

The following I wrote as a monologue for a play that I’m working on.  The title is either “In and Out of Zion” or “10 Things I Hate About Utah”.

“Expectations.  I hate that word!  I really do.  It seems like life is all about expectations.  People expect you to be a certain way, act a certain way, think a certain way, and it’s all you can do to live up to those silly expectations.

Take Provo for example. Everyone here assumes, and assuming is as bad as expecting.  They assume you’re a member, they assume you’re going to BYU and then they expect you to live according to their assumptions.  Well, now, I am a member and I am going to BYU, but that’s not the point! People shouldn’t just assume I am.

And then there’s dating! Dating is where you meet all kinds of expectations!  As an RM, I’m expected to be dating, regularly.  What does that even mean?  Whatever.  And girls expect you to be smart, funny, charming, well-dressed, a good listener and a great conversationalist!  They expect you to be Mr. Perfect, or Mr. Right, or worse! They expect Mr. Darcy!

I am not any of these.  I am me.  And if you cannot accept me for who I am, then don’t expect me to be anybody different.”

I was reminded of this little vicarious rant of mine when talking to a friend recently.  Interestingly, we were also talking about the expectations imposed upon people when attending Church.  That is one thing that really bothers me about the oppressive LDS culture in a place like BYU.  Everybody has this idea about what a ‘good Mormon’ is, and they expect everybody to fit the mold.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a ‘good’ Mormon.  I have had a hard time fitting in here in Provo, partly because I do not want to.  I have never been one who likes conforming to the crowd, but it’s a little ridiculous at BYU.  It’s hard, because I do believe in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I believe in the doctrine and the covenants of the Church.  Where I usually have a problem is not in official communications from Church leaders, but in the way those words are interpreted and implemented by individual members.

There seems to be so much emphasis on conformity, of doing things the ‘right’ way, believing the ‘right’ things. I belive what I believe.  And I believe in a personal relationship with Deity.  I believe that the Gospel is different for different people because they understand it differently.  Of course, the basic tenets are the same for all, but beyond that the individual is responsible for learning and finding out what the Gospel is and what it means for him.  As individuals we make and keep covenants, as individuals we grow nearer to God through his Spirit.  Friends and family can help with that progression, but ultimately it is a personal decision and a personal step toward perfection.

I am not the same as others, I am not in the same place, spiritually, as others are.  And for them to expect me to be is wrong.  We can encourage people to be as spiritual as we are, or to believe what we do and understand what we do, but we should not look down on those who do not.  We need to start learning to value the individual, to find worth in the unique experiences that individuals have.  That is the strength of this Church – its membership.  If we truly have the attitude that we want all to be as good as they can be, then we will selflessly seek to help the lowest achieve.  It is in that attitude that the root of the solution is found.  In an amazing talk given by President Ezra Taft Benson, Beware of Pride, he said, “Christ wants to lift us to where He is. Do we desire to do the same for others?”  That is a question I feel I should ask myself daily.  What do I want to do for my friends? For those around me?  And how can I develop a Christ-like love and desire to lift them up?

Expectations are dangerous if they are coupled with judgement.  If we judge someone as lacking when they do not live up to the expectations that we have set for them, then we are not full of Christ-like charity and love.  Rather, we should be helping all to set high expectations for themselves and helping them achieve their goals.  Did not Christ ask us to be perfect, even as he is?  That is quite an expectation, but together, and with Christ’s love and his help, we can achieve.   There needs to be more love and more acceptance and more understanding, and then there will be more success and more achievement.  As General Conference gets underway today and tomorrow, I’m sure we will hear similar messages from those who speak to us.  I hope we can listen with the Spirit and find those words and those thoughts that the Lord will put into our hearts and our minds that will help us become better than we are.

5 thoughts on “Expectations, or Why People should just mind their own business!

  1. First off, let me say that I absolutely agree with your points, 100%.

    That being said, I fear that this type of conformity is somewhat institutionalized. While talking to a friend about her conversion to the Church in her 20s, she said one of the things that really bothered her was the temple recommend. For someone to ask such personal questions about your faith while expecting you to give the “right” answers deeply troubled her. Eventually, she grew to accept it, but it bothered her nonetheless (it still bothers her today).

    Of course, that’s not the purpose of the temple recommend. They ask you some very specific questions, but there’s no explanation. I need to believe in Jesus Christ to go to the temple, but I have no actual need in describing what I believe about Jesus Christ to make sure I’m “orthodox.” But people will still expect you to think orthodox, and if you show signs, they will wonder how you got your temple recommend sometimes.

    There are, of course, other ways this type of expectation is institutionalized. We have a large list of musts, and an even larger list of shoulds. Institute, Seminary, Mutual, firesides, extra meetings associated with your callings, the Word of Wisdom, rated-R movies, modesty, only one earring, the nebulous tasteful music, don’t date until after 16, get married by 30, regular temple attendance, missions for men, three hour church every Sunday, General Conference bi-yearly…you get the picture. There are definitely a lot of expectations for Mormons, and while we may say we shouldn’t judge, the truth of the matter is that our leaders would most definitely encourage us to try to do all of these things.

    In other words, our shibboleths are much more intense than most other churches, and members will often begin to create shibboleths of their own on top of that. I’m not sure there is any easy way around this problem.

  2. Also, if you listen to the Mormon Stories podcast about Correlation by Daymon Smith, you’ll find out that the unofficial motto of the Church was “Mind your own business!” I just that your subtitle was kinda funny. 🙂

  3. I completely agree that you’re often expected to worship in a certain way, and on top of that, feel certain feelings. I mean, everyone feels the spirit as a strong burning in the bosom, right? And if you don’t feel it at the same time and about the same topics as everyone else, you’re obviously doing something wrong. And heaven forbid you DON’T struggle with the exact same moral dilemma everyone expects you to.

    Ted points out that some of the base reasoning for this attitude is built into the institution, but for the most part the general authorities often do a good job of telling people to stop being offended, to worry about themselves, and to realize everyone has strengths and weaknesses. But those cultural expectations still seem to linger on, and they’re hard to ignore.

    At it’s worst, it can be used by people in authoritative positions to take some kind of action when their own self-imposed expectations aren’t being met. I can’t speak for how often this happens but hopefully it’s rare. Much more frequently is the case of lessons being taught and speakers speaking about the importance of some arbitrary feeling or action as an essential of worship, and this often bleeds into things that have nothing to do with core gospel concepts. If you don’t like going to youth mutual or single’s ward FHE, you’re basically inactive. More withdrawn and don’t like socializing? Obviously you’re friendless and need to become someone’s service project.

  4. Kimberly is right that the leaders definitely address the subject quite a bit, but compounded with the fact that we are fallen mortals, I believe the hierarchy and the hierarchal structure differ quite a bit in what they suggest. The leaders tell us to be more inclusive, to stop judging. But our structure is built around milestones in a Mormon’s life that require passing in the crudest sense a series of orthodoxy “tests.” In other words, our leaders tell us one thing, but the way we have built our church suggests another.

    It’s like democracy in China. Technically, you can have democracy in China. The single party oligarchy often brags about the People’s Assembly. But the way the Chinese government is structured makes democracy fundamentally impossible.

    Okay, I didn’t mean to compare the Church to Chinese fascism. I am not saying the Church is fascist, but that there’s a clear dichotomy between what our leaders tell us to do and how we ensure orthodoxy within our Church. One tells us not to judge, but the other requires a great deal of judgment.

  5. Not that judgment is necessarily bad, but there’s always that tension between keeping the religion pure and allowing people to do their own thing.

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