Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Culture of Silence

When I was in the closet, one of the most frustrating parts of my experience was the silence. In many ways, the silence is still one of the hardest things I deal with. I'm the kind of guy that likes to talk things out. I want to tell everyone things, and I want to be open, and want to share my life with people. Not being able to tell my loved ones about my romantic experiences and heartbreaks, my worries and triumphs, is a constant nagging sore. Periodically I scratch the sore and try talking, but that usually ends with a shouting match, so to keep the peace we guard our precious culture of silence. 

What is the culture of silence? Well, this is how I see it. We grow up in a society that expects allot, and that's a good thing; it gives us something to strive for. So we aspire for the perfect family, where everyone goes on a mission and everyone is baptized on the day they turn eight and everyone follows all the gospel principles, such as family night every Monday and family prayer and scripture study, such as attending church every Sunday, such as always obeying the law of chastity and never drinking alcohol or smoking, such as never lying and writing in our journals every night and having food storage for a year, and marrying the right person right after the mission and finishing college and having a dozen beautiful babies who all grow up to be perfect, and never getting divorced, and, and, and...

Real life is much messier than the perfect dream, the perfect path we set for ourselves, and so, ironically, we set ourselves up to fail. This is where the culture of silence comes in. We feel ashamed of our failures, and so we try, very hard, to not let anyone know about them. We want everyone to believe that we have accomplished the dream, that we are living the perfect life. I mean, everyone else has the perfect life as well, right? That's what Zion means, right? 

We know, cognitively, that nobody is perfect, that we are to forgive the faults of others. Yet at the same time, we hold our whole community and ourselves to this impossible standard. But Ryan, you may say, what do you mean, shouldn't we be striving for perfection? Are you saying we should just quit? Of course not. But in striving for perfection, we should also remember the words of the Savior: "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is God" (KGB, Mark 10:8) If even the Savior, who did no sin and was perfect in every way possible for a *mortal to be, still would not accept the appellation good, why are we so eager to claim it?

Certainly we are worthwhile, even precious souls, and definitely we often do many good things. But everyone sins. And trying to cover our sins is also a sin. 

This is a fairly natural social occurrence. I'm going to go off on a tangent here and talk about groups, and then relate them to the culture of silence. 

People congregate into groups, which provide a sense of belonging, companionship, efficiency, power, and safety. However, groups are formed of individuals, and individuals are different from each other in a multitude of ways. All of these differences can keep the group from functioning as a unit, so individuals make sacrifices to conform. Groups are unthinking, selfish memes. But they are important to people. Groups offer incentives for people to keep up the meme, and detriments for those who do not conform. Groups are protected by the people that form them. People will lie, cheat, steal, kill, and lay down their lives for the groups they care most about. And they will feel justified in doing so. 

Relationships are not bad things. In fact, almost all spiritual and moral law seems to be largely based on relationships. But groups and relationships are not the same. Relationships are between real people, but groups are about something both larger and less real. 

A friend of mine knows of a guy who is held up as a paragon in a certain ex-gay group. He is married and apparently faithful. However, he has sex with men on the side. My friend was incensed at such blatant manipulation... here was a supposedly successful representative for this group. Doing everything he pretended not to do, and then standing up and telling everyone how the group had changed his life. 

However, this didn't surprise me one bit. He was protecting the group, because the group protected him, and allowed him to do what he wanted. And the group protected him because a meme of the group was successful rehabilitation, so admitting failure would hurt the group. The group wasn't so concerned with actual success as the story of success, because groups are lies that we tell ourselves. So the group was silent about the transgressions of this member.

Now another tangent about truth and chastity. Their is a scripture about putting on the whole armor of God. A couple specific details have always tickled my interest; Acts 17:11 places truth around the waste. Now when I think of truth, I might think of a sword that cuts through lies, or a shield. But the truth is specifically connected to the belt (i.e. loin area) several times in the scriptures. Why is that?

I think one of the reasons may be that truth, when is comes to virtues, is a sort of chastity belt. When you are truthful in your relationships, all kinds of relationship problems become virtually impossible. Cheating, adultery, etc. are incredibly hard to commit without lying. Incredibly. Pornography is almost always a solitary, furtive activity. The first step in sexual addiction recovering is admitting you have a problem; in essence, you stop lying to yourself. 

When we are silent about our problems, we do not receive the help we need. A young, struggling couple is not served in any way by trying to hide their "shameful" poverty from the ward; a young man struggling with pornography only perpetuates the problem with his silence; lack of political diversity expressed in our conversations leads to polarization; a young woman who hates her body and secretly cuts herself cannot receive help until her self-hurt is revealed. 

I am not in any way suggesting that we should complain about things all the time, or that everyone needs to know. Both of those options are also harmful for various reasons. But I am suggesting that, when people have problems that are shameful and difficult for them, they should have some way, some non-secretive but still-private way, of talking about these things. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

On the Cliffs of Insanity

Okay, today I want to talk a little bit about some recent experiences I've had with rock climbing. So about a week ago I went with my brother and sister and a couple of their friends up Provo canyon. Let me just preface this by saying that I'm a terrible rock climber, but my brother and sister both do this all the time. They have their own equipment and everything.

So we get up their and I get started up the rock and right away the adrenaline is flooding my system, and not in a good way. I'm terrified. Worse, this is the first time for the girl who's belaying me, and I do NOT trust her. So I grip the rock as hard as I can with sweaty fingers and tennis shows with no grip. I'm slipping quite a bit, I can't go up or down, and extremely frustrated, stuck and tired on a vertical cliff face, and I start yelling at my brother for not letting me borrow his climbing shoes. Needless to say, it was a rather humiliating experience for all involved.

So I get down, and I don't want to try again, but they persuade me to do so. I go barefoot this time, even though everyone is telling me how painful barefoot is. And you know what? It's so much easier than with shoes. Despite what people said, my feet are already hardened because I rarely wear shoes around the house. Their are challenging (for me) ledges, and once I had to rely on the rope to keep me up. But this time it was my youngest sister belaying me, and although she has to way half of what I do, I trust her. I make it to the top, and feel awesome.

To end that trip, I belay for my sister. I'm also horrible at this, so I get people trying to tell me how to do it right, and this makes me convinced that I'm going to drop my sister, so I try doing everything with my own strength alone. Completely exhausting, but I'm terrified I'm going to kill her.

Fastforward to yesterday, when we took another trip up the canyon. I wasn't sure I wanted to come, but I did it anyways. We had to repel down... the first few seconds of repelling, where you have to put your faith into that skinny little rope, is nerve wracking. But I do it.

I rock climb barefoot again, and when it's my turn to belay, I take a couple extra minutes to get some coaching and learn how to do it right. this makes a world of difference, and I'm soon belaying two different friends with confidence.

A buddy of mine wanted to bring his dog in. The dog was not happy about this and fought and was nervous the whole time. We had to lower her (the dog) on a rope, and bring her back out on a rope. He had to hold her and we basically had to hoist them out. We all told him it was a bad idea, but he wouldn't listen.

So we repelled out of the spot--this time it was a little easier, though still the first leap made me nervous-- and then we hiked out. Much better experience than the first time.

What do we get out of this? I love the scripture that says you can liken everything to the gospel. For me, exercises like this always bring different principles of life to mind.

First, what you do affects the lives of everyone around you. Sometimes you freak out and things get messy. that's just being human, that's okay. But getting a little extra help in the beginning can keep that from happening.

Trust is essential.

Trying to do everything by yourself can get you into allot of trouble.

Sometimes doing what everyone tells you is painful is still better than the easier way.

Sometimes people do stupid things even when everyone tells them not to. Allow others to make mistakes and try to help them so that those mistakes are not harmful.

Allow others to rely on you, and rely on other people. We are all in this together. True story.

Sometimes, that first leap of faith is terrifying. But if you don't do it, you'll regret it.

Actually, whatever I write, I feel like you guys will be able to find what you need. I don't like spelling things out. Just look at your experiences and think what they teach you about life. Also, hope everything goes well for you.