Yes, horizons do exist in a valley.
What is the “Utah Bubble?”
Ever since the Pioneers hauled their asses (and oxen) across the country, Utah Valley’s population has been approximately 1000% LDS. Due to this, an unusual phenomenon has arisen in our region: “Mormon culture.” This, specifically, refers to a community where Mormonism is not only the predominant practice, but other religions and lifestyles are practically ignored.
I am, admittedly, the stereotypical “Utah Valley Mormon girl.” I was born and raised in a neighborhood where non-LDS people were an oddity. However, I was fortunate enough to live in a family and community where tolerance and respect was not merely preached, but practiced. Therefore, when my world expanded outside the “Utah Bubble,” I was prepared to accept others’ beliefs and viewpoints as valid and make friends outside my faith.
Unfortunately (and without pointing fingers), there are others who claim to follow our religion but are not so quick to practice the “love thy neighbor” policy that they preach to others. For those closed-minded turtles that give the rest of us a bad name, here’s a quick list of ways to behave like your religion says you should!
1. Don’t Hate.
I know, it seems like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that sinners don’t deserve kindness. If someone behaves outside the morals that you hold, then it’s alright to hate them, right? WRONG. It is not our job to judge others for their behavior. It is our job to provide a good example and treat others with love and kindness. John 15:12 says: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
It’s a simple enough task, and there’s an easy way to go about it. Whenever you notice yourself falling into the pattern of negative or judgmental thoughts about others, consciously replace that with a positive thought. Even if you don’t voice it, if you get into the habit of noticing the good in others, eventually you will only see the good in everyone. Bonus: thinking positively will make you happier!
2. Make a Friend!
Even in our predominantly LDS culture here in Utah (even in my own neighborhood which is essentially 99% Mormon), there are always those around you whose lifestyles are different from yours. It may seem overwhelming to figure out how to understand and respect the dizzy variety of religions, moral codes, and cultures across the world. It may be especially difficult in our little valley, where our way of life appears to be the blatantly correct choice.
Well, my little caterpillar, the next step in expanding your limited worldview is to find a single person whose lifestyle is different from yours, and befriend them! Go ahead, have lunch with a lesbian. Ask a Muslim to explain Ramadan to you. Strike up a conversation with the goal of understanding the other person, and you might well find some common ground! My first non-LDS friend, an exchange student from Tunisia, was a wonderful girl who taught me a lot about Muslim culture. She was kind, smart, and beautiful beyond compare. Our lifestyle differences seemed insignificant in comparison to the joy of spending time with such a wonderful person.
3. Refocus the “Missionary” Attitude.
This might not be too obvious to someone outside the faith, but one of the primary tenets of the LDS religion is all about missionary work. The message is constantly repeated to each one of us to be an example of our faith with the goal of bringing others to our way of life, and there’s nothing wrong with that—if it’s done properly. The difficulty lies in the fact that there are too many improper ways to go about this. I’ve had experiences where a classmate will bear a heartfelt testimony in the middle of a Biology lesson, and honestly, even I’m not comfortable with that. There’s a time and place for proselytizing.
Personally, I’ve seen the bullying style of missionary work, in which a member attempts to convert a non-member through brusque, head-on tactics. I.E. telling a person straight up where they’re lacking and how they can improve themselves by converting to Mormonism.
A weaker form of this tactic is to befriend someone with the goal of bringing him or her to the Church. My mother, our Stake Relief Society President, has had personal experiences of people who immediately drop a friendship when they realize that the person has no intention of joining the Church. This is, of course, an easy way to convince others that Mormons are practically predatory in their intent to convert others, and that is hardly the example we want to convey. On the other hand, loving service and compassion can provide a wholesome example of our faith to others without appearing pushy.
4. Don’t Assume you Know Everything.
I’ve been a member of the Church all my life. I’ve spent uncountable hours every week in lessons and private study, but I won’t ever pretend I’m even close to knowing everything about my own Church. When you’ve spent years studying the doctrines and principles of the Gospel, it’s easy to fall into another trap: assuming you already know all there is to know. If a curious non-member asks a question that you’re not quite sure of the answer to, there’s no shame in admitting you can’t explain it correctly. It could be a learning (and even bonding) experience to look up the answer together in the scriptures or related church media.
President Boyd K. Packer related an experience in January 2007 about a conversation with an atheist in which he found it difficult to relate his beliefs in words. “[He] protested, ‘you don’t know. Nobody knows that!…you say you know. Tell me how you know.’ When I attempted to answer, though I held advanced academic degrees, I was helpless to communicate…an idea came into my mind, and I said to the atheist, “…explain to me just what [salt] tastes like.’ …After several attempts, of course, he could not do it… From that experience forward, I have never been embarrassed or ashamed that I could not explain in words everything I know spiritually.”
5. Be an Example Through Service
1 Timothy 4:12 reads, “be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Our job is not to inform others of how they should live, but show them how we live through diligent service and a positive example.
Service is the single most productive thing we as church members can do to provide a good example for others. A famous scripture quote from Mosiah 2:17 reads, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” Service not only provides a positive impact on the people around us, it enriches our own lives and minds, enhancing our capacity to love others. An article recently published in the Salt Lake Tribune advocates an app that makes service projects available at our fingertips. “A recently created app, also called JustServe, makes accessing information about local service projects even easier. Users can download the app (or have their children do it for them like I did) and discover who needs what in their own area.” It’s easier now than ever to be an example through our actions of service.
6. Be Careful on the Internet.
It’s considerably easier to allow our standards to slip when we’re on the internet. When we have that level of disconnection between ourselves and the consequences of our actions, it’s tempting to allow ourselves to behave in ways we never would ordinarily. It’s important to remember that our actions on the internet still reflect our character, and that they will have consequences whether or not we can see them at first. Our actions determine our character, and when we act a certain way online, it’s bound to affect our personalities. As an online author, I have seen my fair share of trolls and idiots on the internet, and it’s very difficult to hold on to the high ground and keep myself from behaving in kind. Our standards are an important part of our religion and lifestyle. If we only uphold our standards when we’re in church or in public, then we’re not upholding them at all. We must behave in a manner that reflects our morals in all times and places.
7. Learn a Language!
Learning a new language is a wonderful way to spread understanding across cultures. My father is a wonderful example of this. At his work, there was a German man on his team who spoke English well but occasionally had difficulty communicating with the others. My dad began to study German for the sole reason of communicating better with this one man, and that small action led to an opportunity for cultural understanding as well as an amazing opportunity for my dad to take a trip to Germany for business purposes.
My older brother went on an LDS mission to Toronto where he had to learn Mandarin Chinese, a very difficult language. Due to this, he has received many opportunities since then to use his language to enrich others’ lives, and even is considering potential job opportunities in China.
It also may be helpful to seek out opportunities to help others learn English. BYU Hawaii has launched an English-language learning program on its campus. When I was younger, I volunteered in a tutoring center to help underprivileged children learn to read. There are many ways to help bring cultures closer together through language.
8. Focus on the Similarities, Not the Differences.
This is the simplest, yet most important piece of advice I can give anyone who has grown up in the “Utah Bubble.” No matter where we go or what mindset we take on, we can always find aspects of ourselves in others. If we try to see the best in people and in ourselves, we can find common ground no matter where we are. Reaching out in kindness and faith is the most effective way to get through to another’s heart.
As you might be able to tell, I am the stereotypical sheltered Mormon girl. I was not exposed to other beliefs or cultures while growing up, but my interests have expanded since I reached high school. I do, of course, attempt to practice what I preach. I have taken foreign language classes, gone out of my way to befriend those from other cultures, and am very careful how I present myself online. I hope to be able to both be an example for my religion and a kind and loving human being.
I know this all may sound preachy and unapologetically hypocritical, but I am, after all, only human. I make mistakes and find myself getting judgmental all too often. All I can do, all any of us can do, is try our best to understand and be respectful to everyone.