Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"None of the Mormons I Have Met Are Nice"

A relative of mine was recently on a flight to Denver enjoying a conversation with a woman who frequently traveled to Salt Lake City. When she learned that my relative was on her way to Salt Lake, the woman complained about those Mormons in Utah. "None of the Mormons I've met are nice," she said. All bad people. My relative then explained that she was one of those darned Mormons. "What? You're a Mormon? No way! You're not like them - you're very nice and not mean at all!"

My relative inferred that the woman's experience with "Mormons" might more properly be called her experience with Salt Lake City business people in a narrow business area. Surely her sampling of "Mormons" was not representative of typical Mormons - and might have included a lot of people who aren't practicing Latter-day Saints as well as some who have never been associated with the Church.

In any case, when someone makes sweeping negative statements about the members of a religious group (or civic, political, ethnic, regional, and other groups that aren't inherently murderous), they might be telling us more about themselves than their actual experiences. Most people are nice, at least in superficial social and business settings. And even those I bitterly disagree with, such as some of the most outspoken anti-Mormons or advocates of disastrous social policies, can be wonderfully nice people with a great deal of social grace and kindness, in spite of some very unkind things they might do or advocate because of their ideologies. So when someone says they've met a lot of people in Group X, and have never found a nice one, this may be a signal that we're dealing with a bigot. And perhaps one who is not always very nice.

15 comments:

Shaun Q said...

I believe that the problem isn't so much with the generalizations that this person was making, but more with the representation of the people she interacted with day-to-day. When someone is a Mormon, the people around them know they are Mormon. For many people, having had relatively little experience with Mormons, they base their impressions of members of the Church on how these few people act. Not having a great deal of significant contact with the Church beyond these interactions, these people BECOME the Church to them.

We can condemn and complain about it all we want, we can work to try to teach people to not work on stereotypes and rather to give the benefit of the doubt, but these impressions formed constitute reality for each of the people who form them. Perhaps we should focus on encouraging a positive stereotype rather than trying to remove stereotypes altogether.

Anonymous said...

>they might be telling us more about themselves than their actual experiences.

Bingo.

It's like listening to somebody's gossip, and realizing that, sooner or later, they'll probably be bad-mouthing YOU behind your back.

Time to pull out the nearest copy of SkyMall and zip those lips.

aubrey said...

how intersting that you posted this. just yesterday my neighbor and good friend, anat who is israeli and just recently (after 8 months) realized that i a am mormon and that lds and mormon are the same thing told me about an experience she had. she was at the park a few weeks ago and met a fellow mom who she thought was great and whom she thought i would like too, so she told this lady about me and for some reason mentioned that i was mormon. i guess the lady was completely rude and turned off about that and anat had to assure her that there are many different kinds of mormons just like there are different kinds of catholics or jews or PEOPLE and that i was really cool. {her words, not mine..} but i thought it was interesting that someone could instantly omit a person from their lives without even meeting them just because they fit into a category or group of people or race, etc. that they didn't agree with. interesting, sad and narrow-minded.

aubrey said...

perhaps "narrow-minded" is too rude a thing to say. some people are raised to be wary of people who are different than themselves and know no other way. i didn't want to imply that they don't have the ability to accept and embrace a person of a different culture or religion. because really, in my opinion and experience, that is all it takes. one person who befriends you and who you connect with that opens your eyes and helps to remove prejudices.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget it cuts both ways.

Just a Mormons should be judged as individuals, so should those who disagree, criticize, or leave the church. I've read comments from Mormons on many sites who are quick to label those people as "anti" or "apostates".

Tracy Keeney said...

hmmmm... very curious. Having lived 99% of my life outside of Utah, moving MANY times since my father was in the Army and husband was in the Air Force, and having almost ALWAYS been the "only" Mormon, or one of a very few Mormons at school, at work, in the neighborhood, etc-- I've always found that no matter where in the country or world I've lived, people say the EXACT OPPOSITE of this person.
When I tell people I'm LDS they always say something like, "I knew a few mormons back in _____ (insert town of your choice) " or "there were a couple mormon kids in my school", "we had a mormon family on our street when I was a kid", "I worked with a Mormon guy back in college"-- or something simliar, but they ALWAYS say something to the effect of "One of the friendliest people I've ever met." or "I'm not sure I buy the whole Joseph Smith thing but the few Mormons I've known have been some of the nicest people I've ever met".
Interesting that this other person would say the exact opposite. Is it possible that every single Mormon she's encountered during her business in Salt Lake, just happened to be nasty, unfriendly people?
I suppose it's possible, but hardly probable. On the other hand, is she ASKING everyone she meets if their Mormon?? Are all the Mormons she's working with, walking up to her, shaking her hand and saying "Hi. I'm Bob. I'm Mormon"?
Salt Lake isn't even mostly LDS. Last I knew, just under 40% of households reported being LDS.

aubrey said...

anonymous, i think you make a good point. as primary president in my ward i cringe when i am asked what i am doing to help the "inactive" children and their families. i always wonder how they would feel if they knew they were labeled as such. so, even though i do my best to help them and make them feel welcome it is not from the standpoint that they are objects to be "reactivated" rather that they are individuals living their lives and i enjoy their friendship and their contribution to our ward and primary (which i do) and miss it.

and tracy, i have almost always had the same positive experience when people find out i am lds. people always tell me about classmates or neighbors they had who were mormon and respected or loved. thank goodness for that and for those people. the non-direct experience i mentioned in my previous comment was the first i've ever had of someone reacting negatively to the knowledge that i am lds.

Beth said...

Yes, I've had those experiences... my response is always: we're all human, and we all falter. Even when we put our best foot forward, our bad habits can and often do seep through.

Kyle said...

It's obviously unfair to characterize an entire group of people, but I do have a personal experience that I found kind of odd. About ten years ago, when my family moved on the block, we were greeted enthusiastically by the neighbors and enjoyed chatting with them in the driveway, etc.

One of the families was Mormon and they were very welcoming to us our first few months there and my younger brother would often hang out at their house and with their kids (we were 13 and 15 years old).

I'm not sure when, but at some point, the family mysteriously started acting cold towards us. My brother wasn't invited to come over anymore and we didn't see the kids outside as much when we were. The parents stopped waving to my parents as they drove down the street and the usual friendly neighborly things stopped. It was very strange.

My Dad wondered if my brother had offended them at some point, but my brother was a great kid, well-behaved, good student, very respectful (and we knew about Mormonism and respected our neighbors' beliefs, as our parents had taught us, so we weren't drinking coffee in front of them or questioning their beliefs, etc.)

The only thing notable was that my brother had apparently mentioned something indicating that we were Catholic and he said he noticed things kind of got weird after that.

Of course, this is a singular case and it likely has little to do with Mormonism, but my family was always baffled by how they didn't really talk to us anymore and would usually only socialize with another Mormon family across the street. It's unfair to think all Mormons are like this, but there is something insular to LDS at times, in my experience.

Maybe this person experienced something like that at one point. Anyways, it's not like that experience biased me against Mormons or anything, but it did make me wonder if religion had anything to do with it. Any insights from Mormons here?

Tracy Keeney said...

Not sure Kyle... the only thing I can think of is that your brother might have said something not realizing that it came across as offensive. You never know... either way, I never put much stock into things kids say. They innocently say things that others interpret as offensive.
I remember being in a Hallmark store around Christmas time, looking at nativity scenes and my 3 year old pointed noticed that they had white scenes and black scenes and said "Mommy, why did they make Jesus black?" A nearby black woman practically TORE IN HIM. "What? You think Jesus is a white man? You think he only loves white folk?" and said something about me raising up a racist bigot. Talk about a SERIOUS over-reaction.
So it's possible that your brother innocently said something and this particular family just over-reacted.
Although-- you also said that their kids stopped coming outside as much-- the whole thing may not have had anything to do with your brother or your family at all- they may have stopped being as openly friendly to other adults on the street, not just your parents.
It could be any number of things.
I'll tell you what though, we had a very simliar experience for BEING Mormon, only it was very blatant, and they TOLD us it was because we were Mormon. Our neighbors were very friendly to us right up until the day I told them we were Mormon. I said something about going to a youth dance at the church and the Mom asked "what church do you go to?" When I told her she goes, "You're MORMON?" With a big emphasis on "mormon" the way a parent would say "Your WHAT??" to a 13 year old who just announced she was pregnant. From that very day everything was different... I wasn't allowed over anymore. I remember one day, going out to the bus stop before school and the mom was coming out her door. I said "Hi Mrs. Steele!" She just kept walking and went to the mailbox. I thought she didn't hear me, so I said it again. She looked RIGHT AT ME, squinted her eyes and glared, and went back in the house.
That's the ONLY time anyone ever treated me or my family hostily. Other than that, everywhere we've ever lived, everyone was always kind-- and curious, if anything, and always seemed to have only nice things to say about the Mormons they'd known.

jackg said...

Even as a former member, I would never say that Mormons are not nice. Being people, there will be grumpy Mormons, happy Mormons, funny Mormons, dull Mormons, etc., just as there are grumpy non-Mormons, etc. Most of my evangelical Christian crowd have wonderful things to say about the LDS people. It sounds to me that this lady does not understand the LDS people, does not know much about them, and because of her fears, looks for the negative in them--and probably looks for the negative in all people. So, I agree with this article that this woman is revealing more about herself than her actual experiences.

Anonymous said...

Well, folks... I'm Methodist and I can honestly say that I have never experienced any religious steroetyping or closemindedness. I grew up in Appleton Wisconsin where neighbors were of a variety of religious preference (just no LDS :(. Everybody respected everybody else's religion and nobody thought twice about what religion (if any) you belonged to.

Of course, then again, there weren't any LDS in my neighborhood... HA! Go figure :)


Melissa Renee - who now resides in Utah.

Anonymous said...

I always like it when people say things like this to me. I always tell them that as a convert, I learned quickly that if the Mormons did not keep their horns trimmed on a regular bases that their horns will start putting pressure on their brains and cause migraine headraces that make them mean and nasty. After I was baptized I was not told about trimming my horns I was running around causing all kinds of trouble.

If this is not what is wrong with them, it could be that you have not challenge them to a wrestling match. They are all big on wrestling. It got started with Joseph Smith when would he would challenge people to a wrestling match and if they lost they would have to join the Mormon church. Then I ask them if they knew that the best undefeated wrestler in high school or college was a Mormon and that the only person to beat the former best wrestler in the United States was a Mormon? I have it on good authority that in the basement of their temples that have a big wrestling rooms where they determine who ever is the winner gets to be next leaders in the church.

If this does not work, I tell them the best Mormon jokes I can think of. Or I tell them that they would be nasty to if you could not have alcohol, coffee, tobacco, or other drugs to get through daily life but the best way to get to a Mormon is to offer them chocolate. If you can't win them over with chocolate then use green Jell-O as a back up.

As far as my neighbor I just yell something like "did you hear the one about what happened when the Mormon got to heaven and met the pope?"

For people that say such dumb things I just make a big joke out of it, just any thing bizarre or off the wall.

jayleenb said...

As a Christian of another stripe for 20 years I rarely encountered much persecution for my religion even though I was quite outspoken.

But the moment I converted to LDS and was going to be baptized, I began to be quite persecuted, although nothing like Christians in say Muslim parts of the world.

Just in ways I wouldn't have ever expected. Like a business owner finding out I was Mormon and not wanting my business anymore. Or friends and family who refused to talk to me anymore because they thought I was going to drink Koolaid and fly off in a comets tail... I also advertised for a roommate once and lost FIVE prospective roommates for being Mormon.

The interviews went great and we'd be getting along really well and they'd notice my pictures of Christ on the wall and ask what Church I went to. I'd say "Oh, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and I could see the looks on their faces and they couldn't get out fast enough.

One grabbed her deposit off the table and ran out the door. LOL

I've met a guy once who asked me out and asked if I went to Church. When I replied that I was a Christian, he thought that was great. Then he asked which Church... well, the moment I told him he launched into this horrific diatribe about how I was going to burn in hell for ETERNITY and what a HORRIBLE person I must be. And how I was a wolf in sheeps clothing because I seemed so nice... I couldn't get a word in edgewise and though we lived close by he wouldn't even look at me after that. I kept smiling and waving though. I have a zillion stories like that.

Oh well... such is life.

Anonymous said...

Hi All,

As with any group, there will be stereo-types. As a Catholic, I've heard all kinds of interesting comments about catholics, some nice, some not so nice. Its very easy to generalize. I do think there is some validity in the comment made, but not necessarily in the way it was made. Here's what I mean by that.

People generally have a framework, based in some fact but not always accurate facts, upon which to base their stereotypes. Here the person has said that none of the mormons they've met are nice. We don't know the context or the actual experience the woman making the statement has had with mormons that have led her to draw the conclusion, but there probably are some facts that actually support her conclusion, at least from her vantage point. But she's taken the statement one step further and is now saying all mormons are bad, because the one's she's met were not nice. This is akin to saying all black men are criminals. In certain areas, there may be facts that might lend some support to that stereotype, but if one were to think about this in the logical sense, it isn't at all possible for all black men to be criminals. The stereotype is a distortion of facts coming from one persons experience with that particular ethinic group, or in this case, religious group.

I will say in my experiences growing up, I didn't encounter many mormons along the way. In fact, I don't think it even occurred to me that there were any other religions besides catholocism until sometime in high school. That's just because where I grew up, pretty much everyone was Catholic and there wasn't much opportunity to meet someone from another faith simply because applying the rules of probability, you were more likely to meet a catholic than anyone else.

Another thing I would say is that not having had many experiences with mormons outside the Donny and Marie show, I still knew my wife was mormon within a few moments of meeting her. The reason for that was a few tell tale stereotypes, the most obvious of those being the overwhelming kindness and compassion she displayed toward other people. Since marrying her, I've learned a great deal more about mormons beyond the stereotypes that we all have heard. I still disagree with your gospels and doctrines, but I do have to say, in my experiences with our mormon friends that as a general rule, mormons are very friendly and do genuinely try to live their faith.

I will add though, that I have heard that there are clear distinctions in the behaviours of mormons you meet actually living in Utah, versus those living in other areas. I have been to Utah on a few other occasions and have not personally experienced this, but this is one of those stereotypes that is out there.

Sincerely

Catholic Defender