Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Proposed Solution to Bullying in Utah

Last night, I attended a meeting on suicide prevention.  The meeting started with an astonishing presentation.  In memory of the LGBT teenagers who have committed suicide in a matter of weeks,  nine short biographies were read and followed by a moment of silence.  The rest of the night remained somewhat somber.  We discussed symptoms of depression, signs of suicide risk, and the heightened danger for LGBT individuals.  Stories were shared from both sides of tragedy: losing friends to suicide and facing suicide head on. 

The conversation led to some serious thought about how one gets to that point.  I’ve considered it a bit (especially here on the blog) and feel as though I’ve made some progress in that sense.  It is very much tied to the current controversies surrounding Boyd K. Packer’s LDS General Conference talk, and now that I work with (and plan to continue to work with) emotionally vulnerable eighteen and nineteen year olds, I find myself closer and more devoted to understanding this pain.

Boyd K Packer Sitting Conference

Sharing her own suicidal experiences, the speaker said that one of her major emotional breakthroughs came when an educator pointed out: “You are not your emotions.  You have emotions.  You have thoughts.  You have behaviors.  Instead, you are you.”  For the next three hours, this thought stuck in my head.  This clearly probably isn’t something the bullied understand.  What was I taught growing up LDS?

In my experience, I feel we’ve been taught that we are essentially conflicted masses of emotion—the good within us trying to overcome the “natural man” within all of us.  A memory of seminary and Sunday school lessons immediately crept up.  A video and a 1973  talk by Boyd K. Packer based on the premise “The mind is a stage,” a regular part of the curriculum often associated with wholesome, inspiring music came to mind.  The apostle expands:

“Except when we are asleep the curtain is always up. There is always some act being performed on that stage. It may be a comedy, a tragedy, interesting or dull, good or bad; but always there is some act playing on the stage of the mind.

“Have you noticed that without any real intent on your part, in the middle of almost any performance, a shady little thought may creep in from the wings and attract your attention? These delinquent thoughts will try to upstage everybody.

“If you permit them to go on, all thoughts of any virtue will leave the stage. You will be left, because you consented to it, to the influence of unrighteous thoughts….

“If you can control your thoughts, you can overcome habits, even degrading personal habits. If you can learn to master them you will have a happy life.”

In principle, this idea is fairly sound.  One can reign in negative behaviors before they’re entertained.  Packer’s counsel, though treated as quaint even in some LDS circles is to recall the words of a favorite hymn so as to replace negative emotions with positive, spiritual ones. 

Stage Play ActorsThe philosophical questions then arise: Which thoughts are good?  Which are bad or even neutral?  How does one control those thoughts? Etc. 

Questions of morality and the roles on this stage are defined external sources.  By God, according to the Church, and by society according to others.  In the developmental process of a young adult, a sense of good and evil is established which is very fragile.  It’s influenced not only by religion, but also family and perhaps most importantly one’s peers.  Herein lays the problem  we as a predominantly LDS culture face (as well as the entire nation). 

Two things are necessary to solve this problem: a dialog and consequences. 

In this nation, people have a right to believe.  They are guaranteed the right to believe that God created man.  They are guaranteed the right to believe that evolution is a reality or that one race is superior to another.  No one is guaranteed the unrighteous dominion of forcing those beliefs upon another person. 

Unfortunately, the nature of adolescence is more complex than all of that.  What may be true in the (ideal) world of adults, does not for those coming to terms with growing pains.  A few kids holding the understanding that being gay is evil can destroy his world by teasing him for feminine tendencies regardless of his sexuality.  These same emotions are experienced by youth in the church who feel they are evil for homosexual desires.  Those who inspire these feelings of self-hate—regardless of motive—face consequences.


Recently, the Church has emphasized the difference between feelings and actions, stating that the feelings are not sinful, but actual homosexual acts are.  While I see this message being emphasized for adults, it is seen as too controversial or complex for the youth of the Church.  For the youth, it has been simplified to a notion that all homosexuality—acts, as well as thoughts and even the very word—is inherently evil.  Perhaps leaders feel that by talking about homosexuality to the youth in nuanced, adult terms as outlined in the recent statement they will be more inclined to experiment or accept their emotions. 

If the LDS Church wants to heed its own calls for compassion in the current atmosphere, it is necessary to open this dialog with the youth.  Go ahead and teach that homosexual acts are evil, but hear my plea: save from suicide that unfortunate young man who feels trapped by his feelings, though he might not share his feelings openly. Clearly state that those feelings do not make him evil.  Let him know that he is not alone.  And when that young man reaches adulthood, save him or her from the notion that you are not as righteous because he feels marriage is not an option for him. 


Kiley said...

Awesome post. Really great post. Thank you.

naturgesetz said...

It's not just LDS that needs to take this advice. All churches that make the same distinction between feelings and actions need to do as you suggest.

robert said...

"Go ahead and teach that homosexual acts are evil..."

Why indulge a dichotomy (good/evil) which is a purely cultural construct?
Why do many religions reinforce an imagined battle between two parts of our very own nature as if one can be expelled by will or some divine intervention while the other can be retained by simple "obedience" to laws written by the very men or women to which they supposedly apply?

Is this not, at its simplest, self delusion cloaked as an archetype of truth and at its extreme a "religious doctrine" enforced by mass agreement or coercion?

Anonymous said...

In addition to all you have said, GMB, which, by the way, you have done in a stellar fashio, there is a website I would highly recommend that gives a new perspective on how to deal with bullying and being bullied sexually. I have had personal contact with the creator of this site, and have tried his program in my own classes at school, working with teenagers. It has been a godsend:

I hope people will give it a chance and look at it and the ideas presented.

Happy night!

Love to you and yours. :)

LGBT Voices said...

This is a very important issue. I appreciate your blog very much.

I think that the biggest problem with society is communication (or a lack thereof).

I don't know where you live or anything, but a few BYU students have started a series of discussion panels called Breaking the Silence. A few of them have been devoted to to LGBT issues. We're looking into doing one about self-injury (today is national self-injury awareness day), and we're planning another panel on understanding same-gender attraction at the end of March. Let me know if you have any ideas or would like to get involved in breaking the silence.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

@Understanding SGA: I've def. heard of the good work you're doing in the Utah Valley. Kudos. It's valuable, hard, and appreciated.

Here in Logan, we do our best to serve the community.

Anonymous said...

Besides the fact that this is very badly written it is filled with flawed logic. Obviously written by someone who grew up Mormon, but left the religion behind long ago.

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