Are Mormons Too Trusting?

I send you as sheep among wolves. Or in this case a lone wolf among sheep.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  Shakespeare  wrote that in All’s Well That Ends Well.  Is being trusting a virtue or evidence of lack of discernment?  Are Mormons more gullible (as is often asserted or at least implied) than the average person?

If being trusting & accommodating and being suspicious & contrary exist on a continuum, we usually judge the virtue of that approach based on the outcome.  The problem is that we only judge the most noticeable outcome:  being conned.  We can’t determine that someone was NOT conned because we don’t know what opportunities to be fooled were presented, just as we can’t know if someone avoided being in a car accident by taking a different route home.  Other outcomes are less easily noticed, on both the positive and negative side. For example, being suspicious not only prevents us from being deceived, but it also causes us to avoid social benefits that a more trusting person may reap such as higher levels of cooperation, friendship, peer support, exploring other alternatives, etc.  It’s difficult to assess covert positives, but easy to assess overt negatives.
Consider the following:

  • Trusting person is conned = noticeable
  • Trusting person reaps positive benefits = not easily noticed
  • Suspicious person avoids being conned = can’t be noticed
  • Suspicious person avoids positive benefits = not easily noticed

Let’s both conspire to be sure Darcy gets what he wants.

In the well-loved novel Pride & Prejudice, long-time friends Darcy and Bingley bicker about this very topic.  Charles Bingley is a very trusting, affable person, quick to believe the best of others and to deprecate himself and question his own opinions.  Fitzwilliam Darcy is his opposite:  wary of strangers, taking a while to warm up to new acquaintances, very self-confident, and distrustful of others’ motives.  Darcy berates Bingley for not knowing his own mind and bending too easily to the will of others:

“if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, ‘Bingley, you had better stay till next week,’ you would probably do it, you would probably not go–and at another word, might stay a month.”

Bingley becomes embarrassed, aware that Darcy’s portrait of him is unflattering and has a core of truth to it; he does readily yield to others’ opinions and wishes.  Elizabeth Bennett comes to Bingley’s defense, but Bingley is not placated, feeling his friend’s criticism acutely, even though Darcy is often the beneficiary of his friend’s pliable nature.  The argument is summed up crisply by Elizabeth’s exchange with Darcy:

[Elizabeth:] “To yield readily–easily to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”

[Darcy:]  “To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”

Darcy’s summation indicates that while he knows Bingley often does what Darcy wants, because he does it based on feeling and not logic, his loyalty is of less value.  Elizabeth’s view is that Bingley is acting in a trusting manner based on experience and mutual social benefit rather than examining options coldly without regard to emotion and human relationships.

I believe . . . Mormons are gullible. Because Hollywood and Broadway tells me so.

Which view is right?  As the story reveals, both have disastrous consequences:  Bingley nearly loses all his own happiness until he learns to (very tentatively) stand up for what he wants, and Darcy overlooks the feelings of others so much that he nearly ruins his own chance for happiness, delivering an insulting marriage proposal, comically and exhaustively listing all the reasons against the union before asking her to accept him.  Even Elizabeth doesn’t escape unscathed; she is easily fooled by the con man George Wickham because he is handsome when she would find him as pathetic and amusing as her father does if it weren’t for his flattery and flirtation.  Everyone in the story is easily deceived, each in his or her own way.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warned his followers:

“16 ¶Behold, I send you forth as asheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore bwise as serpents, and charmless as doves.

First of all, I’m not sure doves are truly harmless (rats with wings, more like) or that serpents are truly wise (maybe that wily one in Jungle Book who disturbingly tries to seduce Mowgli into his deadly embrace), but the point of this scripture is that we should not be too trusting.  We are sheep: docile, innocent, short-sighted, but we are surrounded by predators who would eat us alive.

Just where is the sweet spot between gullible and cynical?  And which would you rather be seen as:  too trusting or not trusting enough?  Being trusting is related to:  faith, humility, meekness, innocence, passivity.  Being skeptical is related to:  experience, doubt, taking control and pride.  It seems that we prize the qualities of being trusting, and yet that sets us up to be deceived.  The non-religious would say “that’s the point.  Religion wants gullible followers.”  But I think Elizabeth Bennett is onto something:  trusting people have a social advantage over the aloof, skeptical ones.  By avoiding being deceived, you also avoid the social and personal benefits of trusting others, even though some will prove unworthy of your trust.

Discuss.

*Originally posted at Wheat & Tares.

Comments

  1. Some Pew Data I just re-found is helpful here.
    http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2007/02/22/americans-and-social-trust-who-where-and-why/

    It seems that advantaged (white, married, professional, higher educated) people tend to be more trusting. I think that’s a result of the virtuous cycle: generally born into, raised in, living in trustworthy circles. Many American Mormons live in this world or at least see it regularly. For the church particularly, I think trust and good intentions are the norm, although the same Pew data show that sect, political preference, and geographical region don’t seem to matter as much (Mormon wasn’t a religious category there).

    I hadn’t considered your idea that trusting people have social advantages. I think that holds in a fool-me-one-shame-on-you sense. Mormons generally trust the first time and should, according to the scriptures. But the fool-me-twice rule applies.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I think Mormon trustiness, often a virtue, can become a vice in a business context specifically involving other Mormons. That’s why Utah is the capitol of affinity fraud. “He was a bishop/stake president/mission president!” we think, as though that were a hedge against any possible ill intent. We let church relationships blind us so that we don’t perform normal due diligence or exercise normal caution.

    When I was an undergrad at BYU I applied for an insurance sales job that (I learned) had MLM aspects to it. The guy was a former MP and came right out of GA central casting: white hair, conservative suit. His office looked just like a MP’s office, he spoke like a MP, everything was set up to mimic the mission experience. Some folks might find that a virtue, but I didn’t and quickly decided that was not an opportunity I wanted to pursue. I would have had to harass all my friends and relatives; if any sales were made, the commissions for those would have gone to my superior; by the time I was entitled to commissions of my own, my personal network would have already been totally tapped out. Maybe that’s a legitimate approach to doing business, but it wasn’t something I was comfortable with, so I walked out of that situation. But a lot of Mormons wouldn’t be able to look past the aura of religious authority in evaluating such an opportunity.

  3. jbluther says:

    That scripture in Matthew about being sheep should be coupled with the command to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. I’m a trusting person and I know I’m going to be hit and conned. Did Judas surprise Christ? Of course not, but he allowed it to happen. I don’t think Mormons are too trusting. I think many see the potential trouble ahead, but give people the benefit of the doubt and have faith that all ultimately works out for the best.

  4. Yes and no – for many of the reasons you discuss in the post. I appreciate the balance it represents.

    I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and trust them until they show me they are not trustworthy – but I’m not sure whether that primarily is because of my religion or simply my personality, inherited particularly from my mother (who is schizophrenic and, along with medication, needs peace and a lack of stress in her life to function properly). She was trusting and non-judgmental out of physiological necessity, and that probably rubbed off on me to some degree.

    I have come to believe that a generally trusting nature is more healthy than a suspicious, cynical nature – even with the dangers of being too trusting. It’s finding the proper balance of idealistic realism or realistic idealism that is my focus – and that is not an easy journey. It takes conscious effort to avoid being too much of many things, since it’s so easy to gravitate to an extreme.

  5. whizzbang says:

    I think so. We don’t do any background checks on anyone for callings involving children.

  6. Are Mormons Too Trusting?

    Angela,

    Which Mormons in particular are you talking about? Those who were born into the church? Converts? Those living in Utah? Liberals? Conservatives? Women? Men? Educated? Poor? Or are you talking about all Mormons?

    Given the question as it is, I have to answer, No.

    It is possible to be a faithful believer in the gospel message and to trust the Church without being gullible. I think of the story in John chapter 6 where hard doctrine was taught, and many of Christ’s followers left him —

    66 From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
    67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
    68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
    69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

    If that is trusting, then I want to be trusting. Even if others mock and point the finger and wag the tongue.

  7. They’re definitely too trusting of their government, that’s for damn sure.

  8. Before I read Mike’s comment, I was going to say that in general, I think that those who are involved in Republican politics are generally too trusting, and often don’t seem to think for themselves.

    I grew up with a stake president who was a well known Democrat, and a heavily enforced rule that politics were not to be part if a church meeting, ever. When Utah transplants invariably would try to bring politics into a talk, testimony, lesson or comment, they were swiftly corrected, and the “normal” balance returned, where it was common to have spouses with registration in opposing political parties, including bumper stickers for both sides of a race. As a teenager visiting family in Utah, I became even more grateful for the blessings that came with the space to have separate political and spiritual identities.

    I think that the more highly correlated all parts of a person’s life are, the more likely it is that only one view seems possible, and the skeptical, self preservation part of the brain and spirit will be underused. I see it as being less about trust, and more about the ability to see an unexpected (bad or not helpful) result as possible, because everyone is seen as being good or the same.

  9. Mike–too trusting?? It isn’t my experience that Mormons trust government at all.

  10. whizzbang – we do in Australia! Come move to Zion ;)

    I had an experience once with a friend in high school who thought I was too trusting/open (which he put down to Mormonism), and tried to take advantage of me on purpose to “show me the light” (it was over yoghurt in the fridge, nothing serious), but I realised then that I would rather be more trusting/giving in personal relationships and occasionally lose out than possessive/cynical and give up some peace of mind.

    Of course, he’s now very involved in Effective Altruism, and probably has a net better effect on the world than I do, so it’s possibly the more selfish option to be trusting – like Daisy, who was a bad driver, assuming everyone else would take care of her.

  11. katie88 says:

    As a rape recovery center counselor in Utah, yes, Mormons are too trusting.

  12. Observer says:

    As a general principle, I like the following quote from Neal A. Maxwell on trust.

    It is better to trust and sometimes be disappointed than to be forever mistrusting and be right occasionally.

    Obviously we have to use our judgment on when to extend trust and when not to, but we have good reason to be inclined to extend, we should.

  13. Angela C says:

    ji: There was a Frasier episode in which Frasier had to renegotiate his contract, and he had replaced his cutthroat agent Bibi with a Mormon guy. The Mormon guy showed up in a scout uniform to negotiate and was just very Ned Flanders about the whole thing, a complete joke, incapable of any kind of subterfuge or strategy in the negotiation, so he was an easy mark for the network to outfox. This was a Hollywood portrayal of a gullible and easily fooled Mormon because he lacked guile. Of course it’s a silly portrayal, one designed to create laughs, but it’s also the premise of the Book of Mormon musical, implying that Mormons will believe anything. To add to which, Utah is known for MLMs and “get rich quick” schemes, and many people have talked about bishops and others encouraging them to participate in pyramid schemes like Amway, Shaklee, and so on. So there is a stereotype associated with Mormons that we are without guile and susceptible to these types of pitches.

    I’m somewhat doubtful that this is typical for Mormons, at least in my experience. I do think the community has within it a lot of trust, particularly for fellow insiders, but I’m not sure we are vulnerable to external predators in the way that implies. I think we are more vulnerable to persuasive insiders than outsiders.

  14. I think we are more vulnerable to persuasive insiders than outsiders.

    Isn’t that true of every community? Bernie Madoff stole millions mostly from fellow Jews and every Amway representative tries to sell to his or her neighbors. I don’t think it is fair to paint Latter-day Saints as gullible — sure, there may be a stereotype out there, and people always want to make fun of someone else. I haven’t adopted the stereotype as true.

    I’m a contract negotiator by trade — all day long, every day — I’m honest in that trade, and very good — oh, and I’m also a Boy Scout leader on the side! :-) I’m okay with the counsel to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. As a church-goer, I sometimes see gullibility in some fellow Latter-day Saints, but I see it as part of the normal distribution. But I don’t ever want to make fun of gullible people.

    I might have liked the Frasier show — or maybe not — depending how much of the portrayal was dry humor versus mocking…

  15. Angela C says:

    “I might have liked the Frasier show — or maybe not — depending how much of the portrayal was dry humor versus mocking…” I found it mocking. Others might have said there’s no such thing as bad press. If the scoutmaster / agent had suddenly turned out to be a very savvy negotiator rather than a complete buffoon, it would have been funny without mocking, IMO.

  16. Corrina says:

    Katie88, excellent point. When reading this post, my first thought went back to my junior year of college in Italy, where on a couple of occasions I know I was too trusting of others (namely men) and thus ended up in precarious situations. I was decently well-traveled for my age and spoke fluent Italian, but I specifically remember feeling an obligation (desire?) to be a “good example” of the church (always a missionary!) and in some weird way trusted too much as a result of that. I wonder if for some LDS women there is a blurring of lines between the “good-girl syndrome” and the boundaries of trust.

  17. marginalizedmormon says:

    Which Mormons in particular are you talking about? Those who were born into the church? Converts? Those living in Utah? Liberals? Conservatives? Women? Men? Educated? Poor? Or are you talking about all Mormons?

    This is a good question.

    How seriously does anyone in this discussion take the foundational scriptures of the ‘church’?

    Well, here:

    34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. (2 Nephi 4)

    and:

    31 Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 28)

    I generally feel frustrated over the either/or discussions–the collectivizations, etc.–

    But I think some valid points are being made. Not being a Utah Mormon and having experienced some very difficult things when I attended college there decades ago (I got locked off BCC for speaking very briefly and in a very sanitized fashion about them; I was responding to an honest question from the essayist)–

    I learned that there is a very unique culture in Utah that lends many people to being gullible, but I will not say it is everyone, because that is too either/or and too collectivistic.

    Katie88, your words are concise and, perhaps, all that is needed.

    But I would suggest that perhaps many LDS/Mormons don’t take their own, unique ‘standard work’ (the Book of Mormon) very seriously.

  18. Every human is wired differently. Some are more trusting, some are more sceptical, and so on. It is dishearting that the LDS who do not live the Gospel knowingly take advantage of others, LDS or not, by using their religion to make a deal.

    I do believe that people do tend to trust other people within their respective religions. In some ways I think LDS people do tend to trust other LDS a little more, because we ARE supposed to try to be more honest when dealing with our fellow man/woman, than the rest of the world (I am not saying that smugly but with humbleness).

    I have ex family members who have never trusted other family members, even when some family members have shown time after time to be trustworthy. My ex family are the most selfish people I have ever dealt with. My spouse has a sister who is very selfish. (The ones with money are the most selfish, in my experience)

    We are really struggling financially (like most). Our debit card was hacked and we were wiped out (this past Nov.), we have been without air conditioning (live in southwest), in first week of June I was in the hospital for five days (for about six weeks before hospital I could not do anything because I felt awful, diagnosed with gastrointestinal disease), and three days ago the pump on our well went out (cheap pumps cost five hundred dollars) and our well has to be cleaned out (fifty dollars per hour with well driller man) before we can put in a new pump.

    Our new neighnor, who hardly knows us (we helped him move in and helped him with his well when he moved in, and helped him set up phone, internet, tv services) handed us a two thousand dollar check to get our well running. I told him we could not accept it especially since I did not know when or how long to pay it back. He said so what. We have never (both me and my spouse) had family be that nice or generous to us, ever. And this neighbor is not LDS. He knows we are LDS.
    Wow.

    Unfortunately, where I live, the LDS people tend to be untrustworthy and are not honest. My experiences with the LDS in my community has been quite disappointing. There are a few good ones, though.

  19. JohnnyS says:

    It’s impossible to answer the question about Mormons in general being too trusting, though, as a few have pointed out, we’re often portrayed as being impossibly naive (which may or may not be accurate, depending upon where in the world mormons live, how they’ve been raised, etc.) I actually think that a larger, underlying issue here is that skepticism, objectivity, intellectualism and critical thinking are seen, by and large, even by our leaders as signs of losing one’s testimony, being in spiritual peril, etc. Since this is the case, I think Mormons tend both to valorize faith and tend to be unable to differentiate between true faith (however one may define that), blind faith, naiveté and gullibility. The fact is that the quest for pure faith and metaphysical truth with a capital “T” can often, incorrectly, IMHO, eclipse things like critical thinking, intellectual engagement, skepticism and plain old common sense. I think this is the larger issue and it’s one aspect of what makes this church occasionally feel as if it’s still in the 19th century with some of its policies/doctrines, views of women, gay marriage, etc. It’s possible to be a thinking, believing Christian (see John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins, e.g.) but many Mormons seem not to be interested in it because of how the intellect, historical truth, etc. is vilified. That is unfortunate.

  20. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    I found it mocking. Others might have said there’s no such thing as bad press. If the scoutmaster / agent had suddenly turned out to be a very savvy negotiator rather than a complete buffoon, it would have been funny without mocking, IMO.

    I agree. That simpleton did not represent the majority of LDS friends I know. I kept thinking whoever the writer was didn’t really know many Mormons. I think some outside observers see the hopefulness, optimism, and looking for the best potential in their fellowmembers and fellowmen in general and equate that with being gullible. Nevertheless, I see our current Bishop’s hopefulness, optimism, and seeing the best potential in those he shepherds as being a major reason 8 people have been baptized into our ward and have stayed active so far this year. Even if it is not a baptism, but is a ‘small thing’, that hopeful attitude can be an attitude rewarded in being aware of every day miracles.

    Me, on the other hand, if I am donating diapers or other goods to some less active members, I am prone to take them out of the bar coded packaging before giving them away so they cannot be traded at Walmart for cigarettes. (Have known that one of my in-law’s did this with her ward’s kindness).

    I did think that the LDS character on the series House was a much better depiction than the character on Frasier.

  21. I work in the financial services industry, and I live outside the Mormon corridor. Here are some observations from my own experience:

    Many active Mormons tend to be more trusting of Mormon professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, realtors, financial planners, insurance agents, etc.) than they are of non-Mormon professionals. Wherever we fall on the trust/suspicion spectrum, we tend to be a little more trusting and less suspicious of other active Mormons.

    I think that one element of this trust is understandable and harmless: Mormon professionals understand Mormon culture better than non-Mormon professionals. A Mormon doctor won’t be surprised by garments. A Mormon realtor will know that ward and stake boundaries matter to active Mormons. A Mormon financial planner will know about tithing and other offerings, and will understand the importance of post-retirement mission goals. These are all fine reasons for a Mormon to prefer a Mormon professional over a non-Mormon professional (although most non-Mormon professionals should be able to learn about and respect these cultural issues as well).

    But heightened trust of Mormon professionals becomes a problem when we start to assume that a professional is more competent as his or her actual work because of their church membership. I don’t think a Mormon investment adviser is inherently better at picking good stocks than a non-Mormon, or that a Mormon doctor is inherently better at diagnosing illnesses or performing surgery (despite stories of Elder Nelson being guided by the spirit during heart surgery – his extensive education and experience made him a good conduit for spiritual guidance on such matters, and I wouldn’t want any lesser surgeon relying exclusively on the spirit to get him through an experimental procedure).

    As noted by other commenters above, some professionals (or pseudo-professionals) will use their Mormon membership to gain the trust of other Mormons. I especially warn family and friends against buying into any investment idea or insurance pitch, etc., if Mormon membership is part of the sales pitch.

  22. One more thing:

    As I said above, many Mormons seem willing to grant other Mormons a higher level of trust. This concerns me if your trust is based primarily on visible markers of Mormon commitment: certain style of dress and grooming, using Mormon buzzwords, Mormon pictures hanging on the wall, etc. Those things are easy to fake. It’s less concerning to me if your trust is based on an actual relationship that gives you reason to believe the other person has a real commitment to Mormon principles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,393 other followers