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. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, you're blog is good! Why aren't you on the Moho Directory? Or do you just not post frequently enough that I miss you and not realize you're there?

    Get on there Drive up your traffic. Spread the word. :)