Former mormons are familiar with the passive-aggressive manner in which our mormon friends and family “deal” with us—partly because we were also conditioned to act that way while growing up. Whenever my family would have an argument or other conflict, we would exit the situation, go on, and pretend that it never happened. This was mostly due to always trying to be a peacemaker (as we were trained), but this reaction (or non-reaction?) stunted our interpersonal skills.
It’s been an ongoing process for me to develop healthy conflict resolution methods in the here and now. A lot of times, I let my frustration with a person or situation build until it results in blowing my top. I know blowing up is a ridiculous way to act, but when could I have altered course to keep from getting so angry? This is a character trait I’m actively working on. I recently bought the book Thank You For Arguing so that I might be able to develop skills for persuasive argument sans anger.
Mormon leaders have long taught the passive-aggressive way to handle the problem of people leaving their organization by attacking the character of those who dare to leave. You’ll see this method at work if you ever disagree with a mormon about something. The “You’re stupid” is invoked in place of an argument when their arguments over an issue get them nowhere or are otherwise non-persuasive. This is not an accident. This is how they’ve learned to deal with people who think outside of the mormon box.
LDS leaders have conditioned members to act like that by participating in name-calling. If we left their organization, there must have been something wrong with us, not the organization (which, members are told, is “perfect”). We “heathens” are their “enemies.” We are inactives, dissenters, unbelievers, amoral/immoral, prodigal sons and daughters, apostates, lost, sinners, blind, anti-mormon, Korihors, unworthy. Some might use even stronger labels like dumb, idiots, losers, and damned, and they expect us to “be destroyed” (whether that’s a curse from god or apostates are prone to self-destruction are left undefined). And we are also apparently patty-cake taffy pullers.
In a recent talk at a conference in Arizona, Elder Jeff Holland came up with another couple of creative names for people who leave mormonism. He declared with some anger that those who leave have no conviction (loyalty). “What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that?” he demanded.
My choice to leave mormonism was not an easy one. Truth be told, it would have been easier to stay in the group, with all its social benefits, and pretend to believe, but out of honesty to myself and others–to be authentic–I could not remain a part of the organization. I abhor trickery and fakery, which meant that I could not continue to participate in or support mormonism.
Jeff Holland’s words were not meant for those of us who apostatized, though. They were stated to keep members from considering leaving–to prevent them from thinking critically about the LDS organization or its teachings. If members don’t have the conviction to stay, they are told that there is something wrong with them–they’re not as faithful and strong as those who stay. Members naturally don’t want to be called names, so they insulate themselves with the community and propaganda that mormon artists, authors, and wards provide. They don’t want to know what life is like without the religion that they love and feel protects them. Holland’s words remind them that they will be looked down on if they decide to leave, so they avoid anything that might shake their faith.
I believe that faith and being faithful are characteristics of good quality. However, since leaving mormonism, I have discovered that I have the choice in where or whom I place my devotion in. Thinking critically about everything and everyone coming my way has concentrated my trust in myself, my family and my friends. I used to implicitly trust anyone else who was mormon–because that’s what I learned to do while growing up. But now I know that each of us has quirks and personalities that should be evaluated individually. Just because someone is a part of a certain organization (that they’re taught to “stand for,” whatever that means) doesn’t mean that they or their organization is worthy of trust.
I have a life example of this misplaced trust being abused. When I was 6-7 months pregnant with my first child, I developed a pain in my side which worsened to the point that I couldn’t stand straight up. It was a kidney infection, but I didn’t know it at the time. I’d never been pregnant before, so I didn’t know if it was a complication of the pregnancy (which was already uncomfortable) or another health issue. I spent a couple of days shuffling around work Quasimoto-style, until a coworker urged me to visit the doctor.
My middle-aged coworker told me that her friend had had a similar symptom and when she finally visited the doctor, she found that she had a disease (so many years have passed that I can no longer recall the particular disease she mentioned). This information frightened me and I made an appointment with the base Naval hospital for that afternoon.
Military medicine did not assign a primary caretaker for pregnancy then, so I was used to seeing a different doctor each time I visited the clinic for checkups. That time, a female doctor I’d never seen before took my case. I was so agitated when I reached the hospital that I must have misheard the specific instruction to disrobe. I took off my boots, socks, and pants and sat on the examination table with the paper robe provided by a nurse covering my lap.
When the doctor arrived, I found that I was instead supposed to disrobe my top half, not the bottom. Oops. Already feeling foolish, I told the doctor what my coworker had explained about her friend’s dread disease.
She laughed at me.
She told me that the baby had probably just turned and was leaning up against one of my internal organs. She told me to take two aspirin and hold a cold can of soda against my belly to try to urge the baby to turn again. As she was leaving, she also instructed me to stop by the lab and provide a urine sample for analysis.
I was feeling ashamed and belittled–and I was angry at the doctor for being so flippant and dismissive. I left the hospital without going to the lab. In my experience, the results of labs weren’t even looked at until my next appointment (with a new doctor), so I wondered what the use was. But mostly, I was just mad. Later that night, my (now-ex) husband took me back to the hospital because not only did the pain not dissipate, but I had also started to vomit over and over again. That’s when I found out that I had a kidney infection. I was put on meds and ordered to rest for three days.
That might have been the end of the story, except…
A couple of months after that, I was in the Relief Society (mormonism’s women’s organization) room at the ward house and who should I see, but that dismissive doctor! I felt so much more betrayed by her presence there. Here she was, a mormon like me, but she’d made me feel small and even more foolish than I had started out that day, right in front of her assistant–and while supposedly carrying out her “professional” duties.
It jarred me to realize that I couldn’t trust other mormons to be kind. Growing up in the religion, I was taught that mormons have higher standards than everyone else (anyone not mormon), but I experienced a first-hand account of being mocked and made to feel foolish for no good reason except for the doctor to have a laugh at the ignorant (and maybe a bit spastic and hypochondriac-al) girl.
I had my pride wounded and my feelings hurt due to misplaced trust in my former organization and its membership, but at least I haven’t lost my life’s savings in an investment scheme. Apparently, affinity fraud is an enormous problem in the mormon capital of the world: Utah. Mormons may say that their standards are higher than the general population, but there are still wolves among them, ready to take advantage of the trust of other mormons.
My default setting (thanks to mormonism) is still to trust what people say, but now that I know that some people are untrustworthy, I can use new knowledge and past experiences to make better decisions. Next time someone has a great, ground-floor-level, don’t-pass-this-up, good-only-for-today, no-brainer of an investment deal or business idea, be sure to use a Bullshit-O-Meter (or critical thinking) to make sure it’s really valid. For starters, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
Trust no one.