I’ve been reading a pretty interesting book for one of my classes: “A Spy for all Seasons” by Duane Clarridge. He’s a fairly egotistical but clearly bright man who spent years in the Clandestine Services at the CIA. He spends a fair amount of the book commenting on other people’s careers, strengths, and ineptitudes–which is both fascinating and makes me grit my teeth in annoyance. Eventually he got to a Mormon (who’s name was changed to protect his identity). This kid was sent to Ankara to work as a clandestine case officer, that is to recruit and handle people passing information on their own governments–this is the way the U.S. government manages its human intelligence gathering. A big part of the job was to become socially active in the diplomatic community and use those social contacts to recruit spies. Apparently the Mormon was a complete failure. He was uncomfortable at functions with alcohol, despite the help of his fellow CIA officers. Clarridge suspected he had never been outside his insular community, and he and his wife seemed unable to socially adapt to a non-Mormon social situation. Clarridge wrote a scathing employee evaluation, and as a result the Mormon eventually left the CIA to become an academic. (Clarridge assumed he’d done the Mormon kid a favor, but was given a hard time in Washington for the harsh review. This experience made him cautious to write an excessively negative review against an egotistical but inept case officer a few years later–Aldrich Ames.) I don’t know how much the harsh review of this kid was due to his insularity, his moral qualms with manipulating others to essentially commit treason, or to the prejudices of those around him who seemed quick to connect his religion with his work performance.
I had a disturbing experience a few years ago. I was leaving a job that I hated, and where things were going very badly for me. One particular person, who had shown his lack of scruples to me on other occasions, was spreading false rumors about me–I’m assuming to effectuate some staffing changes he wanted. As I was packing up my office he came in and offered me his best wishes, then shut the door and said “Do you have something to say to me…come on the door’s shut, you can say anything.” I was aghast. Even though I’m usually pretty slow on the uptake I was sure he was trying to find out if I knew what he had been doing to me. I carefully crafted an answer for two reasons (1) I wasn’t sure yet if I was going to tell anyone before I left and (2) I was trying my best to forgive him, and calling him a two-faced jacka** wasn’t going to help. So I said “I believe everything in life happens for a purpose, and I’m very excited about the opportunities that are opening up to me–I think that this change will be best for me.” He got very annoyed and barked at me “You don’t have to be so spiritual about it, it’s just a job.” He got up and left and I never saw him again. I had never made an issue of my religion at that job. I’m assuming they knew I was Mormon because I went to BYU. One time, a few years earlier, I had left work early on a Sunday to go teach Sunday School. That was it. And yet, I suddenly felt as if the animosity I’d experienced could be partly explained by bigotry. I still feel kind of sick thinking about it.
But, I can’t claim to be some kind of victim, because I think that other opportunities have opened up to me because of my religious affiliation. The interview process for my current job was really pretty funny. A friend from church introduced me to the office director. A couple of minutes into the interview, he found out I had been a missionary in Russia, we started talking in Russian, and after about 15 minutes he said “well, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got the job.” I had to finish interviewing with others, etc., but I know that my missionary experience was a huge factor in my favor. I love my job, and am surrounded by people who have worked with other Mormons, were really impressed by them, and have expressed their respect to me.
We’ve all heard stories like this. They are the tales that make it into the back of the Ensign and get me all teary eyed. One memorable story that was on the back page of the Church News a few years ago concerned a branch president in my mission. He was unemployed, and while that left him a lot of time to minister to the branch, he was stressed about supporting his young family. Eventually he got a job interview with a Scandinavian company–for a job that would pay well for the area. He showed up at the interview with several other Russian applicants, and the company, as per Russian custom broke out the Vodka. He declined the offer of alcohol, much to the derision of the other Russians. One of the interviewers asked him why, and he explained that he was a Mormon and was not drinking for religious reasons. He was very concerned that he would no longer be considered for the job, but much to his surprise, the employer told him that he knew other Mormons, that they were honest hard workers, and the branch president was offered the job.
So, I’m trying to figure out, are there jobs that Mormons are not good at, by virtue of being Mormon–or jobs that we are better at by virtue of our religion? Are these isolated incidents of discrimination or praise, and not indicative of larger themes, or is there some overriding curve that we benefit or are hurt by? The problem with this kind of inquiry is that the evidence will all be anecdotal (I think…) But, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
(One request, please be careful with other people’s stories and identities…I’m very sensitive to the very public nature of this kind of conversation.)