Tuesday, January 27

Sunstone Essay

As you might have guessed, things have been pretty busy lately with school and flying all over the place for doctoral interviews. 

To tide you over I wanted to post the final version of what I wrote on Prop. 8 for Sunstone Magazine in December.

It is an adaptation of my post here a few months ago, so it's not required reading. ;)
I Love You, Period.

I tried to remain as neutral as possible on the gay marriage debate, passing it off with, "Well, I don't live in California, so I don't have to make a decision." However, as the saying goes, "the personal is political."

My sister is gay. That has made this debate personal.

Just a few months ago I was talking with my sister’s friend (who is also gay) defending my LDS friends who believe the “I love you even though you’re gay” sentiment. I was arguing that one could love a gay family member and not accept (or even like) his or her sexuality.

My thinking shifted when she explained that for many people (possibly even me), their sexuality is a fundamental part of their personhood. So to truly love any kind of person, gay or otherwise, you cannot say, “I love you even though…” you have to say, “I love you, period.”

If my sister is gay, and God made her that way just as He made me straight, then I love that she is gay. For me, to be against gay marriage is to be against my own sister. How can I tell her, "You know, I love you but I really hate this particular fundamental part of who you are." I refuse to do that.

If that attitude is in conflict with the teachings of my faith, then it is something that I will have to just sit with, perhaps for the rest of my life. I love my sister too much, and I love my faith too much (which, paradoxically, has become more personal and more inspiring than ever in my life).

I hope my friends and family who disagree with me will be understanding and not decide that I have lost my testimony or am not following the prophet, both of which miss the point. There are simply some things you cannot reconcile or explain into neat categories. You just have to sit with them.

The best I can do is to allow this tension to make me a little softer, a little more humble, a little more patient. A little more like the One I claim to follow.

Friday, January 16

Different culture, or just barbaric?

A mother in so-called "progressive" Northern Iraq, on the practice of castrating young females:
"This is the practice of the Kurdish people for as long as anyone can remember. We don't know why we do it, but we will never stop because Islam and our elders require it."
Note how the article refers to the practice as "female circumcision." Now there's a euphemism! Let's call it like it is. [Insert slam on liberal newspaper here].

Apparently up to 60% of Kurdish people in the area have had this horrific practice visited upon them by their mothers. I don't blame them, they are caught up in a vicious cycle, and the mother's quote above spells that out.

Where do we draw the line with our own beliefs? At what point do we say, enough is enough? That is up for everyone to decide for themselves, but like my father said recently, if the prophet commands us to slaughter another wagon train from Arkansas, I'm out!

What kinds of faith-related things have been difficult in your life? Obviously "faith" is not really knowing, but where would you draw the line? If there has already been something too much in your life or religion, what made you say "okay, this is too much"?

Sunday, January 4

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was the best book I have read in the last few years. Highly recommended. It was so informative and engaging that I think I wore out my welcome reading it out loud to anyone who was nearby.

Written by two social psychologists and based on years of research, it provides a fascinating overview of cognitive dissonance, and how it applies to prejudice, memory, law, marriage, and war. The most chilling point is how we are all subject to dealing with dissonance (usually in self-justifying ways), what we think we know or remember is probably not the case (regardless of which side we're on), and most of our leaders and public figures shirk responsibility for their mistakes.

A few highlights:
  • Reasoning areas of the brain "virtually shut down" when we are confronted with dissonant information, and emotion circuits light up when consonance is restored. Basically, this shows that there is a neurological basis for the fact that once we make up our minds, it is pretty hard to change them.
  • Naïve realism - the "inescapable conviction" that we all have, that we see things as they really are. If someone has a different opinion they obviously aren't seeing things clearly.
  • Being "absolutely, positively sure" a memory is correct does not mean it is. We can have vivid false memories full of emotion and detail. People can recover memories of abuse, which is shown to be dubious, and even experience alien abduction without it actually happening. Basically, we can have experiences that we think are real, especially in the past... yet they never happened. Without some outside confirming source, we cannot trust our memories too much.
  • Parent blaming - a convenient form of self-justification; it allows people to live with regrets or mistakes because all the mistakes were made "by them."
  • Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been guilty of self-justification and failure to admit their mistakes. The last president to clearly admit to a major mistake was John F. Kennedy. The two presidents to use the phrase "mistakes were made" the most were Richard Nixon (of course) and Ronald Reagan. What is so insidious about the phrase (which Clinton even joked about using so much) is that it is a complete avoidance of responsibility.
  • Finally, resolving dissonance is not completely bad, and does serve to preserve our beliefs, confidence, and self-esteem. However, it also gets us into trouble. Hence, the authors suggest that it is possible to remain committed to a religion, political party, or partner, yet understand that "it is not disloyal to disagree with actions or policies" that one believes is inappropriate, misguided, or immoral.
May we all recognize when we are feeling dissonance, and rather than justify our actions or those of religious or political leaders, and stand up for what we believe. We do not disown a best friend when they do something we disagree with. But that does not mean we have to agree with them. "A friend is still a friend, and a mistake is still a mistake." May we all learn to resolve dissonance in healthy ways when possible, and when it is not possible, learn to sit with it.

Read this book! It is not very long, is very engaging, and you will learn a LOT about yourself and society.

There is also an NPR podcast on this book and cognitive dissonance: Why It's Hard to Admit Being Wrong.