In a recent conversation with several friends, I was unfortunate enough to hear the following accounts:
“My daughter has a friend she loves to play with. Her mom has been great about taking her if I’m traveling out of town or in childcare pinch, and I thought she and I were friends, too. My daughter wanted to play with her daughter recently, and I said ‘We’d really love to have her over here today–I feel like I’m always imposing on you.’ And she said, ‘Well, it’s nothing personal, but I don’t like to let my kids play in homes where the parents are divorced. I just don’t want them to feel that spirit.’
“Now, I’m not really offended–hurt, a little, and sad, but I think when we spend so much time talking about how awful divorce is, and how it’s caused by selfishness and bitterness and failure to be Christlike, it’s not particularly surprising that someone would think a divorced person must somehow poison the atmosphere.”
Optimistic and church-loving guy that I am, when I hear stories such as this, my knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them as rare and exceptional behavior, and apologize for the rude behavior of someone who clearly arrived at the train station a bit late. However, as the conversation progressed, my friend quickly clarified that this parent is, in every other way imaginable, completely wonderful and pleasant to be around, and
“…wouldn’t have said it if she realized it would hurt my feelings. I think somehow divorced people are expected to feel so bad about themselves that they find such ideas self-evident.”
Faced with the evidence that it wasn’t a monstrous ogre of a human being who made these comments, I feel the need to reevaluate whether my judgment of “rare and exceptional” behavior holds water. Regardless of the conclusion, the damage that this kind of attitude can do to our brothers and sisters in the pews around us warrants serious examination of ourselves: How often do we unconsciously think about and form expectations such as these about one another?
Two more anecdotes, from the same conversation:
“I was at a Relief Society activity ‘Park Day’ (1 morning a week the SAHMs all bring their tots to a park) a few years ago when I was new to my ward. One of the women was talking about how their family had attended her own mother’s wedding the past weekend. Evidently, her mom had divorced and was now remarrying. She explained that, prior to the event, she and her husband pulled all of their children aside to make a solemn joint statement that a) they disapproved of grandma divorcing and remarrying, and b) It might *look* like grandma is happy today and that people at her party are celebrating her decisions, but in fact, divorcing and remarrying are NOT things to celebrate.”
“We had the Elders over, and one Elder said he had never seen The Simpsons. The other Elder said they watched it is a family every week. The first Elder said, very casually, ‘Maybe that’s why your parents got divorced.’”
The purpose behind sharing these stories is not to encourage a communal rant about those who have done wrong to us, as cathartic as that might be. Rather, it is to ask some difficult questions of ourselves.
What causes us–as individuals and as a people/culture–to we engage in this behavior ourselves? When we see this sort of behavior, do we stand idly by and allow it to continue, or do we speak up? One explanation–though far from being an excuse–is found in a recent discussion here at BCC: Do we fear that we will “torpedo ourselves” if others incorrectly interpret a defense of the Big Bad Divorcee’s worthiness or competency in hosting children for an afternoon of cookies and video games as an assault on the value that temple marriage brings to the table? Or is it simply that we really only pay lip service to the idea that we’re all sinners, ignoring the deeply hidden and private flaws we all cherish in ourselves while smugly cataloging the visible, quantifiable, public flaws in our fellow saints?
Can’t we do better than this?