Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Heroics

When I was in third grade, there was a kid in my class, Eddie, who was even more of a nerd than I was. He had super thick glasses, super skinny arms, and he went around saying things like "Do you know what the cubed root of 64 is?" When we had a class assignment to memorize the first paragraph of the Gettysburg Address, Eddie memorized the whole thing. I don't remember him having any friends really, though I do remember going to his house once to play Acquire. I suspect that his existence is one of the main reasons that I survived that year relatively unscathed when school bullies came looking for the weakest prey to pick on.

I remember one day after class, he came running out ahead of me, pursued by one of the bigger kids in the class. I don't remember what exactly went through my head, but I chased the bigger kid down and squeezed the back of his neck so he fell to the ground, giving Eddie the chance to get away. I then bravely ran away myself before this bigger kid had the chance to get back up. This was probably the most heroic thing I've ever done.

I am not sure what has happened since then.

Several years ago, I remember walking through town, and I saw something happening about 100 feet away on a side street. There was a kid with a bike, backed up against a wall and surrounded by 3 other kids. The kid with the bike looked terrified. I was much larger than any of the kids there; probably if I even just shouted something, the three other kids would've cleared out and the Bike Kid would have been able to get home safe that day. Instead I walked by quietly. I still picture that kid's face every once in a while. Doing nothing in that circumstance is probably one of my biggest regrets.

I think that as one who was at high-risk for teasing and bullying in elementary school, I learned to blend into the background and not make waves; you don't bully someone you don't think about. I do remember the "tougher" kids kicking down my snowmen I would make during recess, but I can't remember any other particular instances when I was the victim of targeted bullying. I stayed out of their way for a few years, and by high school I could almost completely avoid them by taking honors courses. Even now, however, certain sorts of people still really intimidate me, which I think is why I did nothing to help the Bike Kid years later.

I recently read The Help, and it got me thinking about these issues again. This book tells the story of several courageous women who risk everything for the cause of civil rights. I think that I'm at an age now where I have fewer chances to chase down and tackle people who are victimizing those weaker than them, but I do think that there are several instances still where I can stand up for other people and for principles that are important to me. Many of these instances may not be as dramatic as putting life and limb on the line, but they may be just as heroic.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Introspection

My brother was making his End of Year video for his family and he mentioned to me that he had a clip of me making one of my traditional self-analyzing comments. I think that this one was, "I think that I eat as much candy as the average person; I just do it by eating a four-pound bucket of Red Vines a couple times a year."

Self-analysis is not an aspect of my personality that I had ever acknowledged before, which is a little ironic if you think about it. (Or is it? I always nervous about calling something ironic because I know that literary-types like to rip into that one.) But after he said it, I realized that he was absolutely right. I spend an awful lot of time thinking about the things I do and why I do them.

It has gotten me thinking a lot about where this characteristic comes from. Until my Sophomore year of high school, I really didn't really think a whole lot about how I was just a character in a larger world, and the things that I did had on impact on people around me and what they think of me. Since then, I actually do almost everything on purpose (e.g. what I wear, the things I say, the movies I see) to try to give off (or not give off) a certain signal.

When I was in high school, I think that this primarily manifested itself in portraying a persona that was different than I was in order to better fit in and make friends. I've become more sincere since I've come back from my mission, not necessarily trying to be something I'm not, but being careful to only dispense information about myself at the pace I want. For instance, for a long time, I made a huge effort to dress and act in a nondescript way, wearing plain clothes in neutral colors. I allow myself a little more freedom to stand out these days (I'm wearing bright green shoelaces right now (shout-out to Elisa!)), but I tend to be pretty quiet when I'm around groups of people I don't know.

A lot of this purposeful living leads to a strange sense of humor, involving several inside jokes where I'm the only one on the inside, and the thing I'm inside has more layers than an onion. My sister pointed out to me that my entire life is a little like one big piece of performance art in this way. She is just about right.

For instance, on my mission, I had a tie that I decided I would dedicate as my Depression Tie that I would wear when I was depressed because it was just a sort of dark gray. As a joke, I would occasionally wear this tie on days that I wasn't depressed, just to fool people around me. The thing was that I never told people that it was my Depression Tie, which made it all the more funny to me. I was wearing a tie that was supposed to fool everyone to thinking I was sad, but I wasn't sad. But furthermore, they had no idea I was pretending to be sad because they didn't know about my tie. In short, they weren't being fooled and they didn't know it. Hilarious.

In a similar vein, I often tell people "they are true" (rather than "they are right") partially because I think it is funny, but partially to make fun of the common church-phrase "[fill in the blank] is true," which doesn't really make sense to me. I especially love saying it to non-Mormons who don't know this important piece of information. I also like that I pronounce things like "borrow" and "sorry" with a Canadian accent, that I'm a regular at IHOP, and that I bring my math books to the movie theater by myself for approximately that same sort of reason. Hilarious.

And more hilarious since it's not really that funny at all.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

End of Year Video

Each year, instead of a Christmas letter, each member of my family makes a video of all the things they did that year. Then they get put together and mailed out. It's pretty awesome.

Here is mine for this year.


video

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gathering

It is pretty simple to bin my friends into different groups: graduate school friends, FOB friends, Monticello friends, Bible study group friends, etc. The problem with this is that these groups often have very little overlap. This makes me sad at times since I think that all my friends would probably get along if they knew each other, but arranging friend-assimilation is often complicated.

I have tried a few times by inviting people from different groups of friends to events with other groups of friends, but I can't think of a single time that it has worked out. Perhaps the closest thing to success that I've had was my Break-the-Octoberfast/Sober Octoberfest where I invited a few people who were new members of the ward and now they seem to be friends with some of the other people that I invited, but I don't know that I can blame any of that on my pretzels and cider.

However, I realized today that Facebook actually does pretty much exactly what I'm trying to do. I can make muse with my status updates, and all the witty people I know from all aspects of my life comment on my status and other people's comments. It's like a very brief gathering of all my friends. It makes me really happy. Maybe someday I can host a movie night for a few regular commenters. Or maybe I'll just continue to let them hide behind a sort of translucent anonymity, and I can just pretend we are all friends.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Calling-monies

The thank-imony and friend-imony have received a lot of popular press through the years. Probably the number one context is Girls' Camp where allegedly hundreds of teenage girls cry while they talk about how much they love their cabin mates.

Another common testimony that happens though is the calling-mony, where a person stands in testimony meeting and talks about how important [insert stewardship] is. For example, the temple committee chair may talk about how they have been blessed by temple work or the ward mission leader might share an experience they had sharing the Gospel. Maybe the ward clerk will mention how MLS has changed their life. (Though as far as I understand, MLS is primarily a good tool for teaching long-suffering with an emphasis on the suffering part.) This past Suday, we had three people give calling-monies.

At first, I thought it seemed a little funny and insincere. If you are just sharing to encourage people to do their home teaching then maybe you are not sharing because you are moved by the spirit. Then again, if your assignment at church involves a certain aspect of the Gospel, I imagine you are more likely to have spiritual experiences associated with that aspect, and testimony meeting seems like a perfectly reasonable place to share how your testimony is developing.

Also, many callings in the church are associated with encouraging other people to improve their lives and serve others, and the particular testimonies shared this past Sunday were both humble and powerful. Their thoughts were actually highly motivating to change the way I live my life, and therefore they were appropriate and appreciated.

However, I don't think this is always the case. Clearly, testimony meeting is a time to share our personal convictions. I think it is also generally accepted that it is not a time to just talk about how much we love our friends or talk about or recent trip to [jealousy-inducing vacation spot/Church-history tour]. What is OK then for a testimony meeting in terms of content and motivation?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Marriage Rights

[This post has nothing to do with the Same-sex marriage debate.]

On Wednesday evenings, I go to a Bible Study with my roommate and a few other friends. We all go to different churches, so I think our conversations are always really insightful.

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with girl there. I had made a joke about how my roommate had been dating his girlfriend long enough and that it was time for him to get married. Since my roommate is only 25, she said that he was way to young to get married, to which I replied that more than half of my friends were married by 25.

What then followed was a pretty standard conversation that I have sometimes about how Mormons tend to marry younger due to cultural factors that stem from theological roots. As I was explaining the idea that marriage is an important part of the purpose of our existence on Earth, she brought up the point that she didn't feel like marriage was for everyone; she thought that marriage was a gift that a person might be lucky enough to be granted in life.

She then asked the question: "So do you think that marriage is a right?"

The question made me double-take a little. On one hand, I feel a little funny calling it a right since there are two people involved. On the other hand, there are all those statements about how if we don't have the opportunity to marry in this life, then we will not have those blessing denied us in the next. If we are promised something, do we have a right to it? She even asked the question, "So if you don't get married, does the church just arrange a marriage for you?" to which the answer is no... sort of. I guess we don't know the mechanism by which we are miraculously assigned a spouse in the next life (if that is in fact what happens), but this conversation got me thinking about how I think about marriage and how it is viewed in the Church.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lies

Today in Elders' Quorum, the topic was honesty. Through most of it, the teacher said fairly uncontroversial things, which was good because the Stake President was there.

Near the end, however, he brought up the subject of why people think it is OK or necessary to lie. The obvious ones came out quickly (e.g. to get ahead, to conceal something, to hurt someone), but I think that there are many reasons that I lie that seem less malevolent.

1. Humor: Sometimes lying is funny. I have been known to tell people that I used to be a World Champion African Stick Dancer but broke my knee in the 7th grade (when I was being chased down by an angry group of Tanzanian rebels)... and it would go on from there until it got so ridiculous that the person I'm talking to realizing that it is a lie. You would be surprised, by the way, on how far you can get before people will call you on it. You would be astounded on how much farther you can get if you insist on it even after they call you on it the first time. I think this is funny but harmless.

2. Convenience: Sometimes it is just easier to say one thing when another is more accurate. For example, I sing in a choir that meets twice a week in the evenings. Often, I'm asked by people if I'm free during that time. If I say I have choir, this often leads to a longer conversation about my choir that I don't want to have because I have other things to do. In fact, they probably don't even care to know about my choir, but they are obligated to ask if I mention it. So I usually tell people I have class, though technically it's not like a class that you register for and stuff.

3. Telling stories: It is relatively common to hear people say that you shouldn't let the truth get in the way of a good story. I don't mean that you should tell stories that are completely not true and pass them off as truth, but oftentimes the details just get in the way. So if a story is actually about my brother-in-law's second cousin's dog, in my version, it will usually be my cousin's dog. Or if the timing of a story would require less explaining if the whole thing happened over the course of a week instead of a month or a day, it will happen over a week. (If the most important part of the story is that it happened over a week, then I don't change that part, but if explaining the characters or setting of the story is noncrucial, and it turns a 15 second story into a 30 second story, I think an adjustment makes everyone better off.)

4. Avoiding hurt feelings: People sometimes call me and I'm still in bed and I try really hard to have a normal voice when I answer the phone, but usually I fail. Then they ask if they woke me up, and I say "No I've been up for a little while now." This makes them feel better and it makes it so we don't spend the whole conversation with them apologizing for pulling me out of bed. Really, I reject about 90% of the calls that come through my phone. If I answer, you shouldn't feel bad; you should be flattered that I wanted to talk to you. You are more important than sleep or anything else that I could be doing right then. (On the other hand, if you call and I don't pick up, you shouldn't feel bad either. I don't like talking on my phone if there is anyone within 20 feet of me, so if I don't answer, I'm probably in some crowded place (like class or something).)

I'm sure that there are lots of other justifications. My general view was that when it comes to lying, I follow the "no harm, no foul" principle. However, remember how I said the Stake President was there for this meeting? After my comment, he raised his hand and pretty much called me to repentance. All of his words were generally addressing the quorum, but he just looked straight at me the whole time.

He seems to think that Honesty is a virtue unto itself and that we should try to be completely honest even when our dishonesty is not hurting anyone. I suppose I can see where he is coming from. I need to think about it a little more though.