Monday, July 12, 2010

A higher standard?

Do you hold yourself to a higher standard than you do others? Sometimes I think I do, and I wonder if I should.

I tell myself I do it out of tolerance, and in an effort not to judge. But do I?

I grew up LDS (from about age 9) in a non-LDS community. Except for my sisters, I was usually the only Mormon in my school, and the older I got, the more divergent my standards (or better said in those early days, my family's standards) were from those of my friends and classmates. Now in the professional world, I work with very few church members, so I am in the same boat.

Even among church members, some of us attend more regularly; some go to the temple more often (and some don't go); some are more consistent about holding Family Home Evening than others, and so on.

My parents never taught me to have friends only in the church. It would have been difficult to do so as I was the only boy my age at church. But even if I had many friends at church, my folks would not have wanted me to isolate myself on some Mormon social island. We have also encouraged our kids to have friends at church and outside the church. We live in a non-Mormon community, but there are more kids my kids' ages at church than I had, and they are fortunate to have good friends there, too. But they also have friends at school who aren't LDS. Some of those friends are religious in their own families and others aren't.

While I know what my standards are, is it fair or reasonable to assume those I associate with will have the same standards? In high school I was fortunate to have a group of friends who, while they did not always share my standards, at least respected them. (The weekend of high school graduation, most handed me a can of Sprite at the door, warning me that the punch was spiked.) My work colleagues are respectful of my choice not to drink alcohol. And they know better than to ask me to go places where I wouldn't take my wife. And many have learned to be more mindful of their language around me (though I've never asked them to).

Some of our children as teenagers have had friends who really pushed my tolerance envelope, however. It almost seems they sought friends who were on the very edge, and I wondered how to respond. (To tell them not to associate with those kids would have been foolhardy; by this time they were old enough to make these choices, and they were making them.) We generally tried to be gracious when these friends came by, and the friends were generally respectful of us when they were in our home. But we worried.

The questions that linger in my mind: how do we teach our children right from wrong, and still teach our children to be tolerant of others? Are my standards higher or just different? We use the phrase "love the sinner, hate the sin", but even that phrase smacks of judgment to me. Or is it my place to understand what God expects of ME (and only me) and live accordingly? Is my telling myself that I have higher (or different) standards than others allow me (or force me) to judge others in, even in some passive way? And is that ok or not?

I'm interested in your thoughts and experience.


  1. The standard I've always held myself to was, expect the same of others that I expect of myself, and don't expect anything of someone else that I wouldn't expect of myself. In other words, practice the Golden Rule as much as I can and try very hard not to be a hypocrite.

    The thing is, there are many church members who aren't so hot, and many non-church members who are really upright, moral people and are, essentially, living the same values the church teaches. Over the last few years, in particular, I've come to value the decent people in my life more and more, whatever their religious background.

    Being tolerant isn't, to my way of thinking, the same as having lower standards. You can acknowledge that someone's behavior isn't so hot, is harmful, whatever, and still appreciate that person for who they are. To me, the tough issue has always been, where to draw the line?

    Sometimes, in my efforts to be tolerant, I've ended up being friends with people long past the point where I shouldn't have been. I just felt bad acknowledging that there were things about them (their outlook on life, the way they treated others, etc) that made me not want to be friends with them. I'm learning that it's OK to seek out friends who share my values, but I'm still not really sure where to draw the line.

  2. I don't have kids to relate this to, but I debate this all the time. I actually think my reticence towards being intolerant has made me overly tolerant - to the point that I started questioning other church teachings. Sometimes I think we need to be more tolerant of our own beliefs - to let ourselves live our lives according to the things we hold most important and not worry so much about what other people will think about that. Not sure if that makes sense, but I appreciate the concepts you brought up.

    ps. I stumbled onto your blog from CJ's The Narrow Gate...just in case you were wondering.

  3. Jaclyen, thanks for coming on over, and CJ, thanks for sending people my way! (And for your comments, too, of course!)

    CJ, I think you're right that we need to separate people from what they do, though I honestly still struggle with how to describe that without sounding holier-than-everyone. But I'm still trying.

    Jaclyn, the idea of being more tolerant of our own beliefs, and therefore more tolerant of ourselves, is an interesting one. I feel another blog coming on... Thanks!

  4. I continue to wrestle with this question, too.

    I tend to agree with CJ about maintaining standards. I think part of the problem is that we have this concept of "judging" as being something that is impolite or even wrong. I can't help but think we confound two meanings of "judgment," one being, simply, to properly distinguish between right and wrong, and another that means "condemnation."

    I think that the judgment of "judge not that ye be not judged" is entirely different from that of Moroni 7: sure, it is not our place to condemn others, but "it is given unto [us] to judge" (Moroni 7:15), and we must do so.

    I think we do need to recognize the rightness and wrongness of others' acts, if only for ourselves to keep our moral compass calibrated, and bonus points if we use our awareness to help (not condemn) those around us.

    Right now I figure that if there in fact exists a correct morality for all of Heavenly Father's children, then the very fact that it exists and on some level draws people toward it combined with genuine Christlike love will prevent poisonous "intolerance" in our attitudes and guide our actions and smooth over any misunderstandings that might arise; there will inevitably be people who are repulsed from any conviction of morality, but we are not accountable for them.

    I think the problem comes, at least for me, when I am not fully convinced of the rightness of a certain standard. In this regard, I probably fall into the same trap as Jaclyn. For situations like this, I can only be honest with myself and others, because I think that problems with "intolerance" result in fundamental uncertainty under which a proper conviction and Christlike love cannot exist,and this is what many people react to as hypocrisy.

    Wow, that was rambling. I'd like to hear your thoughts in any case.

  5. Trevor,

    I think your reading of Matthew 7 and Moroni 7 is spot on, and is very helpful as we walk this line.

    For me personally, I have no issue separating what someone does from who they are, and recognizing that even a person who doesn't live my standards might have something to teach me, or might need my service.

    One of my questions is how we impart that to our kids. Do we risk our kids "falling off the deep end" if we encourage friendships with those who are outside our standards? (My own experience is that by the time my kids had made these friendships there was little I could do about the friendship; all I could do was to offer an alternative to the friend's point of view. Sometimes my kids heard me, and sometimes they heard their friends.)

    Regarding hypocrisy, another friend said it well: Although our teenagers sometimes accuse us of hypocrisy when we fail to meet our own standards, he prefers to acknowledge that he's trying to do better and be better than he is today.

    Thanks for your comment, Trevor!

  6. BTW, Jaclyn, sorry for misspelling your name in my response a couple of days ago -- I'm a poor proofreader, I'm afraid.