I live in a Utah suburban community that provides irrigation water at a flat rate charge to residents. We recently received a notice from our water board that, because of the drought, we must either conserve water or risk running out. The notice particularly addressed residents who drench their lawns daily for fear they are not getting their fair share of the water if they don’t. We’ve been told since spring about the water shortage, but I still see neighbors unwilling to curb their own usage for the good of the community.
I thought about them last night, when I attended a town hall meeting in a nearby city. Residents there are trying to force a medical waste incinerator to curb emissions of toxins including dioxin which is linked to autism in children, other birth defects, cancers—and which concentrates in breast milk.
The spokesperson for the incinerator company protected her job with a glib presentation. She obviously failed to connect with the young families in attendance. Few people outside this city attended to support their neighbors or to protect their own health. Apparently, residents of other communities are unaware that air pollution does not respect municipal boundaries.
Air pollution is a good example of the Buddhist teaching that all living and non-living things are interconnected. What affects one affects us all.
Mormons have a history of community-mindedness—including the Law of Consecration and the United Order. We still have institutional programs to help the unfortunate—fast offerings, the welfare program, and humanitarian aid. But we seem to have lost the spirit of cooperation—even sacrifice of personal interest—in order to benefit others. What we have, in too many cases, is the attitude that people outside our own group don’t count.
I hear older Mormons complain about being taxed to pay for schools when they have no children who will benefit. Others think it’s unfair to pay for public transportation and recreation facilities they don’t use. Some Mormons advocate abolishing all government social programs. In their view, the poor—including children and the incapacitated—should care for themselves. Granted, all social welfare programs—including those of the LDS Church—could use improvement, but abolishing them to let the needy fend for themselves lacks compassion.
Decades of conference addresses and lesson manuals warning us of the wickedness of the world may be creating Mormon insensitivity to suffering and needs outside our own small group. Maybe it’s time for General Conference addresses to focus less on chastity, sharing the gospel, and the danger of slipping into Satan’s power, and to preach the gospel of love instead. Maybe it’s time to extend Mormon family values to include all of God’s children—even those we may not admire and those who will likely never accept our faith.