Thursday, September 15, 2011

One of my least favorite Viewpoints

It has been a week since the viewpoint "A Rising Epidemic" has been published, which means it's been a week since I wanted to write in and respond.  I haven't yet because there are so many angles of this column that need to be addressed that I don't think I could cover them all.  I want to write in, but maybe I won't cover all of the angles.  

I find two main things wrong with the article: 1. The two halves are contradictory.  2. The second half is judgmental and misguided.  Here it is, with my responses to it.
Students at BYU are incredible.  This reminds me of a toothpaste commercial where they begin with, "Your mouth is amazing," lulling you into the belief that they're going to compliment your mouth, but no—then they start in on how much bacteria and nasty stuff is in it.
Where else is “Stone Cold Sober” a badge of honor or NiCMO considered a terribly scandalous activity?  You spelled 'NCMO' wrong.  There's no 'i.'
Where else can you get thousands of students to attend not only church meetings on Sunday, but FHE Mondays, Devotional Tuesdays and Institute Thursdays.
Even for members of the Church, where else can you find a busier temple where hard-working students wait hours to perform three baptisms?
BYU, and the students who attend, are one of a kind, and that’s something to be proud of.
There are two epidemics rampant on campus that I believe deserve an extra word.
The first is perfectionism — something President Cecil O. Samuelson spoke of during Devotional Tuesday.
“Some mistakenly consider worthiness to be the same as perfection; this is not true,” Samuelson said. Good point.  Very, very true.  “All of the standard works are replete with references to the expectation of perfection and yet all seem to acknowledge that the perfecting of the saints is a process that is likely never to be absolutely complete in immortality.”
If you’re trying to do your best, then you are succeeding. Don’t get yourself down.
You must follow the commandments, you must listen to your church leaders, you must study the word of God — however, those of you who forgot to say your prayers this morning are not ruined.  What's with this list of "you must"s?  And where's the "you must be nice to people" and the "you must not judge others"?
Strive harder, do better, but do not beat yourself up for small failures.
That being said, a second epidemic plagues this school. This is the epidemic of justification.  I'm hoping that she meant to address this second half to a different audience than the first half, because what she's about to say are some of the worst things you can say to a perfectionist.
Many of you may remember a talk President Julie B. Beck gave on campus last year. The stand-out quote went something like this:
“You’re doing better than you think you are, [but] we’re not doing as well as we could.”  AAAAGHHH!  Sentiments like this make me want to pull my hair out!  Let's not focus on how we're not thinking enough of ourselves—let's lightly touch on it and then slam the focus into how we're not doing enough!
It’s true. BYU stands far above other universities when it comes to personal standards; however, at times I think we get too comfortable.  I don't think you're including yourself in this "we."
Some believe since we’re doing better than other people (I know I always have the attitude that I'm better than everyone else), it’s OK if we slip up sometimes.  Um, isn't it?  We are not expected to be flawless!  Get that through your head!!!
Since we don’t drink alcohol, it’s OK we’re consuming energy drinks by the case.  I'd rather have you consuming energy drinks and being nice to people than not and being judgmental.
Since we don’t wear sleeveless shirts, it’s OK if our skirts don’t make it quite to our knees.  Enough with the to-the-knees arguments!  Skirt length does not equal spirituality or personal worth no matter how hard you try to make it so!  What do the inches above another girl's knees have to do with you?  NOTHING!  Why does it bother you so much?  I don't get the feeling that you're doing it out of genuine concern for the spiritual climate of BYU.  And even if it were for that reason, you don't need to worry about it because it isn't your concern.
Since we don’t have full-blown beards, it’s OK if we don’t shave every morning.  What is so awful about stubble that you have to make a special point of mentioning it?  Do short hairs on a man's face really bother you that much?  If so, why??  (And see that she is conveniently not included in this.)
Since we don’t watch every rated R movie in theaters, it’s OK if we can justify it for academic reasons.  R-rated movies are not a black and white issue!  If they were, there wouldn't be so much debate about them!  Do we drink alcohol?  Definitely not.  Do we watch R-rated movies?  Well, that is a personal choice.  Might I also bring up that the R rating is only an American thing, so you're excluding every other country from this classification?  Let people use their own judgment about what they're comfortable watching.  (I do watch R-rated movies, but even if I didn't, I would defend others people's choice to do so.)
“I have been quoted as saying, ‘Do the best you can.’ But I want to emphasize that it be the very best,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said in a leadership conference.  NO NO NO NO NO!  As a perfectionist, you are killing me here.  Best is not good enough!  Do the very best! “We are too prone to be satisfied with mediocre performance. We are capable of doing so much better.”   Some people are, but not everyone is!  Some people are all of the time, but some people are only some of the time.  There is no distinction made about the audience.  There are a lot of people who actually have the problem of never being content with their performance, no matter how great.  This is not what those people (including me) need to hear.
Cougars, we are capable of being better. We are capable of leaving the justifications behind and grasping to the gospel we love.
Honor the Honor Code. Whether or not you believe in it, you signed it. Don’t forget that. 
This epidemic is not limited to students. Teachers, you’re expected to live these standards as well.  We're in college.  They're called professors.  And I know that they're not infallible, but I think it's especially self-righteous to call faculty (as well as students) to repentance.
I’ve been in classes where my teacher defends everything from swearing to viewing rated R movies.  THE HORROR!  Sweetie, it is only your opinion that we should strictly avoid rated R movies.  I hate to break it to you, but not everyone agrees that this is a black-and-white issue.
Yes, they are always justified, but they are not always right.
Please remember you stand for so much more than you think you do. Your actions are an example to someone and you can’t lead them astray.
If you find yourself justifying small mistakes, don’t worry. Repent, work harder. Whatever you do, don’t get caught in complacency.  Who are you to call us to repentance?  What authority do you have?
Just remember President Beck: You are doing better than you think, but you are capable of so much more.

One angle I would attack is how one minute she's comforting perfectionists, and the next minute she's telling them they need to do better.  True, she could be addressing different audiences, but she doesn't make that clear.  Even if she were addressing different audiences, it's not her place to call the complacent to repentance.  

The other angle: Stop picking on the way girls dress!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  When I say this, some people will be quick to remind me that we all as BYU students signed an Honor Code.  That is true.  It is a matter of personal integrity that they obey the Honor Code.  But it is none of your business if they do or not.  I am really trying to understand why it (the fact that girls' dress breaks the Honor Code) bothers people so much that they write in letters to the editor.  My main theory is that they get mad that they are obeying the rules and not getting any sort of recognition or reward for it while other people are flaunting the rules and not getting any negative consequences.  I welcome ideas about why this bothers people so much.

I waited with glee for the Tuesday after this letter for the rebuttals, but there was only one.  The first sentence of it especially was golden:  "Calls to repentance without any indication of self-inclusion or humility always fall flat."

Letter: Salt in the wound

The author of this letter to the editor, responding to a letter saying that it was inappropriate to fly the flag at half-mast for a deceased BYU student (which I don't necessarily disagree with), has a good point.  However, there's a line in it that I love!

After reading the Readers’ Forum from the author of “In mourning 9/8,” I looked up what was said and found it very interesting.
However, I also found the content disturbingly insensitive toward Vanessa’s family and friends (probably because I knew her).
It sprayed salt on their wounds as well as mine.
I’m not going to argue about whether you were right or not, because to my limited knowledge, you were right. But, you were definitely wrong in practice.
People are more important than truth (not to be confused with the name of the Savior as Truth).
If you study the scriptures enough, you will see this. Clearly, those in charge of BYU do.

Jonathan Kerby

Ooh!  Pulling out the Scriptures Card!  "Clearly, I am in the right because the scriptures agree with me. You are wrong, which means you don't read your scriptures enough."  I just find the use of this argument laughable.

Another odd thing about the letter is the clarification that he did not mean the Savior by using the word "truth."  I trust that somewhere, the Savior has been referred to as "the Truth," but I have never personally heard it.  This clarification raises an interesting question, though: If he had meant the Truth, would it really be false?  Are people not more important than the Truth?  I'm guessing he means that they are less than or equal to the Truth.  But which is it—less than or equal to?  Is there a bar under the crocodile or not?  Is the whole (the Savior) greater than the sum of its parts (the people He saved)?  I guess if I read my scriptures enough, I'd know the answer!