The Saccharin Mormon

In my friend McKay’s weekly column at MormonTimes, he tackled an issue that has long grated on me: Mormons and kindness.

fake smile

Many outsiders, when they visit a predominately LDS community, are impressed with the nice people of the local community.  People are typically smiling and well put together.  There are pleases and thank yous.  People seem very friendly and personable in their interactions, some only with people who they know as friends while others are even very sweet and good-natured toward complete strangers as well.

After some extended examination, though, you quickly find that many people in predominantly LDS communities make a very simple mistake: they mistake being sweet for being good.

Don’t get me wrong, kindness is certainly a Christian virtue that LDS people should work to espouse, but I’m talking about those who walk around with a very thin veneer of fake, feigned kindness that quickly breaks down when that person is put in any kind of uncomfortable, unfamiliar, precarious, or embarrassing situation.  Just as McKay pointed out in his article, this seems to be most visible in the retail/service industries where the oft-needed patience and kindness often quickly gives way to ugliness, meanness, and harshness.

— And thus reveals the saccharine Mormon: sweet, but totally fake.

These might be the ones Christ was referring to in the parable of the sower; when the seed falls among stony ground and the seed takes shallow root but is quickly burned when the sun comes out.  Their kindness thrives when life is good, when things are going well, and when they have friends and good times.  But when the true test of their patience and kindness comes, how quickly does the harsh, judgmental side rear its ugly head?

Really — how deeply has one accepted the teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself” when they can’t be patient waiting in a line at the DMV?  How wholly has one decided to “turn the other cheek” when they take the first opportunity to spread gossip about someone they consider an enemy?

Christ as the Antidote

I’m not here to advocate more fake kindness as an antidote, though.  I’m advocating a deeper level of goodness.  I’m advocating development of the ability to see people as Christ saw them.  That’s true charity: seeing people through Christ’s eyes.

Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone’s
differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is refusing to take advantage of another’s weakness and being willing to forgive someone who has hurt us. Charity is expecting the best of each other.

Marvin J. Ashton, “The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword,” Ensign, May 1992, 19. (emphasis added)

Seeing people through Christ’s eyes will keep you from freaking out at the bank teller about putting your ID in the envelope with your cash, will prevent you from gossiping and backbiting, and will even give you the right purpose to be nice to total strangers: not just for niceness’ sake, but as a reflection of His love.

I have known many people, women mostly, who aren’t very flashy or social.  You won’t find them giggling in the hall with girlfriends, starting bunco clubs, or organizing massive, flashy one-time service events.  They aren’t very loud and they don’t walk around with fake tans and fake smiles.

But they work — oh, do they work.

They are taking food to the needy, driving other people’s kids around, and preparing and providing for others in the shadows.  They do thankless work day after day.  They are johnny-on-the-spot with every need from their religious leaders.  They are consistent, and their consistency is what makes them so impressive and phenomenal.  I admire these men and women.

Good Isn’t Always Nice

Sometimes seeing people through Christ’s eyes, especially in a priesthood capacity, doesn’t always result in sweet, nice feelings.  Sometimes being good isn’t always being kind.  Brigham Young didn’t get the nickname “Lion of the Lord” for going around giving people warm fuzzies.  When is more important to stand for right than to be sweet and nice?  Can you always be good/right and still be kind as well?  Are those who gloss over the truth in order to be nice really doing the world (or themselves) any kind of service, especially if they have a calling of stewardship over someone?  (See Jacob 1:19 to understand why)

When there is a correction to be made, it is OK for it to be a little uncomfortable.  You can’t make people feel good about sin or you become the direct accomplice of the scripture:

…when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition… behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; [and] the Spirit of the Lord is grieved…

D&C 121:37

I’m certainly no poster child of goodness, but I try to have integrity.  I have a rule for life (and for this blog) that I try not to say anything about anyone that I wouldn’t say directly to their face.  One of my problems, though, (as my wife points out) is that I  don’t always have a problem with saying unkind things to people’s face when it’s the truth.  Sometimes my loyalty to the truth trumps the need to show kindness and charity toward an individual.

I’m still working on figuring out the balance on that one.

9 thoughts on “The Saccharin Mormon”

  1. Oh, AMEN. The fakey kindness is one of my HUGE pet peeves. This was incredibly well written, Sam. You hit the nail right on the head. Stop focusing on being good MORMONS and start focusing on being good CHRISTIANS.


  2. Great post. Lots to think about. I hope I’m one of those women who shows love to others as a reflection of my love for the Savior. I don’t have a fake tan, but I do get irritated at the DMV. 🙂

    My favorite: “Brigham Young didn’t get the nickname “Lion of the Lord” for going around giving people warm fuzzies.” So funny, so true.

  3. Interesting post. I do have a few thoughts on it….
    First, I find the comment that Melanie made to be a bit confusing (nothing personal Melanie). Focusing on being a good mormon is the same as focusing on being a good christian- they are synonymous. Trying to make a distinction between the two indicates a misunderstanding of what being a mormon is (or a christian for that matter). I don’t think the problem lies in focusing on being a good mormon.
    Second, I as well find a fake veneer of kindness to be irritating. I do not agree that this is a huge problem among members of the church. Are there members with this problem – yes there are. But they are certainly not in the majority. It’s just that sometimes the minority sticks out more and/or screams louder than the rest of the group.
    Third, this is not a problem unique to mormons alone. I have found people from various religious sects, from all walks of life (religious or not) who have this same problem. And no group of people has had a bigger problem than the other. What does that mean? It means that mormons are human, and that they often times have the same faults as other people. Does that make it okay? Certainly not. Of all the people in the world, genuine kindness should be the greatest, and hollow, fake, sweetness should be the least among the mormons. But we’re not perfect yet, we’re still working on getting there. I think the best thing to do is make sure that you are not contributing to the problem and focusing on treating people the way our Savior would do.

    PS – I have the same problem, my friend. As my wife also points out to me. Sigh. Guess I’ll keep working on it.

  4. Not to put words into Melanie’s mouth, but I think she was referring to the paradox that Mormons ARE Christians, and yet some of them don’t really act like Christians.

    Alan, I also agree that this isn’t a HUGE problem, especially in areas where the church is less concentrated. I hardly see it in Texas and Oklahoma. It’s not really a GARGANTUAN problem in St George or Utah Valley, either – nothing to justify a General Conference talk or anything – but it is noticeable.

    I agree that this is not exclusive to LDS people. I once had a non-LDS teacher with the WORST fake smile. She smiled right at you even as she knew she was ruining your life and weekend. Different, I know… but still I can’t get the image out of my head…

  5. You make some really good points, and definitely something to think about. I do wonder sometimes if I’m one of those women who can be counted on to step forward and put in the sacrifice for others instead of eternally offering and never delivering.

    They have a saying over here – ‘it does what it says on the tin’ – and I think as Mormons that can be harder for us since our gospel sets such high standards. And no, we’re not meant to be perfect, but we certainly have perfect standards. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if we can’t always do what we say we do, we can always be genuinely trying.

  6. Alan, I actually do think it’s a pretty significant problem in our church, if not in numbers alone, at least in the perception of our church it creates in non-Mormons and inactive members. If you haven’t read my column (Sam linked it in the first sentence of this post) you might find it interesting. As Sam pointed out, it’s not quite as big a problem outside Utah/Idaho/parts of Arizona (the jello belt), but I think (and argue in my column) that’s because members outside of these places are trying harder to be good examples. It’s sad but true that my wife encounters rude Mormons every single day in her job as a bank teller in northern Utah County.

  7. Alan. . . what Sam said.

    In my little corner of Utah valley I have many neighbors and ward members, as well as people with whom I work, that judge you for drinking a Coke or watching an R-rated movie, but in doing so are contradicting the very tenants of Christianity by judging in the first place. They are more concentrated on the letter of the law than the spirit of it and think themselves ultimately righteous for avoiding caffeine and only watching PG rated movies. . . And we all know what that kind of pride goeth before. . .

    Those of us that are blessed/cursed with living in close proximity (within 3 blocks) to our ward members are presented with a difficult challenge, in that we can easily WATCH our neighbors. . . which makes us especially prone to judge. Because of this proximity, and the judgmental nature of our neighbors, some feel necessary to pretend that everything is wonderful when it’s not. I truly feel that this attitude of fake happiness is detrimental to the community, and a major contributor to the fact that Utah has one of the highest rates of anti-depressant use in the country. Burying all of our stresses and issues only leads to the kinds of encounters McKay described.

    We all need help from our Savior, and sometimes from our neighbors, to make it through this life. . . If we could all be honest with each other, mourn with those who mourn, etc, and Christ taught us to do, and exercise a little bit of civility at the same time, I believe this might be a much healthier place to live, and a genuinely happy one. But until that happens, some of us have to suffer through the chirpy RS teacher and the angry bank customer instead. . .

  8. Great post. I like the concepts of goodness intertwined
    with truth and kindness.

    ps.I like that you have this rule for your blog.
    Don’t forget, though, that even if you are
    comfortable saying something true on your blog
    about someone because you would say it to their face-
    you are also saying it about that person in front
    of many other people’s faces(i.e. your readership)

    Just something to keep in mind 😉

  9. Remember that the first step to being truly kind or sweet or anything else we want to change in ourself is to begin doing it even though we may not be that way yet. We shuold never condemn someone for trying to change into the type of person that they really want to become. The difference is that if they want you to think they are kind and they do not want to be kind—now they are a hypocrite—and everyone knows what happens to hypocrites.

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