Saturday, September 20, 2014

Getting Along With Others

I just finished reading remarkable book co-written by a remarkable LDS couple, Terryl and Fiona Givens. The book challenges me to approach my Mormonism in a different way. Each week is my opportunity to offer up my personal gifts in the spirit of true worship and it's my obligation to find my own watering holes outside of church, especially when the church service itself fails to do so.

There are two qualities of Mormonism that make it remarkable and unique: 1) The church is run in large part by a local congregation of unpaid volunteers. 2) These local congregations are organized purely geographically and its members are strongly encouraged to attend the congregation they happen to live. From this membership, the leaders are called, so quality and personalities vary.

This provides a unique opportunity to meet people you might not otherwise meet and it forces global regions to self-bootstrap and to learn how to take care of themselves. A couple of quotes from the book illustrate the power of this approach:
Although not all family relations are idyllic, most are remarkably strong and a primary source for the individual's identity. Surely that is, in part, a function of the cost of individuals pay to make a relationship work. Love is a product of what we put into a relationship. We love our families because of how much we have invested in them, how many times we fought, argued, simmered, and stewed but were forced back to the negotiating table by an unavoidable proximity and by a connection that transcended personal choice. We love that irritating brother and that infuriating sister because we couldn't simply walk away in a moment of frustration. We had to submit to the hard schooling of love because we couldn't transfer to another class with siblings more to our taste.
Like Robinson Crusoe on his island, Mormons implicitly recognize that any resource they need to employ for the building of Zion must be found within themselves or their immediate environs, not among more congenial fellow Saints or under the tutelage of more inspiring leaders the next block over. These wards and stakes thus function as laboratories and practicums where we discover that we love God by learning to love each other.
and finally
Certainly it is in the nature of institutions to homogenize disparities, to stifle individualism. But the Creator God of Genesis is a Being who revels in distinctions, difference, and variation, an Artificer who separated man from woman as surely as He severed earth from sky. And love is the spark that fires across the chasm of difference, not the plane of sameness. This is as true of Zion as it is of marriage. The poet Coventry Patmore wrote that the bonds that unite us in community consist 'not in similarity, but in dissimilarity; the happiness of love, in which alone happiness resid[es]...not in unison, but conjunction, which can only be between spiritual dissimilar.'
This got me thinking about how I've fallen short in my church membership over the years.  I've always had an internal drive to live up to my church callings, to really feel like I am a strong contributor in my congregation and to really feel like I could be there to help and uplift. I've always wanted to feel like I was in a congregation that could use me, that appreciated my family, where I felt useful and needed.

But there are times, in this striving, where I mess up, when my personality comes across a bit too strong, or anxious, or annoying. I can certainly relate to the comedian Nathan Fielder who uses a socially awkward personality as a tool for laughs:

The point, here, though is that there will always be people who you will anger or annoy, or people you dread seeing in the hallway because of some past unresolved conflict. This is normal and human. When it's a member of a family, you are forced to deal with it. You just can't pick another family to belong to. Mormon congregations have to a lesser extent, the same dynamic. You can pick up your family and move to another area, but that's not always possible and certainly not easy. Better to learn the art of reconciliation, repentance and forgiveness. Better to face those awkward and difficult moments head-on. Here lies opportunity for growth.

I had this experience recently. Two of my oldest children are in a community children's choir and the director is amazing, pushing the kids, working hard and striving for high musical quality. She also provides some interesting opportunities. Last spring, they had the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at an ASU basketball game. I love basketball, so I took the kids and my other 5 year old daughter to the game. After the anthem was sung, the kids met me so we could watch the game together.

We had to arrive early and I misunderstood my seat number, so we sat in the wrong section. The true owners of our seats arrived late, so we didn't realize our mistake until after the game had begun. They were nice and there were plenty of open seats so they just sat elsewhere. Well, being a little obsessed about correcting my mistakes, at halftime, we got some food and returned to our real seats. Well, of course, someone else was sitting in them, so we took seats nearby those which happened to be directly behind an older couple.

So I had my five year old sit next to me, then my two other children next to her. This put me and my daughter directly behind an older couple. My five year old is short and her legs stick out a bit, precariously close to the man in front's back. I was aware of this fact and sensitive to it, but was hopeful she could constrain herself enough. Besides college stadium seating is packed, I didn't think too much of it. And of course I quickly got absorbed into the game.

After about 10 minutes of this, the man in front just lost it. Here's the exchange as best as I can remember:

  • The man, turned around angrily, exclaiming "Look, I just about had enough of this".
  • Me to the man: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry". Me to my daughter: "Please be careful with your feet".
  • My older daughter to me: "What's going on?"
  • Me to my older daughter: "I wasn't totally aware, and my daughter was poking his back".
  • The man to me even angrier and louder: "Man, I'm about ready to pop you one."
  • Me to the man: "Take it easy, she's only 5."
  • The man to me: "Well, how old are you!"
  • Me to the man: "Sorry, sorry". We finally move to another seat far away.
Unfortunately for me, the man and his wife also happen to be connected to the choir. After the game, we walked to the parking garage and I noticed he was parked close to where we were parked. And it was packed and busy, so I took the kids to a grassy area far away to play for a long while.

Worse still, we had three more concerts that year, and yes he was at every single one. I would look for him, inevitably find him and try to keep myself situated as far from him as possible. I have effectively banished a stranger from my life.

The new year has arrived and he may or may not be at future concerts (I will never forget his face). But why is it my job to avoid him? Perhaps a better strategy is to engage fully in the choir. And if I run into him again in the future, maybe I don't say hi, but I certainly don't walk in the opposite direction.

Maybe he was having a bad day, perhaps he was dealing with a personal tragedy and just didn't have the patience. It doesn't matter. Dealing with people, day in and day out as we do, there are times when tempers are triggered. It's our job to work through them the best we can and to keep striving for more goodness. And in the future, I will try to be more sensitive to those around me so that my young children are not inadvertently poking my neighbor in the back.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Scott, you are about the nicest person I know. For this guy to want to hit you for what a 5-year old girl did with you being apologetic on top of that really shows his low character. He didn't even turn around earlier and ask nicely after the first few times. I'm not sure forgiveness will help this guy. It may help you but not him. Pray to God that he be cured from a-hole syndrome or whatever brain defect he has going on.