What if they actually listened to us?

I was captivated when, in October of 2004, Jon Stewart took his media criticism behind enemy lines, telling Paul Begala and be-bowtied Tucker Carlson to “Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America,” to their faces, on their own show. Those on the left, and many who just value intelligent commentary instead of inane partisan bickering, were cheering. There was even more victorious jubilation when it soon became clear that CNN would actually listen to Stewart’s pleas to cut back on the political hackery and theater. In a recent column, Ross Douthat summarizes CNN’s response to Stewart, and the surprising results:

At it turned out, CNN was paying attention. Within two months, “Crossfire” was canceled, and the network’s president, Jon Klein, cited Stewart’s tirade as a tipping point. “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart’s overall premise,” Klein said. Henceforward, he announced, CNN would move away from “head-butting debate shows.” Let FOX and MSNBC have their “live guests” and “spirited debate.” CNN was going to report, not editorialize.

Big mistake.

Six years later, CNN is still the network Americans turn to when an earthquake strikes Haiti or a crucial health care vote takes place. But most days are slow news days, opinionated journalism is more interesting than the elusive quest for perfect objectivity and CNN is getting absolutely murdered in the ratings.

Whether or not one finds it surprising, or whether one is happy or sad about it, I think we can agree that from CNN’s perspective, it’s a disaster. Reflecting on Douthat’s column, I thought about what unintended consequences might flow from a hypothetical situation in which our fellow ward members, Seminary and Gospel Doctrine teachers, Bishops, Stake Presidents, Relief Society Presidents, BYU administrators, BYU religion teachers, church Public Affairs staff, church architects, missionaries, Mission Presidents and General Authorities suddenly decided that all the advice the bloggernacle dishes out day after day is solid, and started following it.

To me this hypothetical recalls an experience I had as an early-morning seminary student. Once we had a special guest speaker visit us. All four classes that met in our building met together (I can only remember this happening a tiny handful of times), and we heard from a member of the stake who advocated for Creationism. Using a mixture of out-of-context, dubiously interpreted scripture verses, phony photographic evidence, general authority quotes and imagination, he taught us that the Earth is 6,000 years old, evolution is of Satan and Charles Darwin is a Biblically prophesied official Anti-Christ. Though I rolled my eyes at the whole thing, I wasn’t too perturbed—I was used to selectively listening to teachings at church that veered into politics and weird pet topics. But I mentioned it to my dad, who was appalled. He spoke to the Stake President, who I gather tended to agree with my dad that it was inappropriate, because the day after that my Seminary teacher issued something of an apology and retraction. Later that day, I was discussing the whole fiasco with my mom. One thing that, in retrospect, I appreciate about my mom is that she never let pass an opportunity for challenging me to find additional nuance in a situation. With furrowed brow she expressed concern about our “victory.” “We silenced them, but what if it turns out they’re right?”

Although we were of like mind in thinking the chances of that were slim to nil, her willingness, her insistence, in questioning her own certainty and her own assumptions has stuck with me. I’m certainly not advocating pathological self-doubt, or even the kind of self-doubt that lures us into passivity. I think the way it played out in my Seminary case was about right: do not fear to take appropriate action you believe is right, but inwardly maintain a stance of humbleness and uncertainty that creates teachability.

The interesting thing about the CNN case to me, is that I still believe Stewart was right, that his criticism was correct and important. It just backfired in an unexpected way. That happens sometimes. JNS’ recent post “Exit, Voice and Change” analyzes how some church policies and cultural norms may have surprising side-effects. I’m sure there are many, many such surprising entanglements between desirable and undesirable aspects of our earthly incarnation of the Kingdom of God. I hope this gives us perhaps not hesitation, but at least patience, in our approach to identifying and addressing perceived imperfections in our church, its people and culture.

Comments

  1. I think there is a huge difference between disagreeing with a point of view and condemning the person holding the point of view. It is so important that we make ourselves experts in doing the first with tact and love and force and never coming near the second. It is a hard nuance to teach kids, but so important, I think.

  2. I’ve heard some wonderful suggestions in the Bloggernacle – and some of what I felt was among the worst practical ideas ever uttered. I hope I have been part of the first group; I’m sure I’ve been part of the second. If “they” actually are listening to us, I hope they are doing so thoughtfully and with discernment.

    I love your mother’s answer. It is that lack of absolute certainty that often is lacking on both sides of many discussions in the Bloggernacle – and it’s interesting to see one side blast with firm certainty the firm certainty of the other side.

  3. Kristine says:

    Cynthia, this is a great post. I think I’m probably too free with my criticism of church policy at the general level, and probably less concerned with nuance and moderation than I might otherwise be, because I presume that no one will ever listen to me! On the ground, in my ward and stake, I’m far more reserved and inclined to defer to the judgment of those in charge, because there’s at least a tiny chance that someone might pay attention to something I say. It is a _tiny_ chance, though, so I’m still not tremendously worried :)

  4. I think sometimes when we speak out against another point of view, and I’m not saying this is necessarily bad, we do it so fully, effectively and persuasively, that it requires a monumental degree of humility on the part of the person advocating the other view. I’m not sure that this is always the best thing. I know that it’s sometimes necessary, but I also notice that the times I’ve been chastened by the Lord, it almost comes in the form of a compliment. Now, I’m sure it’s not that way for everyone, and that there are times when that might seem condescending. However, from the Lord-well, it’s the absolute feeling of “love unfeigned.” I think that’s what we need to aim for, but then again, I already know I’m a whimp who can’t take criticism well. I don’t hold a grudge or anything like that, but it just is painful to me for a long time and I use it to criticize my individual worth. I know a lot of people aren’t like that at all, but I know I’m not the only one either. I guess I’m just saying that I think it can be worth it to make an effort to be thoughtful with our words.

  5. Kristine has an excellent point that when the risk of being listened to is so small, we are likely to be all the more emphatic about our expression. Because of the fluke of my current calling, I often find something I have said in a thinking out loud/brainstorming kind of way actually implemented (though out the stake!)! It is very shocking and should teach me to be more careful about what I say.

  6. Aaron R. says:

    I read something by Kathleen Flake the other day which I think relates well to this. It is from her article ‘Rendering to the Corporation’. She argues that contention is never right, even if we are. I think that part of what you highlight (i.e. the tendency to be critical – esp. to the general level, in which I think me and Kristine are similar) is a result of the metaphors that we choose to read the Church through. Kathleen Flake argues that if we change the metaphors we get different problems but it means that we perhaps do not have to keep seeing the Church as bureaucracy (one metaphor) and can instead choose other ways of seeing.

  7. StillConfused says:

    Jon Stewart Bleh. Steven Colbert – now you are talking

  8. Cynthia,
    Excellent, excellent post.

  9. Following up on Aaron’s comment, Kathleen Flake’s essay “Rendering to the Corporation” is, I think, one of the few truly essential works of Mormon cultural criticism out there. An enormously wise and valuable take on the benefits and costs of being a critic within the church.

  10. What if they listened to us? I think it would be great if others truly listened. But if they are to listen, they need something to listen to. A lot of what I see among those who dissent from the status quo is complaining about the situation. What I don’t see are suggestions for meaningful change.

    Many times, we may not have the answers. We recognise that acknowledging a problem is often the first step. But if we never move beyond the first step, then we aren’t going to see any change. When all you hear is complaints, and no suggestions on how to make it better, eventually, you start tuning out the dissent. Unfortunately, that means that when someone does say, “I dissent, this is why, and this is my suggestion” we may still tune it out.

    I think the Crossfire clip was a great example of tuning out the opposition. Jon Stewart is a comedian, and he was being attacked for not being a hard-hitting journalist. He patiently explained to both Paul and Tucker what they should be doing, and they blew him off because he’s just a comedian. They established a double-standard that let them attack him for not being serious enough, but then turned around and said, “Well, we don’t need to listen to you anyway, because you aren’t serious.” It didn’t matter that he was being serious while on their show.

    Are those of us who regularly contribute to the Bloggernacle looking for solutions to perceived problems, or are we just looking for an outlet to vent frustration?

  11. That Jon Stewart appearance on Crossfire is one of my favorite television moments, ever. (Viewable here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFQFB5YpDZE )

    I don’t follow news debate shows (because like Jon Stewart I think it’s all just theater), but why didn’t CNN try what Jon Stewart suggested and actually have a show with some real debate instead of the goofiness that passes for debate on television? Or did they and it flopped?

    So to (sort of) answer your question, I’m not sure CNN really did listen to Jon Stewart.

  12. Aaron R. says:

    Alex, I wholly agree with the sentiment of your comment, though I suspect that there is another issue that needs to be brought into play here. It is that the limit of what we can change through our constructive criticism is very limited. I think we certainly should focus our critique in the way you suggest but for anything to happen it seems these would have to be limited to local issues. I have myself experienced the frustartion of offering constructive criticism to P. leaders who have taken seriously my comment but where they honestly tell me they do not know what they would do it. They are only a SP in a Church of thousands of others, with a whole range of levels of hierarchy above him.

    I guess another question relates to how we can constructively express our criticism to things that we cannot change locally. Perhaps the venting arises from this lack; perhaps many just don’t feel like they will be taken seriously.

  13. Aaron R. says:

    Russell, I agree with your assessment of Flake’s article, though it makes me wonder why there has not been a collected essays type bok done for her articles. They are consistently excellent. I believe there would be a market big enough. Though this is completely off topic.

  14. Nicely stated. There is a certain comfort in weakness speaking to power: that we can tell what should be done without having to take responsibility for the complexities of implementation and unforeseen consequences.

  15. Kristine says:

    Aaron, that’s brilliant.

  16. Red Emma says:

    CNN listened to Jon Stewart and toned things down? That explains why they a) gave Glen Beck his big chance–though he didn’t really connect with an audience until he moved to the more ideologically congenial Fox News–and b) hired Erick Erickson, who likes to describe retiring Supreme Court Justices using terms I can’t even hint at in this forum.

    Is Ross Douthat really qualified or impartial enough to write something worthwhile about Jon Stewart? For the record, I don’t think Stewart could fairly evaluate Douthat either…

  17. Randy B. says:

    Like Susan, I’m not sure CNN really took Stewart’s advice. Regardless, Stewart wasn’t giving CNN pointers on how to increase its market share. Instead, he was giving his thoughts on how to improve the overall product. Those two objectives (product improvement and increased market share) don’t always go together. I’d eat at McDonalds more often if their burgers tasted like Five Guys, but there’s a pretty decent chance that McDonalds would be less profitable if they took that approach.

    I think there is a similar dynamic going on when it comes to the church and improvements that folks like me would like to see but likely never will.

  18. “Those on the left, and many who just value intelligent commentary instead of inane partisan bickering, were cheering.”

    I know this isn’t probably what you meant, but the implication from this sentence is that those on the left inherently “value intelligent commentary” while those on the right come by that attribute in spite of their political leanings.

  19. Cynthia, you are on a roll for awesomeness.

  20. A hundred years ago, church policy, even doctrinal perspective could be influenced by one man in a back-water town in eastern Nevada. It could. Is there so much insulation between the FP and Q12 and the rank and file that nothing like that could happen again? Are we really the Vatican of the west now?

  21. Thanks for the reference to Rendering to the Corporation. Very helpful counter for my inclination to rend the corporation.

  22. Cynthia L. says:

    #11, 16, 17: I agree that Douthat isn’t the best source to look to for objectivity in evaluating Jon Stewart (frankly, most the time I think he’s kind of a tool, but that’s my political bias). And I think there’s a whole world of analysis that could be done in addition to his about why CNN failed, whether they failed because they followed Stewart’s advice, whether they were–as the CEO hints–pondering that direction anyway or in decline already, or whether they even did follow the advice at all. But I think for the purposes of this post, and reflecting on ourselves and our own patience, criticism, etc, it makes sense to just take it as given and ponder from there.

  23. I would be much more careful what I said if I thought people were taking it seriously.

  24. I agree with challenging our certainty that we are correct. Winning an argument doesn’t make you right, and neither does having someone agree with you. Truth, writ large, is not dependent on being spoken well, or argued for, or agreed with or believed in. It just is. And a frustrating amount of it is beyond our ability to perceive or comprehend. Whatever paradigms we are able to put together to describe it will always be fatally impoverished, and will inevitably fail us as we rely on them to predict what will come, sooner or later.

    But we must build paradigms, and do our best to bring those paradigms closer to Truth as we learn more and see them fail, because that’s the only way we can function. It can all seem like an exercise in frustration, but it’s just the mental equivalent of “by the sweat of the brow shall thou eat bread all the days of thy life.” Thankfully, we are never required to be right, or we’d all be screwed.

    I try to help bring change by planting little seed ideas with people, and then see how they grow. The frustrating with doing that in the blogosphere is you never know where the seeds go, and may never see any sign of their growth. Like Kristine, I would probably behave differently if I had any idea anybody was listening to me, but I often see the biggest response to what I say is most often response to some portion of what I said and almost never to what my point was. And much of my response to posts has that same nature. Comprehending and responding to essential points is a lot harder than tangenting off of some example or side-comment.

    I don’t know.

  25. Cynthia L. says:

    PS: (from my #22) I didn’t meant to imply that your comments were out of line, just explaining that I intentionally set the problems with Douthat’s piece aside, but not because they aren’t valid problems.

  26. Anon for this says:

    I have to go anonymous for this, but they ARE listening to us – NOT doctrinally – but they are definitely taking ideas from some mormon bloggers about how to use Facebook, Twitter and blogging to more effectively represent the church.

    A group of female (non-bloggernacle) bloggers recently met with the church as part of an invited focus group, where we talked about how we represent the church online, what we think the church could and should do differently, what resources would be of benefit, what missionary experiences we’ve had, etc. It was a great meeting and gave us great insight into how things work.

    They’re pretty aware of bloggers and some individual blogs in the church office building.

  27. Sp’s and Bishops tend to listen to sincere members who do their hometeaching/VT etc and are not causing trouble.

  28. bbell, in my experience, that is very true.

  29. Well they ought to listen to *anyone* who has a good idea, and if they don’t, they’re engaged in a process of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

  30. #26, that’s interesting. They clearly have their work cut out for them.

    As a basis of comparison, look at the difference between the new YW Personal Progress site ( http://www.lds.org/pa/yw/pp/cs/index.html ) with these:

    http://www.ywam.org/

    http://www.naplesyouth.com/home/welcome.html

    http://www.alexandriayouth.com/

  31. Cynthia,
    Thank you for this post. I have been wanting to read something like this for what seems like ages, and it just rings so wise and good. Thanks also to Aaron and others who have made invaluable comments.

  32. Randy B–in an ideal world, a wisely-run organization could listen to good ideas from anyone, but we’re human, and we all use sorting criteria that may not have anything to do with the merits of a given proposition. I actually think that doing home- and visiting teaching is a pretty good criterion–it lets you know who’s got some skin in the game. (I’m less enthusiastic about the “not causing trouble” criterion, but maybe only because I don’t know what bbell means by that.)

  33. Russell, Aaron R., per your recommendations, I just listened to Kathleen Flake’s presentation of Rendering to the Corporation at Sunstone at https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/shop/products/?category=3&product_id=1223, and it is spine-tinglingly superb. Many thanks for the recommendation!

  34. Cynthia, I appreciated your post — very good as always!

  35. Kristine, no doubt that as mere mortals we all use less than ideal sorting criteria. That said, we should also be a bit leery of only listening to people already in our corner.

    And I don’t know about the HT test. In my ward, that would rule out more than 50% of even the high priests. But maybe that’s a good thing.

  36. Isn’t it interesting that Jon Stewart got after others for doing what he does on his own show? Yes, he uses humor, but the end result is the same, isn’t it?

    I think we all need to have an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out.

    My bishop doesn’t listen to me, and I’m the high priest group leader! Of course, he won’t release me, either, because no one else would take the job…..

  37. Randy,

    Kristine, no doubt that as mere mortals we all use less than ideal sorting criteria. That said, we should also be a bit leery of only listening to people already in our corner.

    Only listening to those who are “already in our corner” is obviously a bad approach; but I don’t think that HT/VT is even close to being a strict indicator, though sometimes it may be. (In fact, the very situation itself may suggest that they’re _not_ in the same corner: they are there to suggest a change in course).

    I would say that a more charitable way of reading it would be to say that they are people who have a visible vested interest in the well-being of the organization.

    Signaling is complex–both for senders and receivers.

  38. Maybe actually the OPPOSITE is happening in our Church. There are many things “they” do that have no real doctrinal basis but are consistently complained about. 3 hour blocks. Styling of garments. Etc. I don’t need to go into detail. But the ignore these complaints (if they’re even making it to SLC HQ). And the “ratings” are going the way of CNN.

    Our membership growth percentage has steadily declined over the past few decades. Less than 50% of the membership is active. Along the Wasatch front, which should be the bastion of the Church, the young adult activity rate is less than 25%. Many countries have convert activity rates well below 50%. More people are leaving the Church each year. Some countries, such as Norway, have the same number of members that they did 20 years ago.

    So, our “ratings” are all on the decline. We can bemoan this as the members not working “hard enough” and try to emphasize our product even more and “rally the troops”, or we could look at some of the things that people complain about that aren’t really a doctrinally based part of the Church and perhaps change them. Perhaps listening to someone disaffected over some small point is actually MORE important than listening to someone with 100% HT/VT. Perhaps the small point has nothing to do with the actual gospel.

  39. I don’t think one can generalize about whether stake presidents or bishops listen, or don’t, to suggestions or complaints from church members, or whether they listen to the “faithful” more than they listen to the lukewarm.

    I can’t imagine hearing a comment and then checking with the elders quorum president to see if the commenter was doing his home teaching before deciding whether to take the comment seriously.

    Why not just check to see if he (or she) is cleanshaven and wearing the proper uniform?

  40. I was just using HT/VT as an example. Sometimes I think comments get over-read. Read it as committed or dependable or whatever.

    When a leader is faced with some criticism over something its probably going to get a more sypathetic ear from a committed dependable type then from a vocal Bo Gritz follower. Now the Bo Gritz follower could also be dependable and believable if they were not throwing far right ideas around all the time.

    My exp is that Bishops and SP’s want to do better and will listen to constructive criticism. No PH leader wants to be the guy that is intentionally not approachable.

    Now how to do this higher then a SP level is totally beyond me

  41. #18 jimbob: That was not the intention, neither is that a necessary implication of the sentence. It just means that those on the left have reason to cheer Stewart regardless of whether they value intelligent discourse, whereas those on the right, though they disagree with Stewart’s politics, had reason in this particular instance to make common cause with him.

  42. #38 lighten up, Francis.

  43. “We silenced them, but what if it turns out they’re right?”

    Because it’s not solely about the message, it’s about the method. Having a random member come in and lecture the seminary students on certain topics is *not* the way things should be run.

    (Too bad I wasn’t teaching that early morning seminary class. I would have just refused to let my class attend.)

  44. And the “ratings” are going the way of CNN.

    So what? Since when does popularity mean anything?

  45. “It just means that those on the left have reason to cheer Stewart regardless of whether they value intelligent discourse, whereas those on the right, though they disagree with Stewart’s politics, had reason in this particular instance to make common cause with him.”

    I think we agree on this, then. I guess my feeling on this–and why I made my comment–was that his position on that CNN show could have been made on a lot of different shows both to the right and the left, e.g., O’Reilly at Fox or Olberman on MSNBC, and would have had equal relevance in all of them. That is, I didn’t see his tirade as a rage against one type of politics, but against the type of discourse. So when you threw the line about how leftists would be relieved by his comments, I found that odd, since I assume that there were and are plenty of leftists who really enjoy the types of behavior Tucker Carlson engaged in, just so long as, say, Olberman is doing the talking.

    Stated another way, if a leftist enjoyed Stewart’s tirade simply because he or she thought a conservative pundit got his comeuppance, I would suggest he or she missed the point of the tirade, and therefore probably wouldn’t fall into your category of those who “value intelligent commentary.”

  46. #38 Mike S,

    If the gospel is true and the Spirit witnesses that truth to a person, then why would they go inactive or leave over the 3 hour block, or because garments are confining? And since garments are pretty much all-confining, unless you compare them to the one-piece (with zipper and escape hatch), then….

    Methinks there are always reasons for people to leave or complain. Brigham Young warned the members of his day that the SLC temple would have 6 spires, and told them in advance, so none would go and apostatize over it.

    My view is that we are in the end days, that the world has a stronger pull on all of us through media and information available, and that the world encourages us to complain, rather than be humble and submit. I can just imagine a modern Abraham blogging about how God is making him sacrifice his first born son, Isaac….

  47. MikeInWeHo says:

    Does anybody know if the Church ever does follow-up research with people who’ve left? If there’s supposedly this problem with recent converts dropping out and young adults going inactive, why not ask them and see what patterns emerge?

  48. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Cynthia.

  49. I’m sure there are many, many such surprising entanglements between desirable and undesirable aspects of our earthly incarnation of the Kingdom of God. I hope this gives us perhaps not hesitation, but at least patience, in our approach to identifying and addressing perceived imperfections in our church, its people and culture.

    Very well said.

  50. It can all seem like an exercise in frustration, but it’s just the mental equivalent of “by the sweat of the brow shall thou eat bread all the days of thy life.”

    I really like this. To me, this is part of why blogging can be a great exercise. I learn a lot by hearing other points of view.

    But then, Blain, you go into talking about wanting to plant seeds of change in others. I wonder about this — should our motivation be to change others? One of my thoughts is that that can often mess things up. (I know I’m guilty of this, and I feel bad about it.) Agency matters, which means we can’t *make* anyone change.

    I’m also intrigued by Kristine’s comment — I think it’s human nature to go to being less nuanced and more absolutist when we are afraid of not being heard. But the more absolutist we get in our language, the less likely I think it is that we hear each other or can be heard well. The easier it is to be understood. Natural defenses often go up when extreme positions are taken no? And then those defenses lead to more fear of not being heard, etc…it can become a really vicious cycle.

    I have been thinking about this a lot — I think that those who appear on different ‘sides’ of hard issues often build too much on our differences, rather than realizing that there is probably more nuance and maybe even common ground than we often give credit for. Maybe? We often talk about (and hear others’ words) in rather extreme ways. I know I’m guilty of this — reacting in fear or communicating in a spirit of desperation rather than inspiration…rather than trying to and communicate in ways that aren’t necessarily win/lose.

    This general dynamic concerns me a lot. Not wanting to contribute to that weighs on me heavily.

    At some point, I can’t help but feel that perhaps being able to talk to each other about hard topics may be an extremely important element to what it means to become a Zion-like people. As was said in conference, to really be able to disagree agreeably.

  51. Kristine says:

    Just to clarify, since both Blain and m&m have shown that I didn’t say it well initially–I’m not worried about whether other blog readers will hear and understand me; if they’re reading my words, they’re by definition interested enough to listen a little. What I meant was that I feel free to critique policy in a way that is less nuanced, and less constructively phrased than I would try to make it if I were meeting with a committee of GAs with influence over policy.

    President Monson, if you’re reading, just shout out here in the comments, and I promise to be the soul of diplomacy from here on out :)

  52. Rameumpton (36): Isn’t it interesting that Jon Stewart got after others for doing what he does on his own show? Yes, he uses humor, but the end result is the same, isn’t it?

    Yeah, I thought it was a little hypocritical myself. And hiding behind the “I’m only a humorist” is a bit weak. CNN could just say, “we’re only cable news – no one thinks this is the PBS Newshour!”

  53. President Monson says:

    Dear Sis. Haglund, I have long awaited your invitation to participate. I cherish your words and look forward to a season of wonderful diplomacy and kindness.

  54. To add, I really, really wish there was something like the old Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr. Love him or hate him you have admit that was calm reasoned debate that was reasonably in depth.

    Right now the closest thing I’ve found is Bloggingheads TV, which is a great podcast. Although it is still hit or miss. Sometimes you get two non-conservatives self-congratulatingly analyzing conservatism or two non-liberals doing the same. But often you get real, thoughtful debate.

  55. What I meant was that I feel free to critique policy in a way that is less nuanced, and less constructively phrased than I would try to make it if I were meeting with a committee of GAs with influence over policy.

    Interesting. So, why not seek for a more nuanced exploration for discussion purposes, too?

  56. Kristine says:

    Because I love making you angry, of course.

    ;)

  57. Kristine says:

    Seriously? One is necessarily more radical in theory than in practice, and what we’re doing here is all theory.

  58. I think a lot of it has to do with personal pride and perhaps some hubris in some instances. As a society we are no longer nuanced, because we’re convinced we have the “truth.” How many people do you suppose give equal time in their cable “news” viewing to Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann? Personally, I think most tend to listen to the person that seems closest to their own personal view, and then listen so often and intently they end up convinced that being told them is the absolute “truth.”

    People either love or hate Sarah Palin. No one bothers to take each statement at face value and study it. No one “likes” Sarah Palin. Perhaps, as Stephen Covey notes, we now live in a time of Personality, rather than Character?

    Thankfully, as Rameumptom, a “holy stand”, I have no worries about being sucked up in all the brouhaha!

  59. Kristine,

    I had just sat down to tell you you didn’t have to answer my question.

    But your answer helps me understand where you are coming from.

  60. 50 — I’m more interested in sowing seed ideas for people to think about. It’s my responsibility to warn my neighbor, not to see to it that they do anything about it.

    51 — Oh, I understood where you were going with it. I was pointing out my particular version of a similar phenomenon.

  61. This is a really interesting point, Cynthia.

    Kristine, taking your point that you talk a more radical line because you suspect nobody is listening, does this suggest that by not taking input at the general level from rank-and-file members, the Church is encouraging more radical talk? Unintentionally of course, but it seems to follow.

  62. Kristine says:

    Hmmm. That would be logical, Ziff, but I don’t know if it works out that way in practice. I suspect that most people, who are saner than I, realize the futility of articulating criticisms and either just shut up and live with the status quo or leave altogether. It takes a strange blend of devotion, neurosis, and egotism to stick around in an institution you love despite hoping it will change. If it were a marriage, 9 out of ten people surveyed would say it’s doomed (she says, cheerfully).

  63. There are many changes the Church has made that started at the ward level, then developed at the stake level. I think that the recent focus on retaining and reactivating young single adults is a good example. I remember reading about a singles’ ward in Chicago that made a year-long Search and Rescue goal. They had a great deal of success, and the stake leaders applied it to other areas. As other stake leaders heard of it, they, too, started to apply it. Word got to SLC, and the Church started a big push to retaing and reactivate the YSAs.

    This can happen quite often. It isn’t just in the church. One of the drug prevention programs with which I work is Operation Snowball, Inc. which is based on the “snowball effect” – start something small, start it rolling, and watch it grow.

    I think we would have more success seeing positive changes if we took this approach. Start referring to RS Presidents as Presidents instead of Sisters (or start referring to all leaders as Brother or Sister instead of Presidents). Eventually it will be picked up by others. It is a small step. but a step nonetheless.

    On a completely different topic, I feel I should point out that I am right-leaning (although not as far to the right as some), and I enjoy Jon Stewart because he is clever and funny.

  64. It’s my responsibility to warn my neighbor, not to see to it that they do anything about it.

    Right. I get that. One thought that comes to me from this post is to sow a seed, I ought to have confidence that the seeds I am sowing are actually good ones.

    At one end of the spectrum of trying to figure out how ‘sure’ one can be about one’s position/perspective/opinion/etc. imo is a relativism that leaves everything up for grabs all at the personal level, with nothing really generally True. At the other end is arrogance that says “I am the one with Truth and everyone else is wrong.”

    I like the image you portray of an ongoing process of learning by experience what Truth is.

  65. Dear Cynthia, I don’t know you, (as is painfully obvious) and I don’t know your mom (as is even more painfully obvious), but from the brief discussion you gave, it seems to me that you totally interpreted your mother’s remarks. Again, I don’t know her and I don’t know you, with cute little inneffectual tingly bells on–thrinnnng— but going on the text alone (does the word Derrida get one bannned?) I think you completely misinterpreted your mother’s remarks.

    She was with the creationists. Fine. The point wasn’t that we should look at different viewpoints, but that we shouldn’t discount those that she believed in. A fine observation; just a slightly different one.

    Yrs,
    lambie, etc.

  66. Wow, that post was badly written even for me, and that, my dear bros and sises is a high bar.

  67. 64 — Thanks. And yeah, I have problems with the first set of folks with their “Yes, that’s true for you. It’s just not true for me.” The latter crowd just think I’m wrong.

  68. Agnes,
    My bet is that, having been there when her mother said the words, Cynthia likely knows what her mother meant.

  69. Peter LLC says:

    As a society we are no longer nuanced…. People either love or hate Sarah Palin. No one bothers to take each statement at face value and study it. No one “likes” Sarah Palin.

    That’s a mighty broad brush you’re using there.

  70. Kristine says:

    Agnes, I can think of no one less likely to believe in creationism than Cynthia’s parents. Besides being rude, you are so wrong it’s almost funny.

  71. Kristine says:

    Also, the word “Derrida” won’t get you banned, but as lame an invocation as that one might. Where text reports a conversation, even Derrida would not treat it as simple donnée.

  72. The whole lame point of invoking Derrida is because I didn’t have the context of these specific individuals as others do, and Derrida famously said, more or less, (with countless caveats) that there’s nothing outside the text. So, I went with the text. And the context, unspoken, that to a huge percentage, Mormons are creationists.

  73. I am sorry about the perceived rudeness, none was intended.

  74. Kristine says:

    If I were a Derridean, I would say that your intent is irrelevant, and the rudeness of your comment must be allowed to speak for itself.

    I don’t want to play French theory all day, but Derrida would insist that the reported conversation between Cynthia and her mother be brought into play with the context Cynthia introduced in the paragraphs preceding and following it, the evidence that Cynthia, as a high school student, was allowed to think critically enough to recognize “a mixture of out-of-context, dubiously interpreted scripture verses, phony photographic evidence, general authority quotes and imagination” (somewhat unlikely in a child taught by a parent who accepts Biblical authority in an absolutist way), etc. There’s plenty in the text itself to make your reductionist gloss absolutely ridiculous. Derrida is, above all, about complicating and interrogating text and working within its boundaries. You’ve reduced a single paragraph of the text to a simplistic position in the culture wars that take place outside the text and have nothing to do with it, and you’ve committed the most heinous sin in the Derridean catalog–you’ve tried to extrapolate something about authorial intent (and used it to insult her mother, which even Derrida’s somewhat dodgy ethics would likely allow one to condemn).

    I’m sorry to be mean, but I have little patience for deconstruction and even less for sloppy references to it to buttress weak arguments.

  75. And for our next event, we’ll have Mike Tyson and Forrest Gump in a friendly sparring session!

    (and if Mike bites off his ear, I’m sure Kristine will make him return it)

  76. Derrida did say there was nothing outside the text however I think it was that nothing that he was most concerned with. Remember Derrida comes out the Heideggarian and Levinasian tradition.

  77. I’m with Mike S. With a question like creationism, we may never absolutely, positively know the answer until after this life. But when it comes to suggestions made in the bloggernacle or by regular members that concern current practice, they could be experimented with, judged on the results, and then either kept, reversed, or modified. I guess I am confused as to what is wrong with experimentation. Yes, it may have effects that we cannot predict, but not changing will also have unpredictable effects. I think it would be a healthy thing to try to boost our “ratings,” and if they go down instead, to then try something else.

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