School Thy Feelings

Um, shoulders!!!

When I was a missionary in Russia, one of the most jarring culture shocks I experienced was the ubiquity of pornography. Emblematic, perhaps, of this problem were the tiny rectangular pornographic stickers that came in packs of chewing gum, and which ended up plastered on public walls. This was particularly true of elevators (the kind that exist in every single apartment building). Many of the elders in my mission pursued an aggressive strategy with regard to the offending images: they carried around black magic markers and whenever they entered a new elevator, they immediately got to work blacking out the nasty parts of the stickers. Sometimes, instead of markers, they would use keys to deface the stickers to the point of unrecognizability.

A few months into my time in the field, I had a terrific senior companion. One afternoon, we stepped into an elevator and I got to work with our apartment key on the mosaic of stickers. He said to me, “you know, a lot of elders get really obsessive about those things. I think it’s better to just ignore them than to be constantly preoccupied with covering them or scratching them off.”

Some of the wisest, most helpful advice I ever received.


  1. John Mansfield says:

    If either obsessive preoccupation or blase indifference are the only options, then, yes, the second of those may be better for the soul or at least simpler.

  2. Funny story: I just left a random comment at another LDS blog somewhat infamous for not tolerating disagreement, and for some reason I ignored that precedent and waded in, becoming dutifully annoyed when my arguments were mocked, dismissed, and quickly moderated away rather than treated respectfully. So there I sat, all fuming because the mean people were wrong on the internet, and I clicked to BCC and read this…and yeah. Time to repent, start ignoring, and stop scratching!

  3. +1, Casey.

  4. In Brazil, it was common to help young men soon to be baptized dispose of their pr0n stash. Often times, it was a simple as retrieving a plastic bag and having the youth dump his stuff in the bag to throw away. One particular missionary was zealous to the point of sitting down and ripping up every single picture, one by one. Hmmm . . .

  5. How long did he look at the picture before getting it ripped?

  6. You should have used matte black for Barbie . . .

  7. Mark Brown says:

    The idea of an LDS missionary using his apartment key to get up close and personal with Miss November is very disturbing….

  8. I remember in Germany we had billboards, usually for soap. It was not unusual to be warned when exiting train station for the first time, “Don’t look right or you’ll get burned.” Who knows if the offending billboard was still there… After a while, blase indifference won the day.

  9. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    In Japan, there was an Elder that would slow his bike ride down to a snail’s pace for a bit of time, then catch up to his companion and lament, “I got burrrrrrrnnnnned!”

  10. Amen! Fantastic post, and great lesson to be learned. We can’t always control the things we (or our children) are exposed to, but we CAN control how much influence they have on us.

  11. Geoff - A says:

    I had a missionary companion who had a playboy collection. First time I’d had an opportunity to see one.

  12. I once saw a wooden sign that had an f-bomb you on it written in chalk. There was some chalk lying around on the ground. I changed the “f” to a “p.” It then looked funny. My comp and I got a laugh out of it.
    I do agree with this post. Your companion was very wise. When you can’t do anything about the smut around you, it is best to “heed it not.”

  13. Excellent; thanks for sharing with us.

  14. JA Benson says:

    Good advice, indeed. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. Reminds me of that Jim Carey line from one of the Batman movies – ‘That’ll never heal if you don’t stop picking!’

  16. Snyderman says:

    As a fellow missionary who served in Russia, I appreciate this post.

  17. Well, I hope that at least your senior companion was also instructing the members about the importance of covering their daughters’ shoulders and kneecaps, lest they become walking gum-stickers. When the world’s culture is so sexualized, it’s critically important and productive to obsess over the modesty of Mormon maidens. You know, so boys will know which ones they should loathe and try to destroy.

  18. Kristine wins.

  19. I really like the ignore advice. It puts the responsibility firmly on the individual. It doesn’t obsess. It makes for a happier person who is too busy living to worry about every little thing and whether it’s one step out of line. I think this attitude really reduces the obsessing over details and sexualization that Khristine is talking about. Hopefully this attitude runs over into their teaching and modesty becomes a state of being not a hem measurement.

  20. That’s the Russian spelling of Khristine. Like Khruschchev. Appropriate in this Russian-themed post.

  21. Joseph S. says:

    I found the ubiquitous penises drawn on the elevators to be much more obscene. Russian’s fascination with the male sex organ was quite the culture shock for me.

  22. I find it helpful not to obsess about other peoples obsessing as well. I think sometimes its best to ignore things than to constantly obsess about other peoples obsessions. Which is why I often have to take breaks from the bloggernacle. to much obsessing about certain issues.

  23. I saw on RT that some vandals drew a huge penis on a drawbridge, so that every time the bridge raises, it becomes erect. This they decided was art, and voted awards for it. For some reason that risque feminist punk band didn’t get treated similarly, though. Odd.

  24. MikeInWeHo says:

    Great photo, Brad. Covering up Barbie’s nudity turned her into a dominatrix, which is more pornographic than she would have been in the first place. It highlights the irony implicit in attempts to eliminate imagines which might be considered immodest. So often it backfires and fuels the very obsessions that need to be eliminated.

  25. I’ve been active in a local Rennaisance Faire for a number of years. I will admit the first couple of years were filled with more oogling given the atire of lasses, frauleins, damsels, etc. but then found it simply part of the garb of the recreation, nothing more.

    Your companion’s advice came true for me and Renn Faires, for sure.

    Oh yeah, my wife went with me the first two years and described the Faire as a man’s fantasy world, “Shiny sharp objects and busty women”.

  26. I had to comment because for me there is no better illustration of the principle behind avoiding pornography than the zen story of two monks walking down the sidewalk in the rain, seeing a woman attempting to cross a muddy street one monk reaches out and picks the woman up carrying her across the road. The continued on in silence. When they reached the door of the monastery the monk asks the helper, “why did you pick up that woman? We are forbidden to touch woman”. The other monk reply’s, “why are you still carrying that woman around when I left her on the side of the road”.

    Sounds like your companion and yourself, recognized that the principle isn’t the behavior but the carrying it around, just like their markers, carrying little reminders of pornography in their pockets.

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