The Core of a Mormon Man

The assertion has been made in hundreds of media articles, blog posts, and comments to both that there was no core to Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate — that he seemed phony, plastic, robotic, and of course, that he seemed to have flip-flopped on issues.

The claims that Romney lacks a “core” come to mind as Romney announces the suspension of his presidential campaign today. The contemplation also dovetails somewhat with Kaimi’s exploration of the role of individuality in narratives about Mormonism.

Let me posit that Mitt Romney provides an almost ideal role model for any Latter-day Saint boy, young man, or even grown man to emulate. He is smart, clean, completely dedicated to his family, efficient and productive in his job, involved with the details of life and industrious, and deeply religious and devoted to his faith. His Mormonism visibly permeates every aspect of his life; he is the epitome of an upstanding Mormon man.

But at the same time, he is said to have no core. Take a look at how this was expressed recently in a reasonably insightful comment (scroll down to spaniel | February 6, 2008 11:08 AM) on an otherwise nondescript blog post at BeliefNet (Mormon Mentality’s Dan E.’s comments on that thread excepted, of course):

In my experience, Mormons have an awkard social edge to them. I went to engineering school in Arizona and for the first time met some Mormons. I didn’t know that at the time, but these students seemed hard working but a little nerdy and very uncertain of themselves socially. So what, I thought, we’re engineers. We’re all a bit nerdy, I thought.

[...]

These students didn’t really hang out together, but I noticed they were unpopular, mostly because they couldn’t seem to really adjust to living among ‘regular’ engineers. (Who are pretty normal, actually, compared to other people.) They didn’t really have a developed sense of humor, they didn’t seem at ease, etc. Turns out there were so many things that they didn’t do that others did do, some of them so very innocuous, like drinking caffeine. . . . They had this awkward quality to them because they had drawn this very bright line of blacks and whites that really seemed overdone. There was a childhood, almost backwards quality to the way they interacted with the rest of the group. . . . Mormons are strongly family and community oriented and the downside is that they seem like fish out of water when around ‘normal’ people, nonMormons. . . . [T]here is a thin-ness, a flatness, a lack of maturity to the interactions I’ve experienced to many people of piety because they can’t allow themselves a real, vibrant life because they have all these negations and strictures to obey. . . . The Mormons . . . that I’ve met, are so insular that they seem to have this flatness to them.

Which leads me to Mitt. When he first appeared, I thought: “My god! That’s the Mormon awkwardness!” If you hammered his thumb it wouldn’t seem real. I guess in retrospect that is tailor made for politics. But nothing he says, and I mean NOTHING, seems authentic to me. Is this less a function of his being a flip/flopper than mainstream America perceiving the insularity of ‘Mormon-ness’?

I think it is safe to say that Mormons are indeed aware of this “Mormon awkwardness”, as the commenter calls it. Who among the Latter-day Saints has not at one point realized that adherence to this faith severely cramps one’s style in numerous and significant ways?

But does this cramped style or Mormon awkwardness really translate into a lack of a core — and did Mitt Romney exemplify that?

There can be no doubt that what the commenter described as “Mormon awkwardness” was visible at points in Mitt Romney’s public appearances during his campaign. This contributed in part to the New York Times’ observation on January 24, 2008 that Romney led in “ill will among G.O.P. candidates”:

At the end of the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire this month, when the Democrats joined the candidates on stage, Mitt Romney found himself momentarily alone as his counterparts mingled, looking around a bit stiffly for a companion.

Time Magazine discussed the “I Hate Romney” Club that seemed to have developed among the Republican candidates and also made an observation that plays to this notion of Mormon awkwardness:

Before and after debates, rival campaign staffers note, Romney tends not to mingle with the other candidates — most of whom know each other professionally — preferring instead to keep close to his family and staff.

A little reflection reveals this, actually, as a very Mormon trait. First, this faith simply cramps its adherents’ style. The foremost contributing factor to this and hence to our social awkwardness is our adherence to the Word of Wisdom, as interpreted since 1921, absolutely prohibiting drinking alchohol, even socially. As a result of this, LDS men simply don’t hang out with the guys like most other people do. Instead, they go home to their families and engage in Ozzie-and-Harriett-like pass times like family games or fixing up around the house. A lifetime of doing this, even if you’re a seasoned and successful professional who has grown up outside of Mormon country, arguably conditions a person to be more likely to gravitate toward family rather than rubbing shoulders with old-boy networks.

Second, and almost just as sure to contribute to this sense of “Mormon awkwardness” is the likelihood that a faithful Mormon man rarely — if ever — uses profanity to express himself. This seems like a small thing but it’s effect on social acceptability and being-one-of-the-group of guys cannot be underestimated. Mormon men do not avoid profanity because they think or the Church teaches that it is a sin but rather out of respect for the people around them, whom they view as brothers and sisters in the family of God. They believe that demeaning language is not pleasing to God and therefore abstain from it. It simply feels right to Latter-day Saints but contributes to this very Mormon awkwardness that has been observed. It’s very hard to fit in when you don’t speak like those around you (harsh and demeaning profanity is pervasive in the speech of American males from the lowest to the highest income brackets and at all levels of professional achievement) and, moreover, you don’t do so over a beer with the guys at the end of a workday or on the weekend.

Remember that Slate article that essentially excoriated Romney for not having soap-opera-esque drama in his family like the other contenders? (And don’t forget the Boston Globe piece from August 2007 about Romney’s language — “gee whiz”, “Whoop-de-do!”, “Holy moly!”, “pleased as punch”, “golly”.) This is another point: Romney’s strong marriage to a smart, independent, and productive woman, his strong family of equally clean-cut and faithful offspring, earned him the designation of the Ozzie and Harriett candidate. This charge was renewed on Slate last month as Bruce Reed quipped “Mitt never does anything by accident, but even he has shown his own charm as the hopelessly square dad, a throwback to ’60s sitcoms when every normal family was a pretend one.” But the truth is that Mitt Romney’s family is not a pretend one. They are a Mormon reality. Although they are rich, which distinguishes them from a more common LDS family, their family is actually a pretty typical LDS family. The fact that this is so incredible to many outside our faith contributes to Mormon awkwardness.

Mitt Romney’s core is obvious and it is surprising that he would be judged to lack one even though his Mormon awkwardness is readily observable. Yes, he is thoroughly Mormon. But the very traits that lend to his Mormon awkwardness tie into his core: he is a deeply religious man who takes his religion seriously, puts his family first in his life, is highly disciplined and focused, and strives to live righteously, which includes respecting those around him. He’s not perfect and certainly has numerous weaknesses and shortcomings but he strives to overcome them and puts his best face forward.

I can almost see why these traits, which are the traits that Mormonism intends to instill in Mormon men, could be viewed as “a thin-ness, a flatness, a lack of maturity to interactions” and an inability “to allow themselves a real, vibrant life” — but only almost. This is because, it seems to me, this observation would depend on the premise that a “real, vibrant life” necessarily includes the type of “guy time” that Mormon men who do not drink or use profanity, and who prefer to spend time with their families when not working, are not prone to spend. But it is in doing these things that Mormon men express their individuality. What could be a greater expression of a man’s core — of his ultimate individuality — than choosing to dedicate himself to the life of his wife and children, even to the exclusion of guy time?

Comments

  1. So why did this paragon not ignite the Republican base? Aren’t they the “family values” crowd? I still maintain it’s not his religious beliefs but his own personal shallowness and lack of authenticity that made his quest a failure. And come on “because I love America” I resign? Get over yourself, Mitt.

  2. John,
    This is a really good explication of Mormon social awkwardness. I think you’ve nailed it.

  3. Personally I would agree with your comments to a point.

    Being a Mormon led me to associate with my fellow co-workers a lot less because much of the after work time revolved around drinking.

    I found over time however that if I removed my intollerence for Booze and spent time with people when drinking begins, but leave well before it ends, I generally found myself not an outsider.

    Because of this I realized I was missing out on making associations because I was taught to avoid the appearance of evil I measured it too tightly.

    Often, I would tell people of my beliefs more in environments that turned my stomach, smoke filled pubs, than any other time in my day. People I knew who seemed standoffish at work would be much more friendly, not because I partook in their binging but rather because I did not seem as singular.

    It is not easy to do, it means making a sense of compromise in that I cannot immediately show my outward intollerance of what they are doing but instead it allowed me associate.

    Also, I find some Mormon politicians are way too willing to show their MORMON street cred. They forget that the majority of the population is not like them and not willing to leave their ideas just because you dissapprove.

    Not sure if Mitt fits that category but certainly there is some truth to it.

  4. he is thoroughly Mormon

    I completely agree with this, but there is an inevitable (and irritating) blurring between Mitt-the-Mormon and Mitt-the-politician. One can, for example, be “thoroughly Mormon” and reject Mitt’s politics. Sadly, there are those who think that a person’s Mormon thoroughness must include certain political propensities.

  5. You have highlighted the dilemma, john f. We take pride in being peculiar people, but then don’t like it when people tell us that, yes, we really are peculiar.

    Although I think there were other factors at play in Romney’s rejection by the electorate, there was enough of what you describe here to be relevant.

    This has ramifications for so many things beyond our participation in the political arena. For instance, it will help our missionary effort tremendously when we figure out how to socialize with others on their terms.

  6. California Condor says:

    There are some Mormons who are awkward but the Romneys are the exception. Your analysis misses the mark. There are plenty of cool Mormons who don’t smoke or swear but who still play fantasy football and know how to trash talk.

  7. re # 1, his own personal shallowness and lack of authenticity that made his quest a failure

    I tried to show in the post that he is not personally shallow and does not lack authenticity but only seems to because he “does not hang out with the guys”.

    re # 3, I seriously do not think Romney falls into the category of trying to show his Mormon street cred. He worked very hard not to alienate people by focusing on his faith, even though it was very important to him. He knew that most people did not share that faith and he wanted to tread lightly.

    re # 4, Ronan, you’ll note that the main post doesn’t talk about Romney’s politics at all. It was trying to explore the substance of his core, which is plainly visible for Mormons and for some reason, not so visible for non-Mormons. But I agree with you that One can, for example, be “thoroughly Mormon” and reject Mitt’s policy proposals. I’m not sure, though, whether Romney fell into the camp of those who think that a person’s Mormon thoroughness must include certain political propensities.

  8. I think this is a pretty self-flattering explanation of the phenomenon. I propose the following additional factors, mostly applicable to some of the more conservative Mormon men:
    *discomfort or inexperience relating to women as equals or professionals.
    *awkwardness related to being alone in a room with a woman, which sometimes happens in the workplace or anywhere else in the world.
    *discomfort with homosexuality and accompanying difficulty relating to homosexual people.
    *victim mentality as to others’ views of Mormonism.

    I also think the possibility of being considered awkward sets off a self-reinforcing cycle of self-conscious behavior.

  9. #1 – “Get over yourself” is a perfect example of what this post addresses. Why is it assumed that Romney’s statement wasn’t both sincere and, more importantly, appropriate? Think about it: If you really do value a Republican of any stripe beating the Democratic candidate in the general election, and if McCain really is the odds-on favorite, why would you keep fighting up until the nomination? What Romney said makes perfect sense IF you believe he is sincere; if is “fake” and “shallow” and “egotistical” only if you think he is those things.

    This is perhaps the best summary of the personality issue I have read. Thanks, john f.

  10. Of course, z, you would believe that BS.

  11. #10 was too harsh. Change it to:

    “That simply is ludicrous as a description of Romney.”

  12. John,

    I love your analysis of Mormon social awkwardness. It’s spot on.

    I disagree about the analysis of Mitt’s core. What makes him different from Harry Reid or any other Mormon man? That’s the problem with Mitt. He is too stereotypical of a Mormon to show individuality in public. Even the other Mormon guys I hang out with have some idiosyncrasies and quirks that distinguish them from other Mormons. This is part of my dilemma with Mitt. I really feel bad for him as a Mormon today, even though I disagree with much of his stated policy positions and some of his tone. I feel like he is trying too hard to be a good missionary for the church at the same time as running a presidential campaign. It’s unfortunate, because the result is we don’t see many of the experiences that differentiate Mitt from the mass of other Mormons in the universe.

  13. z,
    Boll*cks.

  14. z might have a good point as to some very conservative Mormon men but the observations don’t seem to fit into the point of this post.

  15. Thanks, Ray. I meant in general, though, not just vis-a-vis Romney. That’s been my experience with some Mormon men. On the other hand, I’ve met many who are not awkward at all.

  16. Uh,

    I would agree that LDS Engineers have a degree of geekiness to them. But then again so do most engineers

    Us LDS business guys lack that geekiness. There is a strong contrast in the presidency I am currently serving in. We have 2 business guys and 2 engineers. The two business guys are much more flamboyant and personable in their teaching style and leadership style.

    I agree with your last paragraph. The family focus drilled into us from birth is great strength not a weakness.

  17. It is interesting that our own behavior seems perfectly normal to us, and it is sometimes difficult to understand that others may view us as odd. As long as we live our religion, I think the “world” will view us with some suspicion.

    In addition to what was said, I think that others can perceive us as having an air of arrogance, and I wonder if that entered the equation.

  18. re # 12 I feel like he is trying too hard to be a good missionary for the church at the same time as running a presidential campaign.

    I never got this sense at all. An upstanding Mormon is simply who he is — if that’s good PR for the Church then it’s a natural consequence of the way he lives his life and not an effort to be a good missionary for the Church.

    Your Harry Reid example doesn’t work so well because he is similarly described as ultra-boring though he has not had the scrutiny of his “core” that Romney has.

    Also, please note that the main post doesn’t address Romney’s politics at all. This is talking about Romney’s individuality. He demonstrates his individuality by being authentic. Take a look at the Boston Globe article I linked in the main post. I submit that what is observed there is Romney’s authentic manner of speech and being. Since it is so unusual, isn’t it an expression of his individuality? Or is he required to drop the F-bomb when he hits his thumb with a hammer in order to be an individual or authentic?

    It’s unfortunate, because the result is we don’t see many of the experiences that differentiate Mitt from the mass of other Mormons in the universe.

    I’m not sure what this really means. Are we supposed to be walking around showing what differentiates us from other members of the Church on our sleeves? How would we do that? Why isn’t leading the authentic life that Romney leads authentic? Distinguishing himself to the extent that he has certainly seems pretty individualistic to me.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    I feel a certain social awkwardness at times in my professional life. I’ve spent my entire career trying to catch a trian at a decent time to be able to actually eat dinner with my family, not the macho thing to do in the law biz. I hate cocktail parties, not because of the alcohol (which doesn’t offend me in the least), but I just don’t feel comfortable walking up to a group of people already engrossed in conversation and butting in. I’m just not good at that kind of schmoozing. I don’t know whether that’s a Mormonism or a personal failing, but I feel it and try to avoid those particular social situations as a result.

  20. Regarding post #1:

    If you have never lived in the Bible belt, you really do not know how deeply many evengelical christians view our faith as a cult. The Bible belt is the region of the country where he had the worst showing, and anti-Mormon sentiment a very big reason.

    Thank you, john f. for this post. Very insightful.

    These feelings are somthing I have experienced myself. It is difficult to allocate time between the many demands of church and family life. It is something where I could definitely improve and Mark IV said, have opportunies for missionary experiences. (But that in an of itself highlights some of the akwardness we are discussing, because it places “hanging out” in a task oriented light).

  21. CC,

    There are plenty of cool Mormons who don’t smoke or swear but who still play fantasy football and know how to trash talk.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Perhaps “Mormon awkwardness” shows most when we try to be hip to elements of a lifestyle that we don’t personally embrace.

    Perhaps Romney’s awkwardness came from trying to be hip to a political orientation that he had not previously espoused.

  23. See, let’s face it, Steve Evans and RJH are pretty damn cool for Mormons (note the use of “damn”). But when we ambled around the streets of Seattle one evening a few years back we skipped the hip bars and clubs and went home to watch (cool) DVDs on Evans’s Coby. In other words, even the cool among us are socially inept. Even Rusty fidgets in his cool jeans when the coffee is served at work.

  24. Peter LLC, do you want to fill Ronan in on our F-word thesis?

  25. re # 20, (But that in an of itself highlights some of the akwardness we are discussing, because it places “hanging out” in a task oriented light).

    This is a very big problem, I think. We need to be more authentic in our relationships with friends and neighbors and not look at those relationships solely as missionary tools. We need to value those people and our relationships with them completely independent of any interest they have in the Gospel. Living our lives according to Gospel principles will show who we are. But we need to be friends without an agenda. Most Mormons can do this but there are some for whom the prospect of friendship is corrupted or ruined by hopes of proselytizing.

  26. bbell – As an LDS engineer I’d like to take issue with that remark, but I can’t really.

    I’ve known plenty of wet blanket LDS engineers. But some of the business-types in my quorum are tools too. So I’ll take issue with the assertion that LDS business guys are not geeks.

    The most fun ones (in my quorum) are the trade technicians.

    The most annoying are the dentists.

  27. John f.,

    I guess I don’t understand what is so “individual” about Mitt when all of the positive qualities you list result from his Mormon upbringing. He is interchangeable with a public image of contemporary stereotypical American Mormonism.

    Harry Reid gave a talk at BYU where he explained how he saw the interplay of his religious commitments and his public policy. It wasn’t that deep but I have never felt like I have seen inside of Mitt that way. When he says polygamy is bizarre, then he could tell us how he came to that conclusion, for instance. I get the same feeling from Hillary though to be honest.

    If Mitt were to lay out the changes in his policy positions and how he reconciled everything with his religion before and after, then I would feel like I know the guy better. Why is family important to him? Because he’s a Mormon. Why does he not swear? Because he’s a Mormon. This somehow doesn’t get to the individual’s real reasons for arranging their life the way they do.

    Maybe I’m being a little unfair, but I still don’t see his “core,” other than perhaps a deep-seated desire to restore honor to the Romney name and redeem his dad’s legacy.

  28. Really insightful, John. For me, it’s that sense of always being careful about behavior and appearance that creates the sense of inauthenticity. Strident vegetarians and environmentalists have the same problem.

  29. I have a hard time taking this post seriously. It is so rife with unsupported generalizations, media misrepresentations and sheer failure to realize the diversity of experience, that it is appropriately rejected as accurate. I don’t remember, ever, feeling like my “style was cramped” because I am LDS. Further, it doesn’t come close to describing, prescribing or diagnosing Romney in my experience.

  30. Mitt Romney’s core is a really decent but wonky, data-and-goals driven man. But he lacks the guy-I-wannna-have-a-beer-with factor so many Republicans are looking for in a candidate, so some of them go so far as to say he doesn’t have a soul.

    As far as Rod Dreher’s post, it was really disappointing, given how much I liked his book.

  31. john f.,

    Thanks for that fresh, interesting take on the Romney Greek tragedy. I had to smile with the analogy of engineering students. At the University of Utah in the early 80’s, they had a Beer-Drinking Engineers Student Union. It’s clearer to me now why this was so.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Ronan, there weren’t any good bands that night. Plus you were, quote, “knackered.”

    And I have since that time upgraded the DVD player, thanks.

  33. Steve,
    You may have moved on from the Cobe, but I never did…

  34. This is fascinating.

    Perhaps it’s a question of The Chicken or The Egg, but I was all of those things- socially awkward, a non-drinker, family centered- before I joined the church at 30. Maybe it was destiny?

    No offense intended anyone, but ALL enigineers I’ve met are a tad nerdy- LDS or not. ;)

    I hated cocktail parties for the same reasons Kevin gave- and I can totally relate to Mitt standing around while other kanoodled and schmoozed. Ugh, horrid situation.

    I can’t help but think, seeing as how so many other candidates are/were on multiple marriages at this point, that it’s not us who are weird- but the world’s idea of what _normal_ means that is skewed.

  35. Mike Sundberg says:

    My take on Mitt’s failure to make the cut-off is more pragmatic. We as mormoms are a peculiar people. We at best, are often misunderstood by non-mormons and are often viewed as haughty or aloof. We as a people, often add support for this because of our adherance to the “Teachings” and “Words of Wisdom”, while in a public non-mormon setting. We are different. Thus, the world sees us as such.

  36. I’m sorry, but I don’t see why observing the word of wisdom and getting home in time for dinner inherently makes us social goofballs. I think it has more to do with our aversion to all forms of conflict or cosmetic dissonance. We have a hard time being “natural.”

    I also wonder, in all respect, if Romney’s “robotic” presence has something to do with modern Mormon oratorical style. Our leaders’ public speeches tend to be somewhat plain and stilted in delivery–so as to be easily understood and easily transcribable and translatable. (I don’t think this is a bad thing, just the reality of a global and carefully correlated church.)

    I also think Romney has a certain humorlessness that bothered people.

    Finally, I think all of this combined with his being FAR too willing to be focus-grouped and consultant-groomed. If he had a core, it was too hard to see beneath the varnish.

    I will pass along this piece of secondhand gossip though: a good friend of mine is good friends with someone very high up in the Utah GOP party establishment. He confided in my friend his feelings about Romney: he said he’s known him for 25 years, and counts him as a close friend–but still has no idea what he really believes.

  37. Jeremy,

    Nate O. has characterized Mitt R. as a technocrat with more or less conservative instincts. I think that gets close to an accurate description. Do you agree?

  38. Interestingly, on one of the decadent liberal blogs I read, someone observed how, in his speech suspending his nomination, Mitt actually seemed “real” for the first time. Money quote:

    …today Romney was, as Stephanie Miller likes to say, “on fire.” He left his dullness and “Ken doll” image behind and really gave a dynamic speech. Totally flawed, but dynamic. I wonder if he’d let that style emerge more when he was still running, he might not have had to quit. Just a thought…

    Full post here.

  39. Mark IV: accurate or not, I’m not sure that constitutes a “core.”

  40. I think there is some truth in a hypothesis that simply by virtue of being a peculiar people we may exhibit certain peculiarities. But, to the extent Mitt didn’t hit it off with Evangelicals or his rivals is because of some Mormon personality quirks is hard to judge.

    As has been mentioned, simply being Mormon was enough for some to reject him. But I think socio-economic factors may be just as important. Mitt is wealthy. Specifically, his father was wealthy and very prominent politicaly and then Mitt went and became fabulously wealthy. Although certainly not in the Romney wealth category, I was a child of some priveledge, raised in private schools, and based on my experience I believe that exclusive schools, ivy league education, and years in a board room may accentuate the sense that Mitt is different from the great unwashed. How do you separate those nurture effects from those we have simply by nature?

    Like Reagan after ’76, a more liberal governor who ran to the right of the establishment candidate, Mitt can now spend the next four years honing his appeal to the bubbas. The odds are good that he will have an incumbent Democrat against which he can run. Look for him at a tractor pull near you!

  41. True enough, Jeremy, but I don’t that that is necessarily a drawback. I think Mitt sees himself mostly as a non-ideological get-things-done type of guy, but the primary process forced him to play along.

    Eisenhower was the ultimate non-ideologue, when he was asked by both major parties to run on their ticket. As recently as 8 years ago, Colin Powell might have filled that role. I’m not sure we know the details of what those men believed, either.

  42. TyB: I think you’ve got it. Kerry was easy to dislike, even if you agreed with his policies–it was just hard to like the guy because he seemed rich and aloof and robotic. I think Mitt’s stage presence was very similar.

    Mark IV said: I think Mitt sees himself mostly as a non-ideological get-things-done type of guy, but the primary process forced him to play along.

    Perhaps. But, ironically, that same process also produced a candidate, McCain, whose “core” (perceived or real) is that he’s a “non-ideological get-things-done type of guy.”

    Romney could have projected the message that yes, he’s Mormon, but as president he’ll just be a get-er-done kinda guy regardless of his churchiness. If he had, he’d maybe be in the running still, or at least a likely candidate for running-mate. But instead he pandered to the evangelicals by saying yes, I’m a Mormon, and my religion will be the functional ideological equivalent, from a policy standpoint, as evangelicalism would be. Nobody bought it.

    His slightly stiff Mormon social mannerism, combined with his suspiciously timed policy shifts, combined with his awkward courting of the evangelical vote, made him come across as artificial. Perhaps any of these qualities/circumstances in isolation wouldn’t have hurt his campaign so much. But they combined into one single and simple and packageable perception: fake.

  43. I don’t buy Romney’s public speaking as his downfall. McCain is the worst of the Republican candidates, rivaled only by Thompson. Hillary is much worse than Obama. We haven’t had a dynamic public speaker for President since Kennedy, and I think his dynamic was more content than delivery.

  44. Here’s my take on it: It’s a Cougar thing.

    I know a lot of very authentic, natural, sociable, genuine, friendly Mormon men. None of them went to BYU.

  45. bbell – As an LDS engineer I’d like to take issue with that remark, but I can’t really.

    I’ve known plenty of wet blanket LDS engineers. But some of the business-types in my quorum are tools too. So I’ll take issue with the assertion that LDS business guys are not geeks.

    The most fun ones (in my quorum) are the trade technicians.

    The most annoying are the dentists.

    Ha! I love it! Seriously, bbell, who do you think you are?
    The business Mormons are way worse than the engineers. And don’t get me started on the dentists!

  46. Ronan, something about the vision of you and Steve prowling the streets of Seattle looking high and low for “cool” stuff to do (and not finding it) just made me break out in uncontrollable laughter. Thanks for that.

  47. Maybe the Seattle PI should run a warning next time:

    BE ADVISED: Notably cool Canadian and Brittish Mormon Bloggers will be out on the town tonight looking for a good time. If your establishment is not up to their really-hip standards, they are fully prepared to go home immediately and watch Napoleon Dynamite on DVD.

  48. MCQ: I think you’re on to something with the Cougar thing. I’m still getting used to the Stepfordian vocal cadence here.

  49. I’m guessing it has something to do with the honor code, and the fact that you are always in danger of being ratted out by your “friends.” Tends to make you less friendly.

  50. Cool people don’t read the PI.

  51. I think this is a very insightful post and I totally agree with your thesis about the causes of “mormon awkwardness”. I’m sure this is a lot worse for mormon men than mormon women, but it exists for women too. I have found that I just do not enjoy the same type of social activities as my non-LDS friends and acquaintances, and there is no duobt that this contributes to an experience of not being one of the gang. I

  52. I want to add that I don’t think mormon men should try to fit in by spending more time in bars after work with buddies instead of playing UNO with their kids. I really like mormon men just the way they are.

  53. Thomas Parkin says:

    Our cultural catch words and ‘catch markers’ of other kinds lack flair. And LDS men who march to their destiny by catch words are a pretty boring lot. I don’t see that this has much of anything to do with being a Mormon – it never has for me. When I start thinking of the actual Mormon men I know, I feel quite certain that the beliefnet author’s view has more to do with with engineers who are sans the false vigor that wickedness lends, and not much else.

    ~

  54. “the false vigor that wickedness lends”

    There’s a catch-phrase for you.

  55. Thomas Parkin says:

    MCQ,

    I think you mean ‘punchy and astute observation.’

    ;>

    ~

  56. *sigh*… Well, right now it sucks to be me. A white male Mormon Republican with no one to vote for.

  57. Thomas, of course you know that is precisely what I meant.

  58. MCQ,
    Brilliant, its the Zoobie factor.
    I have to say though that it has taken some work to figure out how to socialize with the non-mormon after growing up in the heart of Zion. This could probably more accurately be described as a Mormon Corridor thing, transferred on to those from “out in the mission field” during their 4 year stay in Happy Valley.

  59. As an LDS convert and nationalized US citizen, I haven’t been impressed by Mitt Rommney at all. His public persona in terms of the positions he took to appeal to a national audience just to get elected and the radical changes in his core beliefs do not speak well of his honesty and candor. I feel that nationally he has done more harm than good in terms of how LDS people are perceived.

    I would rather vote for somebody who I might not completely agree with but I can believe in.

  60. I would rather vote for somebody who I might not completely agree with but I can believe in

    That’s your mistake. Right there. Believing in a politician.

    I do think that Mormon dorkiness did help give Romney an inauthentic feel, besides changing policy positions at opportune times, having ridiculously well-combed hair, and speaking with the general tone of voice of the AOL “You’ve got mail!” guy.

  61. Thanks for the insight, John. I agree that “Mitt Romney provides an almost ideal role model for any Latter-day Saint boy, young man, or even grown man to emulate.” I wonder if it’s not his very success that has led to his defeat. Perhaps enough feel that he’s too good to be true and that his squeaky clean success story is just so much spin–some kind of idealistic style without any meat and potatoes substance.

    About the engineers–I grew up in a community of scientists and engineers who built bombs for the government, and the geekiest engineer I knew was an adult convert, so clearly it’s not mormon (anti)socialization, but a hit-or-miss personality trait.

  62. re # 39, what would you describe as a core?

  63. re # 42, Romney could have projected the message that yes, he’s Mormon, but as president he’ll just be a get-er-done kinda guy regardless of his churchiness.

    I think this is exactly what he did. But you and others interpreted it as not having a core. What would a core be? Is it taking a really firm stand — making absolutist statements about issues — so that everyone “knows what you believe”? If that’s what it is, Romney did it, but since his hair was nicely combed, his wife beautiful, smart, and independent, and his five sons all clean-cut, productive people with their own Ozzie-and-Harriett families, he was dismissed as not having a core.

  64. re # 44, I know a lot of very authentic, natural, sociable, genuine, friendly Mormon men. None of them went to BYU.

    Are you saying, therefore, that Romney was not authentic, natural, sociable, genuine, friendly? If so, what is the basis of that observation?

    As to the Mormon men who exhibited these traits but who had not attended BYU, in what way did they exhibit these traits? Are you saying that they went with the guys to the bars after work and on business trips but instead of drinking alcohol with them nursed a Coke and looked on? I’ve done this many times but I still get the impression that it’s not enough — the point is not to be sitting together but rather sharing alcohol together. Alcohol is the key; friendship is the medium. But of course I went to BYU, twice.

  65. re # 52 I want to add that I don’t think mormon men should try to fit in by spending more time in bars after work with buddies instead of playing UNO with their kids. I really like mormon men just the way they are.

    That’s a great sentiment. Thanks. I happen to agree and believe that Mormon men show their core by making that choice. It is also an expression of their individuality — it is hard to see it otherwise considering it is such an unusual choice to make in our professional world.

  66. re # 59, His public persona in terms of the positions he took to appeal to a national audience just to get elected and the radical changes in his core beliefs do not speak well of his honesty and candor.

    Watch it with the insinuations about his honesty, please. This post is not about politics but rather about the accusation that Mormon men do not have a core (with Mitt Romney as the example). I think there is a high burden on your part if you want to claim that Romney is a dishonest person. Socially awkward perhaps. Squeeky-clean to the point of irritating people looking for dirt on him. But you have a lot further to go in establishing that he is a dishonest person.

  67. Are you saying, therefore, that Romney was not authentic, natural, sociable, genuine, friendly? If so, what is the basis of that observation?

    I’m saying he apparently doesn’t come across that way to some people, but that’s not my observation: I’ve never met the guy. It was part of your post that others are saying this about him.

    Are you saying that they went with the guys to the bars after work and on business trips but instead of drinking alcohol with them nursed a Coke and looked on? I’ve done this many times but I still get the impression that it’s not enough — the point is not to be sitting together but rather sharing alcohol together.

    Alcohol is not the point, John, it’s where the alcohol gets you. Most guys learn in college how to get to that place after a few drinks, and they are thus able to form fast friendships with other men. Mormon guys who don’t go to BYU learn to do it without alcohol (and yes, it is possible). At BYU that skill is not on the curriculum.

  68. You mean alcohol gets them to a place of comraderie?

  69. It’s hard to imagine, huh?

  70. A place they couldn’t get to without it?

  71. johnf (#63), I’m with you up to a point. But you really can’t assert that Romney took a firm position on issues without noting that he took equally firm, but directly contradictory, positions on those issues in the (recent) past. In fairness, I think you have to consider that that probably contributes more to accusations of corelessness than his squeaky-clean family.

  72. Romney’s “core” on political issues is an interesting topic and invites comparisons to John Kerry, I suppose.

    But my thought is that his social awkwardness might tie into his being a Mormon. The social awkwardness — the squeaky-clean family, nicely combed hair, high octane professionalism, lack of profanity, gravitation toward family — seem to be mentioned at least as often to substantiate his lack of a core as his stance on political issues.

    But this post isn’t really about those political issues or Romney’s platform as a candidate. This post is about whether the rest of us Mormon men don’t have a core or whether the core is obvious but overlooked because the elements forming that core are so fundamental and simple as to be childlike and thus unsophisticated.

  73. Antonio Parr says:

    Kudos for an outstanding essay.

    The Mormon ackwardness is something that can be overcome. The first and most important step is for Mormons to carve out a portion of their lives for the greater social good. President Monson mentioned this at his inaugural press conference, when he stated that “I think we should not be sequestered in a little cage”, and then noted our responsibility to be involved in the communities where we live and that rather than standing alone, we should all work toward a common goal.

    To that end, Mormons could do far better missionary work volunteering in their communities then they ever can with our painful overt targeting of neighbors for conversion. Instead, coach a basketball team. Join a birdwatching society. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Help with charity walk-a-thons to fight breast cancer, MS, etc. Be a quiet light on a hill. Eventually people will figure out that you are Mormon, and respect you for your commitment for good and your willingness to avoid targeting your co-volunteers for instant conversion. There is something to be said about service for service’s sake.

    Not to mention the extra benefit of making friends with good and decent and remarkable humans who happen to not be Mormon.

  74. The thing is, John, I think your formulation gives us more credit than we deserve, and lets us off the hook too easily. It isn’t at all obvious to me that Mitt is more squeaky clean, or more devoted to his family, than Huckabee, for instance.

    When we explain away our inability to connect with most of the people around us in self-congratulatory terms, we are agreeing to allow the church stay the same size it is now. There is certainly nothing wrong with being childlike and unsophisticated, as you put it, but I’m not sure that will get the job done. We simply must find ways to do better, and blaming others for our social klutziness isn’t productive.

  75. I’m not blaming others. We have only our own lifestyle to blame for others perceiving us as socially awkward. I should note that I don’t think Mormons are particularly socially awkward among themselves.

    To improve this aspect of being socially awkward, we can hang out with the guys more while they drink alcohol and we drink soft drinks and then, once the others arrive at a place of comraderie, we can be there waiting, I suppose. Perhaps MCQ can provide more details about the dynamics.

    I defer to MCQ because my experience has been different. I have spent many evenings at bars or pubs with “the guys” whether as a University student or as a professional, whether for a social event after work or for a pass time while on a business trip, and my observation has been that the goal for them on those occasions is the alcohol itself and that friendship might or might not come as an interesting by-product — but the drinking would still happen either way.

  76. I think all people feel socially awkward at various points. I’m not sure how much religion plays a part. If anything, I have felt more uncomfortable at Mormon activities than at “non-Mormon” activities. My wife is a social butterfly and has no trouble becoming good friends with just about anyone at any event. I’m a little bit more reserved and have a tougher time.

    As far as the bar scene is concerned, I have found that although most people liked to drink, avoiding the alcoholics and playing pool, foosball or darts with the social drinkers helped to foster more friendships. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re sharing an activity that develops friendships.

  77. The main problem here is that you are saying that Mormons are the only ones who don’t drink and the only ones that don’t cuss and the only ones that want to be with their families.

    I don’t have the social awkwardness (and neither does my husband) however we also know many people who are not LDS that don’t do the things we don’t do and we don’t have a problem with the people who do the things we don’t do. It is not rare to here a non-LDS man say he wants to spend time with his family. We are not the only ones who love our families people!

    Maybe we think we are better than everyone else or we assume that we love our families more so we make ourselves awkward!

  78. John F,

    Great essay. It certainly hit a resonant chord with me, as I find that I feel, like Kevin Barney, awkward in those kinds of social outings. I do technical sales (computer networking) and have a foot in both the business and engineering side. I do see Mormons who seem more comfortable in business/social networking, but they are fewer in number, in my experience. The description of Romney standing alone after the debates sounds so much like I feel after a business meeting, or even after my morning basketball games at the gym.

    Anecdotally, I have also know LDS business people who have worked really hard at the social side, and have ultimately given up their LDS standards. Doesn’t happen all the time, but often enough to be a cautionary example.

  79. We haven’t had a dynamic public speaker for President since Kennedy, and I think his dynamic was more content than delivery.

    Clinton. My ultra conservative boss met Clinton last year during a fundraiser for his charity. He said as Clinton spoke the hatred all melted away and he was suddenly believing every word to come out of his mouth. He came to his sense later, but described it as the same feeling he got listening to great speaker in general conference.

    Bubba is an amazing public speaker, whether you agree with his politics or not.

  80. Following the campaign, I always thought that Mitt’s perceived problems with authenticity were not so much tied to his core Mormonism, but tied directly to his politics. I was left thinking about Eminem’s song and inserting Mitt’s name … “Will the real Mitt Romney please stand up?” Why? Because he faked his NRA support/hunting background, he declared he was independent during the Reagan years, essentially ignored major immigration solutions while Governor only to later align himself with Rep.Tancredo, and his generally his moderate platform while Gov contrasted with his now “bonafide” conservative credentials as a presidential candidate.

    I thought Mitt’s greatest strengths would really be to clean up government and make it more efficient, cut waste, balance the budget, bring down the deficit with pragmatic solutions. But that pragmatism seemed to go by the wayside. The most obvious example was his support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent – a policy which 450 economists signed a statement saying that the cuts would increase inequality and the budget deficit, decreasing the ability of the U.S. government to fund essential services, while failing to produce economic growth.

    In short, yes people could not identify with him and saw him as inauthentic partly because of his Mormonism and personal life “too good to be true”, but his unauthentic political background seemed to do the most damage to his campaign.

  81. I realize this thread is not to discuss his political platform, so apologies for the above post, but I don’t think Mitt’s awkwardness/authenticity issues are so readily compartmentalized. I always thought he was alienated by the other Republican candidates because he was a real threat to their candidacies, mostly in terms of his money – he could almost buy the election (or so it was thought at the time). While I’m sure Romney doesn’t drink or cuss (except for the Olympics f-bomb incident) I am certain he was not otherwise socially awkward. It is hard to rise to a person of his success being socially awkward.

    At any rate, it is a giant balancing test for Mormon workers who feel pulled in one direction towards work and after work social obligations vs family/church obligations. I’d usually err on the side of family at the expense of work/post-work activities and I’m happier for it.

  82. As someone who was raised LDS, served a mission, graduated from BYU, and has since left the Church (although I still have a great amount of respect for it), I can totally relate to this post, moreso now that I drink alcohol and caffeine occasionally.

    It seems to me now that although most of my good friends growing up were NOT LDS, and I have always had a majority of friends who were not members of the church, I never fully embraced them, and always felt like I needed to be leery of them, because they didn’t share the same standards, and indeed, I felt some sort of ineffable need to “avoid the appearance of evil.”

    Not that I’m a proponent of relinquishing one’s standards, or telling anyone that the Word of Wisdom is foolish, because indeed I don’t believe either of those things. But I can tell you that once I felt freed of the need to obsess about staying above/separate/safe from non-LDS folks, I also found that non-LDS people are virtually identical to my LDS friends in terms of how sincerely good they are, how much they want to do the right thing, etc. I never really believed that before.

    Along with “loving the sin, but hating ths sinner,” “avoiding the appearance of evil” is one of those religious dictums that really causes people to focus on unhelpful surface comparisons, obsession with appearances, etc. It’s so vague that it leads people to shoot beyond the mark, and troubles those who are more moderate with the idea that they aren’t dedicated enough.

    Anyway, I don’t know if all of that contributed to Mitt’s lack of success in the primary — I, too, felt like his unexplained conversion from apparent moderateness as governor to ultra-conservativeness made him seem insincere. I’m afraid it might not have been so easy to be troubled by that were it not for the great emphasis the Republicans placed on Kerry as “flip-flopper.” They did a great job of making that seem like a character flaw, and that came back to haunt Romney.

  83. RE the appearance of evil…

    Yeah, some of us were late getting the memo about the translation of Thess 5:22.

    I think this does contribute both to our too-frequent obsession with cosmetic morality as well as the outside perception of us as stilted.

  84. Catching up on the comments, but Antonio’s #73 is spot-on, imo.

  85. I think #73 is my vision for the church’s missionary program…..

  86. I think the problem this post brings to light is that we see and define ourselves too often based on the opposite beliefs and lifestyles around us. This means that we tend to generalize “others” as “different” – rather than seeing that many “others” are very similar in many, many ways.

    Too often, we think we need to be able to “preach the Gospel” – when we really need to do nothing more than ask people to share in our lives – to invite them into our social circles and fully join theirs, as Antonio says, with no expectation other than friendship and fellowship and mutual edification.

    I get a bit frustrated sometimes at how we tend to use the term “doing missionary work” – as if, somehow, sharing / preaching the Gospel is separate from our daily lives – something we have to set aside time to do. If we simply were more willing to talk about our lives more openly and not worry about conversions, I believe the acceptance would come much more naturally. We just let ourselves get in the way too often.

    How does this relate to “the core of the Mormon man”? I think the insularity that too often defines us in others’ eyes would disappear to a large degree if we more actively sought out others with similar lives and concerns. Sure, we still might feel out of place and awkward in bars, but we would feel right at home in many settings where we feel out of place and awkward currently. We try to be “not of the world”, but, too often, we don’t live enough “in the world” – and there are plenty of places “in the world” where it is perfectly fine to live – where living there would change our core in very good ways.

  87. Cory Wilson says:

    Calling all latter day saints who live in Washington!!! Vote for Ron Paul in the caucus tomorrow. He’s the biggest advocate of freedom in our nation’s capitol today. Look at the letter to the Latterer Day Saints at 3dw.net/letter. I know you’ll be impressed and this is pivotal to our freedoms.

  88. Have we entered a new dispensation – a latterer day?

    Spam is so delicious!

  89. Great comments everyone — I’ve learned a lot.

  90. I see the “reasonably insightful comment” in the original post as nothing more soft anti-Mormon stereo-typing. Why would we want to give a forum to someone who suggests that all Mormons are a “little nerdy”, “Don’t have a sense of humor”, have a “childhood, almost backward quality”, or that we are “so insular that they seem to have a flantness to them.”

    That being said, I can’t help but noticing that I can relate to almost every reference in the Weird Al song “White and Nerdy.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xEzGIuY7kw

  91. kurt,

    Thanks for the link. I was actually thinking of the same reference. Perhaps Offspring’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” fits more closely to the Mitt experience.

  92. I’m sure moments like this don’t help dispel Romney’s aura of awkwardness.

  93. I would agree that LDS Engineers have a degree of geekiness to them. But then again so do most engineers

    Us LDS business guys lack that geekiness. There is a strong contrast in the presidency I am currently serving in. We have 2 business guys and 2 engineers. The two business guys are much more flamboyant and personable in their teaching style and leadership style.

    bbell – I can’t believe your engineers haven’t figured out how outmaneuver the business guys yet.

    In our ward, the best teachers are all engineers or scientists. A large chunk of our leadership is technical in nature. It might have something to do with the personality of our bishop.

    Most engineers I know are good at pragmatic discussion and careful analysis, and not prone to histrionics. As opposed to, say, philosophers or attorneys… ;)

  94. Regarding Romney’s speech patterns … there’s definitely a Mormon leader way of speaking. My company’s CEO is an LDS guy. If you close your eyes when listening to the quarterly address, he sounds like a GA.

  95. Overall, I think this post kind of misses the point. While one might argue that Romney has integrity because he adheres to LDS values, that does not mean that he has political integrity. I think it’s fine to change your position on an issue if you have examined it and decided that what you previously thought was wrong. But I think a lot of people have the impression that Romney changed positions in an attempt to appeal to a certain demographic. It would be convenient to be pro-choice when attempting to appeal to a normally more democratic state like Massachucettes, but not so much when trying to appeal to the Republican Party of the US. And you have to admit that flip-flopping on issues for popularity would tarnish a person’s integrity.

  96. Jumping to the end after reading Norbert’s #28. He hits it when he says Mormon “awkwardness” comes from when we are “careful about behavior and appearance”.

    What LDS child has not had drummed into them their whole life that they are to be an example and that non-LDS people are watching them because they are LDS? These two instructions create a kind of stage fright for the earnest and obedient Latter-day Saint when he finds himself in the spotlight. We are so preoccupied with being an example that we start watching ourselves instead of being ourselves.

  97. Nice work, John. This is excellent.

  98. I think that some of you have latched onto the reason, but you need to pull back and look at the bigger picture. The problem isn’t mormons in particular. Americans are extremely intolerant of cultural differences when there isn’t a “racial” marker. If you look like them, they expect you to think like them, or you are some sort of threat.

    Like Twain said, travel is the greatest cure for bigotry. In Europe, people are used to the idea of white people having different cultural traditions, and relating to each other in different ways. Americans tend to insulate themselves from that reality.

    You ever sit and listen to the maladaptive non-LDS Utahns? Ever wonder what provokes someone to foam at the mouth at the evils of green jello? Seriously, why can’t they just get a life? White Americans just aren’t programmed to deal to live as neighbors with folks that share their skin color but not their culture.

  99. I am a non-caucasian , convert to our Church. Converted when I was a young adult. What I see is this- it is not that LDS folks choose to live according to higher standards, What I see in my university town is this- Mormons deliberately choose to self-isolate themselves from the community around them. Kinda like Orthodox Jews. An Us versus Them mindset is quite prevalent. In the Family Wards, a lot of the children and teenagers are not allowed to participate in activities, extra-curricular, where non-Mormons participate. Adults live in neihgborhoods, but they choose not to interact even with the close neighbors. Life in centered around Church on Sundays,and activities organised with Church members only.
    This leads to a chasm of sorts,and most Mormons seem to enjoy and revel in this kind of isolation. What the local leaders and the members dont seem to realise is that leads to the perception that Mormons “are weird”, self-righteous, and generally unfriendly.
    There is also the problem of our folks never doing anything in the community, being overly bureaucratic, when asked to, say, participate in a blood-drive, or to do a Habitat for Humanity project, or some other community project.
    A few friends are devout Catholic, and they make ita point as individuals, and as Congregations as a hole, to go out and interact with the community, and establisha presense and a footprint in the community.. We Mormons are absolutely no good at doing this- at both the individual level, or at the institutional level.For example- here in Ann Arbor, most peopledont even know that there is a Mormon community in town, probably over 2000 individuals strong. We just dont exist inpeople’s consciousness. And to those who know about us, We come off as unfriendly people, who dont like non-Mormon people unless they are investigators or people who have committed to be baptised.

    Bro Dick Bushman , when speaking about Mormons on NPR last week, also made the same point- that unless Mormons quit their habit of self-isolation, it is unlikely that the perception that Mormons are weird will never go away.

    Sorry for my rant.

  100. Hi Ronin! It’s nice to see you around here again!

  101. Ronin,
    You have a good point. My immediate reaction is to say that I often don’t have enough time to do everything as it is, so how am I supposed to be more involved in the community?

    But, in general, we do need to be more involved, and we have to be real friends with our co-workers, neighbors, etc.

  102. Thomas Parkin says:

    I think Pres Monson’s comment about being ‘sequestered away in a cage is telling.

    This is from our Ward Mission Plan:

    “Second, let’s reach out to others in a spirit of genuine Friendship and Love. We do not make friends only in (hope) that they (may) join the church. Instead, a true friend is a faithful friend regardless of circumstance. We can make friends from many walks of life, people who are very like us and some who are not so like us. We are all children of God. … we can invite them into our homes, get to know them and let them get to know us.”

    ~

  103. Jim- I understand your point. being busy being an involved parent, Church member. But, one does not have to be buildinga Habitat home or doing something really involved all the tie. Simply talking to you non-Mormon neighbor and fostering a friendly relationship is a good thing to do, something tha tI see many Mormons refusing to do. Lotsof times I ask if peopl e interact withtheir immediate neighbors- the most common answer I get is “oh, they are not Members”. This is the kind of mindset that we as members of our Church need to get rid of.

    Kristine- good to see you again. I had a recurrence of severe health problems in 2006 and most of 2007, so i was out of the loop for a while!!!

  104. Ronin, for those of us outside the Mormon corridor, an option to interact only with our Mormon neighbors often isn’t an option – since we have no Mormon neighbors.

  105. Ray- in places like where you and I live, Mormon neighbors are hard to come by, since us Mormons are a minority. Yet, I have noticed that even given these circumstances, my fellow-Members choose to not interact socially with non-Mormons. A lot of them just choose self-imposed isolation.
    Which is very sad.

  106. It is sad to the extent that it is true. But don’t be too quick to judge them as you likely don’t know why it is that your fellow church members aren’t hanging out with non-members there in Ann Arbor. Perhaps they have tried in the past but are not well accepted because of their religion? Perhaps they are socially awkward based on some of the traits mentioned in the main post (no alcohol, no profanity, no guy-time) and therefore, over time, their friendship circles have dwindled to include only fellow ward members. A tragedy, I agree, but not necessarily worth undue criticism.

    Many Mormon men simply don’t want to have to share in the nasty inside sex-jokes and profane cynicism required in order to be a considered “one of the guys” at the work place. Granted, this is less of a consideration when it comes to neighbors though.

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