“Not What I Expected”

I’ve heard this phrase frequently throughout my life. Especially at BYU.

A friend of mine confessed to me a few years ago that when she saw me move into the dorms freshman year, she purposely played rap music, thinking it would appease me to her. Little did she know, I am a Celine Dion and country music aficionado. She was embarrassed when she eventually found out my actual choice of music. We still remain good friends to this day and laugh about the story every time it’s brought up. A reminder that I was not what she expected.

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Likewise, I live in a city that’s liberal and run with a crowd that’s suspicious of religion, to say the least. So when people discover I’m a Black Mormon and went to BYU, their eyes grow wide and they gasp, “I never would have guessed!” It almost makes people uncomfortable. They don’t know how to handle or respond to a piece of information they weren’t prepared for.

So often people make assumptions about who I am and what I’m like based on details of my life, without hearing the whole story or getting to know me. They go off stereotypes.

You’re black, so you must like rap and basketball with a passion. (*NB: Nothing is wrong with either rap or basketball and I enjoy both on occasion–– they’re just not my favorite, which everyone assumes are.)

You’re LDS, so you must not be a feminist and are very conservative.

I, too, am guilty of thinking of people as not what I expected. In Utah, I would meet countless people that would fit the description of devout active Mormons on the outside, only to find out they didn’t believe in the Church or had serious doubts. I’ve met a couple of people in my liberal hometown, only to discover they were actually pretty conservative.

I think of some of the people in my life and wonder about the extent to which I truly know them, if there’s something about them that’s “not what I expected.” Friends always find out something new about me and I find out something new about them the longer we stay friends. If this happens with those I know well, I can only imagine about the people I see on street or in an airport.

I think one of the ways we can refrain from making assumptions about one another is to remember that we all have our stories. Both in and out of the Church, we all have different interpretations of life, religion, friendship, family. Within the Church, though we may claim “Latter-day Saint” as our religious affiliation, we all live the Gospel so differently and interpret policy and doctrine in a way that’s not how I would expect.

In a way, this makes it worrisome for me if I ever end up teaching the Young Women. How would I teach such a vast array of young teenagers in a way that respects their differences, but also doesn’t get me called into the Bishop’s office? How does the Church expect us to do that? Yes, there are annotations in the manuals about how teachers should be sensitive to the different needs of the students, but how does that play out in real life?

How do we embrace individuality and our unique personal lives in the context of a Church that proclaims one-size-fits-all?

I suppose my lingering thought in this somewhat rambling post is, how do we make it so that when say someone is not what we expected, it becomes a cause of celebration and discussion, rather than shock and discomfort?

East River Lady

24 years old. LDS Convert. New York Native. Mormon Feminist.

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5 Responses

  1. Patty says:

    I ran into a church acquaintance at the sort of upscale grocery store where I shop. She was very startled to see me there (I think she had me pegged as a Winnco-bargain type). And I am sure I have done the same to others. It’s hard not to make assumptions. But we should try!

  2. Emily U says:

    Sometimes when meeting a new person and sensing their surprise about learning something about me, I feel a need to smooth over their discomfort by talking a lot and explaining myself. I’ve tried to resist doing that over the last few years, though. Why should their discomfort be mine? So instead I just leave things with a simple answer, and they can follow up and learn more if they want. For instance, “You live outside the ward boundaries?” “Yes.” [their turn…]

  3. Robyn Amis says:

    Lucky for us, oneness does not mean sameness.

  4. Violadiva says:

    Great point! I have a very observant 5 year old who notices every difference between himself and anyone else. It’s been a nice exercise for me, on a daily basis, to teach and reteach the idea that there is no one right way to be a person, that God created everyone to be different on purpose so it would be more interesting and that everyone is special to him.
    The troublesome part is when members might assume that same = righteous (“you keep all the same commandments I do? Cool! You must be a good person!”) and that different = wicked. I guess we all need to meet and be exposed to enough different people who are living good lives to see that.

  5. Andrew R. says:

    Not only are we often different from what people expect, we are different from what people expect in different situations.

    Those of you who have seen me post probably have a reasonably good idea of what I must be like, especially at church. However, I suspect that if you saw me in a Sunday School class, or speaking in sacrament meeting, you would probably not guess it was me. See my in a Stake PEC meeting and you would have no doubt.

    We all have different roles and responsibilities. In those differing roles we have to be slightly different sometimes.

    When I speak in Church I do so as Stake Sunday School president. I speak generally about the need to study the Gospel with the intent of Gospel Learners. That we need to seek the Spirit and Personal Revelation in respect to our lives. I remind the Saints that the Endowment is theirs. Whilst the experience of Temple attendance can be a unifying one, the Endowment itself is totally personal. I speak very much from the perspective of the Gospel offering us a personal and individual link with Deity so that we live our life (our Calling and Election) in a way that will make exaltation sure.

    However, in Stake PEC and Stake Presidency meetings, I am the Stake Clerk. Doctrine, Policy and Procedures are to the fore. I am the “compliance officer”. I make sure that everyone knows what has to be done, how and when it has to be done, and then make sure it has been done. If mistakes are made, I fix them – but usually they don’t because I make sure they don’t. Bishops and the Stake Presidency do not do anything they have not done before without at least asking my opinion. Why? Well not because I am better than them, certainly. But because I have the time and clarity to give them what they need to head in the right direction.

    Two completely different ways of being, for two entirely different purposes and situations. See my in one and you will have a different opinion of me from seeing me in the other.

    Those who see me in both are the only ones who really begin to know me. Those who really know me have seen me in my home as well.

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