what to say when

Recently I saw a (small maroon) book with a title like “What to say when: answers for latter day saints”. I’ve searched popular search engines, online book retailers, LDS church publisher websites to no avail. So I can’t post a link.

But I thought it was an interesting idea/concept. It had gems of wisdom including what to say when your friend’s son doesn’t want to go on a mission (“it’s probably better that he doesn’t go, it doesn’t help anyone to have someone in the mission field who doesn’t want to be there”). Or when a friend in her thirties gets married (“don’t say congratulations, as if she’s fortunate to have finally caught a man”)

Perhaps this will mean fewer people will think it’s a good idea to cut off your apostate relatives and bear your testimony to them all the time. (kidding)

As a socially awkward person myself, I can understand the appeal of such a book. Most people don’t want to deliberately offend someone else.

It just gives me pause. Why would such a book be necessary? What is it uniquely about mormons that would make such a simple question/answer book worthwhile? Do other religions have such books? Granted, if you type in “what to say” to an online book retailer, there are plenty of examples.

To my mind, I think there is a great deal of rigid thinking in parts of mormon culture. There is a lot of pressure (Seth or others here may argue with me) to go on a mission, get married, have children, etc.

So it’s only natural (a part of life) that many people don’t fit into this paradigm. And thankfully, it’s no longer seen as a person’s “fault” that life happens as it does. And in our society, it’s much more common for people to talk about who they are, why they’ve made the choices they have – what they struggle with. I think at one time, this was not as common. But now it is much more common.

Maybe someone has realized that judgmental thinking/responses are not terribly helpful in such situations. (Example: well, you should just force your son to go on a mission or, to someone suffering from depression, you should pray more and read the scriptures). Such responses might have been quasi-socially acceptable at one point, but they are increasingly ill advised.

But I wonder if there’s something unique about mormon culture to look for a church sponsored or church book for this. Growing up, in my family, we didn’t read or listen to typical Christian themed books or music. I can’t say why exactly. Some ward members did, but it wasn’t terribly common. This has probably changed in the past few decades. There was this notion that even though they were Christian or religiously themed, they still weren’t totally acceptable. And they could even lead someone on the “wrong path”.

I think there’s a reluctance (still) to look outside of the LDS sphere for answers. This is a vast generalization of course, but I think there is a great deal of fear involved with studying history, losing one’s testimony and looking outside the bubble.

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5 Responses

  1. Chino Blanco says:

    Hey aerin, the book sounds like a potential treasure trove of amusing facebook status updates. Do you have an ISBN or an author?

    Why would such a book be necessary? I think you answer your own question: As a socially awkward person myself, I can understand the appeal of such a book.

    As Mormons of one sort or another, I thought we were all socially awkward by definition.

    Maybe other parts of the country are different, but where I grew up, I pretty much equated being Mormon with always having a socially awkward moment fresh in the memory. Conversation always felt constrained. I’m talking about the intense effort it took to interact with folks from the ward without saying anything that might become a topic of later conversation.

  2. Andrew S says:

    I don’t think this is a particularly a Mormon issue at all. Whether you have a book for other cultures or groups or not, I don’t think that Mormons are particularly worse at this sort of stuff.

  3. chanson says:

    Sounds like an interesting book! I hope you can find it again.

    I don’t know if it’s a Mormon thing or not, but I was definitely socially awkward as a Mormon, as I discussed in my deconversion story.

    I know what you mean about Christian materials. When I was growing up, we definitely viewed Christian (not Mormon) books (and such) with suspicion. Now I feel like there’s more an attitude of “we’re Christian too, so Christian books apply to us too.” (If so, Mormons are diluting their brand. 😉 )

    That may just be my family, though.

  4. aerin says:

    1 – Chino, I don’t have a copy of the book, sadly, and I didn’t write down the title (or ISBN) either. I was visiting (the owner of the book), saw it, thought it would be an interesting post and then promptly forgot the title and author (but I remember it was a smaller book and maroon, like something they would sell at a gift shop). If anyone can find it, I’ll give them a gold star. And the book you pointed out in #4 could have been the one I’m thinking of, although that doesn’t appear to be LDS based.

    2 – Andrew – what was interesting to me were the specific answers that were related to specific mormon situations (like the mission thing).

    I do think mormon culture is changing from what I remember from the 1980s. And that’s a good thing. It makes sense given culture, society, American culture, the internet, etc. I just can’t imagine 50 years ago having a book with the “right” thing to say in mormon social situations. Maybe I’m off base in that theory.

    3 – Thanks chanson. I think that (no Christian materials) has changed – and maybe that was also something different “in the mission field” vs. in Utah/Arizona. I could see that as a regional thing.

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