I gave my 9th grade English students practice debates on values while we were reading Romeo and Juliet. They complained that I only gave them one-sided situations. “What do you mean?” I asked and read aloud the day’s prompt: “You should be friends with odd kids that your own friends make fun of.”
They insisted that statement had only one side. I said, “Come on. There’s the side that you say you believe and there’s the side that you actually do. That’s two sides.”
My students were sincere. In their minds the principle of being nice to the less fortunate is true. They’ve learned that at school, at church, and at home. In their minds, it is a truth with which they cannot argue. They believe they should be nice to others, but no one has given them permission to count the cost of acting upon this principle.
For most fourteen and fifteen-year-olds, the cost of befriending “odd” or “weird” classmates is more than they can handle. Kids are not hypocrites when they say they believe in befriending everyone. They simply avoid thinking about how their actions don’t measure up to their beliefs. Admitting they fail to live up to this principle would cast themselves as uncaring people.
When I gave my students permission to think about valid reasons they had for not wanting to befriend “losers,” they engaged in honest discussion. I was pleased to hear some strong negative arguments in that day’s debates. Maybe some of them were even freed to think of baby-steps of acceptance they could make toward rejected classmates.
There’s a problem with the way we teach values to children—and even to adults at church. Most of the time, we offer a moral or religious truth as an imperative—something everyone must do—usually in every situation. But, the world is not black and white. Different situations may call for alternative rules and regulations. Even “Thou shalt not kill,” is generally interpreted to allow taking life for self-defense or serving one’s country.
Believing social and moral issues have only one side, prevents us from considering alternatives. And when we can’t live up to a belief or value, we simply avoid thinking about it. If we don’t think about our behavior, we can’t change it.
Lynnette at Zelophehads Daughters has a great post about scupulosity–being overly concerned with personal sin. Recommended reading for any of you who might be obsessing over faults to correct with a list of New Year’s resolutions.
My neighborhood book group is reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People this month in honor of Stephen Covey who died earlier this year. It has been many years since I’ve read The 7 Habits, but I remember most of it. I’ve tried to live up to the win/win ideal, although I still find empathetic listening tough to practice. When I read his section on being proactive rather than reactive, I was surprised. Over the years, I’d forgotten about Covey and sort of thought these were my own ideas.
The part of the book that really caught my attention this time around was Covey’s distinction between principles and practices. In our current age of political and religious polarity, many people call refusal to compromise “standing up for my principles.” Covey distinguishes between principles and practices or policies. He defines principles as unchanging natural laws with universal application. His list of principles includes: fairness, integrity and honesty, human dignity, and service—making a contribution. He tells us, “Principles are not values. A gang of thieves can share values [like loyalty to leaders], but they are in violation of fundamental principles” [fairness, honesty].
The problem with contemporary political discourse is that principles (which should not be compromised) are often confused with policies—which can be compromised. Policies like lower taxes, deficit reduction, and entitlement reform are too often seen as principles. What we need to do is define national principles. Principles we could all agree on might be: a fair society—“with liberty and justice for all,” a healthy economy, and national security. Once we define principles, we can discuss various policies to achieve them—and compromise when necessary.
Unfortunately, religious discussion is often as divisive as political discourse. Identifying principles could also help the religious community. Covey claims that principles are not the same as religious ideas and are not unique to specific religions. In my book, the two principles of religion are love of God and love of our fellow humans—what Jesus called the first and second commandments. Many ways to show love for God and others exist. Some people seek God in meditative contemplation in nature or at home, others seek him in church services. God’s children can be loved and served beyond the church community. Criticizing approaches to keeping the first and second commandments which are different from our own choices violates the principle of love.
Wouldn’t The 7 Habits make a great lesson manual for Sunday School or Relief Society/Priesthood lessons?
The PBS program, Religion and Newsweekly has an interesting segment on judicial decisions this week. An organization called The Family Leader founded and headed by Bob Vanden Plaats, a political activist who has run (and lost) for several offices in his home state of Iowa. Plaats’ organization succeeded in getting three members of the Iowa State Supreme Court defeated in the 2010 election. The 9-member court ruled unanimously in 2009 that Iowa’s law banning same-sex marriage violated the state constitution.
The Family Leader and other groups targeting judges nationwide are attacking judges ruling on gay marriage and other social issues. The results, according to the non-partisan Center for American Progress, are that between 2000 and 2010, judges who received the most campaign funding from such groups ruled in favor of big business 71% of the time.
I may be a cynic, but it looks to me like corporate interests are using gay marriage (as they have abortion) to exploit socially conservative religious groups in order to get their own people in office. And that raises a question: What is their about religious conservatives which allows them to be exploited so easily? Does unquestioning obedience to church leaders play a part?
Mormons who are convinced the Republican party has values that mirror those of their Church, should take a look at this analysis http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/09/19/obama-vs-romney-a-mormon-dilemma/ of official Church statements on the issues of: The ideal society, giving to the poor, abortion, marriage, immigration, and freedom of religion.
Of course, legitimate differences of opinion exist within the Church on how to interpret scriptures and the statements of leaders. Certainly, each member has a right and responsibility to make his own decisions on these issues.
Too often, however, Mormons automatically assume the Republican Party reflects Church values on every issue. For example, I’ve met many Mormons who believe the Republican Party stance on abortion is identical to that of the Church. Not true. The current Republican Platform does not permit abortions to protect the life and health of the mother, for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or for a severely impaired fetus that will likely not survive birth. These are all exceptions the LDS Church considers valid.
A person who wants her vote to reflect her religious values should do the research and be aware of what her church teaches and how well candidates’ rhetoric matches those teachings.
My niece, Daffny, posted the following on Facebook recently:
Not seeing things politically the way others do does not make me ignorant, uneducated, ill-read, anti-religion, or lacking in common sense. It means I have a different opinion than you. It means I am looking at things through a different lens than you are (or possibly just watching different news channels). That is all it means.
I think Daffny’s comment was a reaction to her sister, Rudi. Rudi takes politics so seriously, I’ll bet she no longer drives a blue car and has discarded her old BYU blue sweatshirts for right-wing red. During the primaries, Daffny posted a picture on Facebook of a sign with a humorous comment about Rick Perry. Rudi responded with a harsh tirade. Recently I received an email requesting my donation to Romney’s campaign. I commented on Facebook that I thought it odd for a multimillionaire to ask middle income people for money. Rudi posted a personal attack on my page. It was like I’d insulted the prophet.
I’m not sure why people feel it’s all right to say things online that they would not say in person. My cousin Krafti feels it’s appropriate to send me emails with racist statements about the President although she knows we have an African-American daughter-in-law and a biracial grandchild.
Of course, rudeness isn’t limited to the Internet. I dodge political discussions with my brother Dooby who doesn’t mind telling me I’m an unenlightened moron because I think Intelligent Design has no place in a public school science curriculum. Dooby, of course, may only be evening the score for the times I dressed him in my clothes and called him Sally because I wanted a little sister instead of a brother.
Why are 21st century Americans so politically intolerant that we can’t listen to an opposing opinion without anger? Democracy is based on a free exchange of ideas, but many of us shut down differing ideas with insults and name calling. How many steps are there between hate rhetoric and the murderous mayhem we currently see in the Middle East over an offensive film?