What I Learned in the Silence

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

The prophet invited Mormon women to take a break from social media, and they listened. My networks went silent with friends gone ghost. I know this, because I logged on occasionally to check announcements. What I discovered was a wasteland of quiet. I began logging on deliberately to process the silence, sharing my thoughts about the fast into the void it left behind. Wondering occasionally what other Mormons might think when they saw the dates and timestamps of my posts.

I learned in the silence that it is primarily Mormon women who amplify my voice. With Mormon women mostly absent, fewer people engaged with me. Although my networks include men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons, it is disproportionately Mormon women who comment, retweet or like what I have to say. I can’t fully explain why this is so, but my voice is diminished in their absence.

I learned in the silence that social media is a business as much as anything else. I know, of course, that companies sell the data they collect from me. I know that they make money from the uncompensated work I do of updating friends or writing hard-won thoughts. The fast made visible, however, other kinds of businesses closer to home. Particularly, it showed how many Mormon women use social media, as Meg Conley tweeted, “to heed the church’s call to stay home with their kids while also making enough money to live in a two wage household world.” I already knew this in theory, too. I’ve been invited to makeup or book parties many times before. I was sometimes annoyed. But the silence showed how Mormon women rely on each other for their emotional and sometimes economic support. Mormon women can be each other’s market. I am not annoyed now. I find these networks admirable alternatives that have something to say to more traditional pathways.

I learned in the silence that many of us are lonely. I instinctively reached for the social media apps I deleted from my phone whenever I needed a break, craving adult conversation that I couldn’t find. Because I was the only stay-at-home mom at the park, and everyone I had texted or called was too scheduled or too indifferent to respond.

I learned in the silence that I need Mormon women. I need the baby pictures, the life updates, and, mostly, the posts where you get real and say it was a hard day. I relate. But I could use less opposition, fewer voices telling me I am wrong when I want to say a hard thing, too. Sometimes, I need to hold my emotions until they can teach me what I must do. Mostly, I just want to be heard and to hear you. I want to feel that our words matter.

I learned in the silence that I need Mormon men. I need more men who will listen to and amplify what Mormon women have to say. We rarely get to speak with you as peers outside social media, and you often have access to resources that Mormon women don’t. I need you to share our voices.

I learned in the silence that we need Mormon women to speak. I learned in the silence that they need us to listen.

*Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash

Comments

  1. Beautiful. Haunting. True.
    And I’m grappling why we had to learn this lesson.

  2. Natalie Brown says:

    Me too, EmJen. I feel that I am being prepared to say harder, braver things. And I feel that I am being told that we must say and listen to these things together. We need each other. We cannot do the hardest things alone.

  3. This definitely has been an interesting time. Thanks for sharing your articulation here.

  4. Evangelina Vos says:

    Yes, yes and yes! This resonates with my wounded soul so much. Oh, to have a voice! And to hear yours and our other sisters voices. When President Nelson mentioned getting away from negative influences that wound our souls…I thought to myself how these websites I am on have been the balm of Gilead for the church trauma wounds I have suffered from my whole life, including this conference. For me his advice was exactly opposite of my reality. It made me feel all then more like they are not hearing us. They often wound us. These conversations are the ultimate positive experience for me.

    And oh EmJen…haunting…so so so true.

  5. Thank you, Natalie.

  6. Well said and so true. The break has made me see the world around me with more immediacy and clarity, but I too love the companionship and connectedness social media gives me to those I love. My ten days is over and I will limit my time on screen more and enjoy those I love when I am on it!!! Balance!!!! I’ll try to find it!😊

  7. Miss your voice here Natalie but love hearing it elsewhere. Thank you.

  8. Wait until you see how much better the internet gets when the brethren ask mormon men to take their fast.

  9. I wondered why a fast? Why not ask Mormon women to daily share on social media lists of gratitude? Why not ask Mormon women for 10 days to post what inspires them? Why not ask Mormon women to look at who they interact with that adds to their daily joy and make a special effort to thank these people? Why not additive? Why?

    I missed seeing the triumphs of my friends: the foster mommy who advocated for baby girls needs, the writer who achieved a new milestone. I missed the beauty they captured!

  10. In a previous century women lived in tight-knit communities with rich complex relationships among extended family, fellowette church members and other friends in the community. They had traditional roles and relationships with men. Not everything was perfect; a bad reputation could span generations and everyone had fewer options, but especially women.

    Today our modern culture is the cause of these gaps and silence we try to fill with social media. We really cannot go back into the past. But it is useful to understand why they exist.

    My daughter was interested for a couple of years in a Mennonite boy she met at a summer music camp. To the point that his parents invited us to Pennsylvania to visit and live with them for about 10 days and get to know us. They were not very old order, they had electricity etc. I experienced why they eschew modern technology; not because it is inherently evil but because it threatens their family and community relationships. The life-style of the more strict old order Anabaptists (Amish, Mennonite, etc) seems harsh and bleak to us. But to them it is so rich in relationships and community and from that flows their personal integrity and character.

  11. Better would have been to direct everyone (not just women) to look into their lives for one thing they have that gets in the way of what they know they should be doing, then fast from that for a time. Much broader than the subset of women who use social media (or even the internet at all), and can be tailored to each person by the spirit. What happened seems to have been more “we’re hearing women are wasting time on the internet rather than taking care of their families. take a break and get back to what we think is important”

  12. Fasting–after a fashion, I checked my feeds once a day in the late afternoon, something I’d intended to do for awhile, and didn’t post anything–was a surprisingly positive experience for me. I’d chafed at the request initially for all the reasons many have listed. But what I realized after a few days of digital detox was that I felt calmer and less fragmented. Like my load was lighter, my plate less full. Once I started posting again I could recognize the self-imposed pressure I felt to present my life the way I wanted it seen. I slept fitfully, unconsciously itching to check responses to something I shared just before bedtime. That said, I was happy to see photos of my new grandson shortly after my daughter-in-law shared them and happily shared news of my mom’s visit to our shared network. So much good sharing to compensate for the deluge of unwanted engagement. I don’t want to abandon social media completely but what my reluctant participation in the fast showed me is that I need more silence than my old SM habits allowed. Still a work in progress.

  13. Would you ever consider using “women of my faith” or something along those lines?

  14. Natalie Brown says:

    Ali – “Women of my faith” as a replacement for “Mormon?” That’s an interesting thought, though one would probably need to flag the name of the Church elsewhere for people to understand. I’m struggling with how to implement the new name guidance in a way that both writes well and is intelligible to outsiders — so thanks for a strategy to think about.

  15. Melinda W says:

    I was unwittingly 100% obedient to the social media fast request because I am not on social media at all (I didn’t hear the talk where he made that request either). I came to the ldsblogs when trying to process the dismay I felt about President Nelson’s talk about the word Mormon. I’m glad the social media fast didn’t affect blogging so much, because it helped immeasurably to see that others were also wondering how the name change would actually work, and pushing back a bit on some of President Nelson’s more strongly worded rhetoric. There are conversations that happen on the Internet (and I assume on social media as well) that don’t happen in real life. There is not one person in my ward that I could openly discuss my reservations with.

    I liked the points you made in your post – that it is women of your faith (still awkward, can we use Mormon as an adjective still? please?) who amplify your voice and give you a network in which to thrive. We need these online voices. Welcome back.

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