Sunday, October 07, 2007

Discussion-Induced Disappointment Disorder

Update: Julie M. Smith provides a useful remedy for my troubles today, by adding some reason and perspective to the reactions to Sister Beck that dominated discussions today. Yeah for Julie.

Yeah for Keryn, too, who really, really captured the blessings that can come from catching the spirit of what Sister Beck said. Thanks, Keryn!!!!


Ouch.

I just jumped on to check into the pulse of things after Conference. I went from a spiritual high to feeling sick to my stomach. I am deeply disappointed in much of the discussion I saw. I was feeling some of that yesterday, as it seemed that people were just too quick to complain or criticize instead of just soak in the wonder that is Conference weekend.

I love the benefits of discussion. It's why I blog. I love interacting with people and sharing ideas back and forth. But sometimes I think people take things too far. The negativity I have seen today is bordering on shocking to me. I don't want to take away the way discussion can help people sort through thoughts, but there has to be a better way that can keep the spirit of what we heard alive. Much of what I read -- criticism, nitpicking, complaining -- took away from that spirit. It saddened me to hear the people I have grown to care about in the bloggernacle tear apart talks from some of the people I respect and sustain as my leaders.

Our leaders have expressed confidence in us. I'm particularly thinking of Sister Beck and the confidence she has expressed in us as women -- that we will be united, one voice, together behind what she taught as true and correct. I was amazed at how people would pick and choose what they liked and didn't like from last week's Relief Society broadcast (they are a united front, a united presidency -- do we really think that they don't support what the other says, that they haven't talked about what they were going to share?) And today, it's been even worse.

Our leaders aren't simply a bunch of individuals just out to push their individual agendas. I believe they speak as a united group. They spend weeks, if not months, seeking the Lord's guidance and seeking to find what HE would have them say.

I can't imagine that presenting their messages is easy; they speak to a worldwide audience whose individual lives vary in many ways. They only have a few minutes to try to cover deep and crucial topics. Are they perfect? They would be the first to admit that they are not.

And yet, our prophet recommended ALL of Conference to us for our review and pondering. He made no qualification of that recommendation. I am astounded at the level of negativity I have seen. I understand wanting to sort through ideas, but again, there has to be a better way than what I have seen today. Can't we do better?

If there is something we struggle with, something that didn't sit quite right, Elder Eyring gave us the key to what we could do (from the press conference). It was the counsel Pres. Faust gave him -- to go to God. Public criticism and fault-finding and negative hyper-analysis seems wholly inappropriate to me, and distracting from the amazing spirit that was present during this wonderful weekend.

I also think that if we struggle with something one person has said, almost surely someone else will have addressed our concern in another talk. The way I see it, their talks are interconnected, and part of a larger picture that no one person could capture in a 15-minute address. No one talk will be able to cover the vastness of the gospel message, nor of the many ways we could improve living it and enjoying its blessings. I think it is completely unfair to expect one person to say everything we want to hear, or to say something that applies to every single person all of the time, or to cover even all the bases that that person surely wants to cover. Try to imagine it!

I would have hoped for more testimony-building discussion. I leave my computer tonight stunned and disappointed. I will say thanks to those who did report and discuss in positive ways. I will try to read more of your words later. But for now, I am hurting that there could be as much discord and criticism as there was, and the (what feels to me) cavalier assumptions and discussions that somehow seem to imply that any of us could know better than our heaven-called leaders about what should have been said.

Addendum: I want to reiterate that I am not anti-discussion. I just think there are ways we can engage each other without being critical of our leaders and negative in our approach.

17 comments:

SilverRain said...

Funny that I posted this and then came over to read all the things I didn't say, but felt here. I'm a little heartsick, too. I love discussion, but it seems so difficult to find uplifting discussion.

Behind the Infamous Veil said...

hi m&m--i'm glad you posted on this. i particularly wondered what you would have to say. I know you're disappointed in all the hullabaloo--but now there are some very positive posts out there too. I'd really like to hear what you have to say about the talk itself.

esp--Education-Worthless unless used in home??

Nurturing=Homemaking=Cooking, Washing, Dishes??

Honoring sacred covenants=Sunday best??

I would value your thoughts.

Steve M. said...

Our leaders aren't simply a bunch of individuals just out to push their individual agendas. I believe they speak as a united group.

Have you read David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism? While it certainly doesn't paint a picture of church leaders as "a bunch of individuals just out to push their individual agendas," it makes it pretty clear that they did not always "speak as a united group," at least in President McKay's era. Harold B. Lee and Joseph Fielding Smith didn't like how liberal Hugh B. Brown was, several of the apostles were uncomfortable with Ezra Taft Benson's politically-charged talks, and so on. These disagreements and debates were played out in public statements, conference talks, private meetings, letters, and journal entries.

Perhaps the Brethren are more united today than they were back then, or perhaps they keep their disagreements out of the public eye more than their predecessors did. But if DOMATROMM is any indication of inter-apostle dynamics, I would be surprised if the Brethren were actually or consistently as "united" as we sometimes believe them to be.

M&M said...

BiV...thanks for stopping by. I hope to write a post responding to your questions and sharing some other thoughts.

Steve M,
That is a fair thing to bring up, but my comment really is focused on today, not the past. Of course I realize that they each have their individual opinions, and if you heard Elder Eyring talk about how much disagreement there is in council meetings before decisions are reached, then you will see that they also acknowledge that they see things differently. However, I don't think General Conference is, especially today, a place where we see those differences. I think we see what the Spirit has directed these people to say (with some personal flavor and personality in presentation, but essentially not content). I sense a unity in what they teach, and I think it's wrong to parse out one person or one talk and assume that we can dismiss what we don't like. I think it's a package deal, and the Spirit can help us sort through the things that we may not have liked out the outset.

RoAnn said...

I came to your site immediately after SilverRain's, and I can see that all I feared might happen (regarding General Conference) in the Bloggernacle, apparently happened.

My half-formed decision to quit reading the well-known large group LDS blogs is solidifying rather quickly. Conference was such an energizing, empowering experience for me that I have no desire to read the kind of criticism you described in this post.

Being in the Conference Center when Sister Beck spoke, I could feel the excitement of the women around me. I did wonder how the Bloggernacle would deal with her remarks, but I personally felt it was exactly what the Lord wanted us to hear. I truly believe that those of us who listen with spiritual ears and ponder her messages (as well as all the others) will hear exactly how God intends them to apply to us as individuals. We will be encouraged and uplifted, not discouraged and depressed, as we change our attitudes and actions and seek to be unified in the way President Hinckley envisioned.

I may miss seeing your excellent comments on the Bloggernacle in the future, but I hope you will continue to post your views and analyses here on your personal blog, and on A Prayer of Faith. Your intelligent and faithful voice is one I admire, and will always look forward to hearing. :)

Steve M. said...

However, I don't think General Conference is, especially today, a place where we see those differences. I think we see what the Spirit has directed these people to say (with some personal flavor and personality in presentation, but essentially not content).

So in previous general conferences (such as those during the McKay era), members didn't hear what the Spirit directed the speakers to say?

The differences may be less pronounced today (the Church is more sensitive to PR and correlation has had a profound effect on LDS culture), but I suspect they're still there.

M&M said...

Nope, Steve. You're reading a bit into what I was saying, but I guess I can see why. I shouldn't have said "especially today" though, because I'm actually wanting to abstain from making any assertions or assumptions at all about the past. Frankly, the past doesn't concern me much. What matters to me is what to do with what I am hearing now. I think it's risky if not foolish to dismiss anything (and I mean anything) our leaders say, if not for any other reason than to keep a spirit of negativity and criticism away from my heart. I cannot think of a time in my life when following their counsel, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and seeking guidance as to what, if anything, I should do in response, has been harmful or negative (and I pretty much take what they say at face value). Criticism or negativity offends the Spirit in my heart. On the flip side, I have felt tremendous and tangible and consistent blessings in my life and with my testimony to approach their words in faith and trust. I see little value in approaching their words with a critical attitude because the fruits of the other approach are so sweet.

M&M said...

Just a couple more thoughts...

Specifically, with regard to this weekend, I have confidence in what we heard because (besides Pres. Hinckley recommend it ALL to us), I felt the Spirit, and it was strong. I'm still basking in it all. When I read the critical and analytical comments, I didn't. I felt cold, sick. Really, the contrast was so stark, it hurt. I just want to cry out, "No! Friends! Don't!" It's why I wrote this post. I cannot agree with anyone who has publicly and so harshly criticized anything that was said. The fruits aren't sweet to me. I don't feel they have been sweet to those saying them either. I guess I don't understand what is hoped to be gained by such criticism? It seems so pointless to me and confuses me a bit.

Again, do I understand how some things can hurt to hear, or create questions? Of course. I have experienced that. I always experience a little of that because I am hard on myself and I'm afraid of not measuring up and I am easily overwhelmed and my brain can overreact. But that is about ME, not about the speakers. And so often, it's about my filters and interpretation, not about what is really being said. It's not their job to change what they say, it's my job to turn to the Lord to help me in whatever way I need help -- whether to know what to change, to feel peace that I'm covered by the Atonement even in my imperfection, or whatever else I might need. And He does help!! He did even yesterday as I sorted through some of the counsel that overwhelmed me. He has reinforced my testimony of the divine calling of our leaders. For me, that is enough. They don't need to change. I do. And that can be an exciting prospect with the Spirit's help!

M&M said...

p.s. SilverRain, RoAnn, I love you! RoAnn, I miss you! :)

Behind the Infamous Veil (BiV) said...

M&M, your feelings are valid. However, I and some of the other women felt cold and sick when we heard Sister Beck speak. And when I read the comments on the Bloggernacle I felt comforted that I wasn't alone in those feelings and that we could analyze her talk and some of our reactions to it.

I know that some may accuse me of feeling the way I do because of unrighteousness. Though I can't judge myself clearly, I doubt this is the case. As a mother who raised 8 children while staying at home, I didn't feel guilt at her words. Rather I felt sorrow that she does not recognize as valid the vast contributions that sister of all varieties make in our Church. She seems to be calling all women to fit into one mold.

Steve M. said...

I cannot think of a time in my life when following their counsel, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and seeking guidance as to what, if anything, I should do in response, has been harmful or negative (and I pretty much take what they say at face value).

Then we've had very different experiences.

The single darkest, most difficult period of my life sprang from an instance where I gave a priesthood leader the benefit of the doubt and decided to follow his advice, even though I suspected he might be mistaken. My wife said he was wrong. My dad (normally a real hard-liner) said he was wrong. But I was convinced that I should not question and that it was my duty to obey them, come what may. I knew that I would be blessed for doing so.

The whole thing blew up in my face, and precipitated the darkest months of my entire life. I don't want to go into the details here (and I believe I mentioned this in a previous discussion we had over essentially the same issue), but it taught me a very important lesson: Never indiscriminately follow a leader.

I don't expect others to follow my philosophy because they haven't had my experience. But I believe God taught me that lesson for a reason.

Criticism or negativity offends the Spirit in my heart.

But criticism isn't inherently negative. I just took a draft of a major paper to one of my professors yesterday, and he tore it to shreds. Criticized it left and right. But it was a constructive, productive exercise, and I'm better for it (and my grade will be too). Too often we conflate criticism with fault-finding.

I see little value in approaching their words with a critical attitude because the fruits of the other approach are so sweet.

And that's where we differ. I see no choice but to approach their words with a critical, questioning attitude.

On my mission, we encouraged investigators to seriously study the Book of Mormon, in addition to praying about it. We didn't just want them to read it; we wanted them to ask questions; we wanted them to put it to the test and subject it to their best scrutiny, because we were confident in its message. We knew that if they subjected it to such a serious study, their faith would be stronger for it.

So why are we so afraid to take the same approach to church leaders' counsel? If it's from God, then shouldn't it stand up to sincere, serious study and scrutinizing (coupled with prayer)? Won't this approach help us filter out human elements or possible error (because, prophet or not, every man is prone to error)? As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich suggests, if an idea or a principle is so fragile that it can't stand up to the least bit of scrutiny, then it's just "lusterware."

RoAnn said...

Yes! m & m, I agree completely that "it's about my filters and interpretation, not about what is really being said. It's not their job to change what they say, it's my job to turn to the Lord to help me in whatever way I need help. . . ." When I remember this, nothing that is said in Conference bothers me.

By the way, I also am not bothered by things that may have happened in the past, or supposed disagreements among the Brethren. Of course they didn't, and don't today, agree on everything. But I do think that what comes out at General Conference is what the Lord wants us to hear with our spiritual ears right now.

If I ever sense any discomfort with what is being said, the Spirit seems to whisper either "you need to work on this," or "don't worry about that right now."

How sad it will be if negative discussions turn people away from the consolation, as well as the promptings to change, that will bring increased happiness into their lives.

You phrased what I feel perfectly when you said, "it's my job to turn to the Lord to help me in whatever way I need help -- whether to know what to change, to feel peace that I'm covered by the Atonement even in my imperfection, or whatever else I might need. And He does help!!"

This is certainly true for me, and I'm sure that many thousands of members have experienced that kind of help again this Conference.

M&M said...

BiV,
I understand that Sister Beck's words didn't settle well with some people. And please note in my post that I wasn't suggesting that discussion of ideas and such is necessarily a bad thing. To me, it was how it was done. The discussions that hurt were ones that attacked her directly, that questioned her words, that made it about Sister Beck, not about how to better understand or internalize or sort through her words. That was what I was addressing. I believe we can sort through our thoughts without being negative or critical of the speaker. Does that make sense?

BTW, I'm sorry you felt the way you did. You also said elsewhere, though, that you realize that some of your reaction was knee-jerky. I wonder if you are feeling any better about it? (Sounds by your comment that maybe you aren't?)

I promise I have not forgotten your questions...I listened to her talk again last night so I could answer better with it all more fresh. I'm hoping to find some time today.

Again, I'm glad you have stopped by. I was thinking about you just last nite, wondering about your life in Saudi. :)

M&M said...

Steve M., I may have said it before, but I'm sorry you had a bad experience. Please note, though, that I am talking more about the general level. But that said, I am not suggesting that we 'indiscriminately' following leaders, and I never have. When I talk about following in faith, and when I take that approach, it's not blind or thoughtless or without significant pondering and seeking the Spirit. I know it may sound like I take the follow-without-thinking approach (because I have been accused of that before) but that is not true.

And let me make it very, very clear: I am not saying we can't scrutinize what they say, nor that I think their words can't handle such scrutiny. I'm saying that I think it's inappropriate to publicly criticize leaders, assume we know what they should have said, let our personal views and interpretations cloud what they have said for others (in a public sphere), etc. I think there are ways to sort through and even discuss what they have said without dishonoring them or what they said, or without feeding others' doubt or affecting their point of view. It is not our job to publicly denounce what is said, or publicly dismiss it, or publicly criticize it, or publicly determine what is or isn't valid. (I still think it's significant that the prophet recommended it all to us for our study and review.)

If for some reason the Spirit tells us we are exceptions, or there is something that doesn't apply to us right now, that direction is wholly and only personal and should stay that way -- personal, not public. No one (but someone in authority) has the right to publicly say 'such and such that was said was off base' because of 'such and such reason.' I think there was way too much of this this weekend. "She should have said this." "She was wrong to say this." "What she said is simply cultural, not doctrinal." These kinds of comments, imo, are out of line.

I will reiterate: I do not see their words as lusterware AT ALL. I totally agree that we should spend time and energy and prayerfully ponder what has been said. To filter out human elements (if they exist), however, should not be done at the public level. That's a deeply private process. Let the Spirit guide each of us personally to determine what to do about the counsel. But I do not believe that is our stewardship or privilege to publicly declare anything about what WE THINK wasn't inspired, because so doing can undermine their counsel for other people for whom something might truly have been inspired. It is not our stewardship nor right to publicly parse out what we think is the human vs. the divine.

And I now sound like a broken record.

MCQ said...

BiV:


esp--Education-Worthless unless used in home??

Nurturing=Homemaking=Cooking, Washing, Dishes??

Honoring sacred covenants=Sunday best??

Interesting, except that she didn't actually say any of those things. My analysis of her speech is at my blog if you're interested.

MCQ

M&M said...

Thanks for stopping by, MCQ. I want to read what you wrote about it. I also just posted some thoughts on her talk.

M&M said...

MCQ did a nice write-up. I'm just going to post my comment from over there here so I can remember what I was thinking....

Wow. In other words: Whether you are a mother or not you should be desiring and preparing to be a mother, because you will keep forever those things you learn, and if you desire children and prepare to be a mother, you will be a mother, even if it’s not in this life. And the next life is much longer anyway. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that said exactly that way before but it’s a promise, if you care to believe that, and it nicely makes the talk applicable to all women, whether they are currently mothers or not.

I was sooo moved by this part of the talk. It gave me perspective, motivation and hope. I think you hit the nail on the head on how it applies to ALL women. Motherhood (nurturing, helping with spiritual and temporal growth of God's children) should matter to all of us, because that is our eternal potential. We can strive to develop traits of nurturing and caring for the children of God, creating homes that are places of spiritual growth (even if they are currently habitations for one) and desiring to nurture, even if not one's own children for now. I find that when I have this kind of perspective, I treat other people's children differently, too.

I don’t think it requires personally washing clothes or dishes, for instance.

Ariel, I think it's important to note that she made it clear that part of the reason cleanliness matters is because part of our role is to help children learn how to work, and also to teach by example. I was fascinated to see that the picture shown while she talked of this was of a FATHER doing dishes with the children. Nowhere do I see her saying momma has to do all of the work. I think that is significant.

I also think a house of order means a lot more than just a house with cool organization containers. :) Temples have a reverent spirit. They are decorated in a way to try to focus the mind heavenward. They are clean and neat. They are places where sacred things happen. They are places where soft words are spoken. I think we can chew on this analogy a lot.

And the cleaning may be done by a crew, but what is a family but a potential cleaning crew? :) No one person cleans the temple, so that gets to your concern about mom doing it all.... :)

I think it's noteworthy that the BD says this: "Only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness."

One last thought, which I covered in more detail on my blog. She talked about soooo many things besides just the chores part of nurturing and what we can do to provide an environment where children can thrive spiritually and temporally that I think her talk deserves a few good readings to see the breadth of what she taught. As MCQ has so aptly shown here, there was so much more to the talk than what met first impressions. This is going to be a talk that will have the most net positive impact on my life because it has given me concrete things I can focus on in my role as mother. I'm overwhelmed, but in a good way because there is so much that can be improved and its' exciting because I believe what she said -- creating a sacred and growth-fostering space in our homes is where the true power and influence is. Such a work (even down to the 'mundane' as MCQ said so well) can have an eternal impact and that is breathtaking to me.