Exponent II Classics: Maelstroms and Me (excerpts)
Volume 11, No. 3 (Spring 1985)
…Maelstroms are powerful whirlpools that suck in objects within its radius. It was a maelstrom in the climactic chapter of Moby Dick that enveloped and destroyed Captain Ahab and his chip. I believe that the term maelstrom can also be used to describe the powerful currents of social and cultural practices in which we grow up and live, which envelop us and shape—to varying degrees—the values, perceptions, and mores upon which we make our decisions…
…The Book of Mormon is replete with references to the “traditions of their fathers” as the cause by which the Lamanites of different Book of Mormon eras were kept from enjoying all the blessings of the gospel. At one point in time Jacob, in castigating his people for their sins and rebellion, told them that the Lamanites were actually living better lives than the Nephites and that the only reason the Lamanites did not have the gospel fullness was because of the traditions of their fathers. (Jacob 3:5-7)
What about today, then? Are there “traditions of our fathers” by which we are prevented from enjoying the fullness of the gospel? For me the answer is a painful yes, and that is the maelstrom in which I feel that I am swirling.
My maelstrom—and I think we each have different maelstroms with differing degrees of impact and scope—is difficult to articulate. Some parts of it I like: the conditioning to pray and to choose to go on a mission while I was young, which set the stage by which I could discover the joy of revelation and service; the need for humility and patience; the importance of integrity and perspective. There are other parts, however, that I do not like and which I struggle today—“traditions of my fathers” that, having once become ingrained in me, are difficult not only to recognize as shaping elements of my life but also as something that can be changed. Furthermore, I am learning that once I do recognize these conceptions and beliefs as untrue it is hard to expunge them.
For example, to some degree because of the cultural conditioning I have received, I struggle with the roles of men and women, mothers and fathers, priesthood and sisterhood in the gospel context. I am only now discovering that I should be more concerned with responsibility than role and that the rigidness by which I had previously pigeonholed each category and its corresponding duties was wrong. I am discovering a flexibility with respect to being a father, husband, and priesthood holder that is liberating, invigorating, and integrating—intertwined, if you will, with Janna, my wife.
My discoveries are not easy; it is hard to give up what you thought was so much a part of you, and it is hard to accept that what you thought was so much a part of you is really nothing more than an alienating “tradition,” a “way-of-life” wall that is separating you from a more complete joy.
What then to make of all this? I am discovering that the struggle to shuck off that which is not founded in taught and the effort involved in incorporating that which is truth is what gives meaning to life. It is the battle of soul—the opposition with which I am confronted—that defines me. I do not rejoice in the untruths that form part of my character—some of which are the product of my maelstrom—but I do rejoice in the power to change, in the opportunity to become more a product of conscious choice than socio-cultural conditioning, and in the light that God bestows upon us as we seek for truth.
For me, a first step in incorporating that which is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy” is to recognize the forces that have shaped me—knowingly or unknowingly. I have to reject that which is inconsistent with the gospel as it has been restored, while incorporating that which is consistent. This can be a demanding task because it involves a heightened awareness of what one believes and why.
Second, it is essential to recognize that the creation of the real “me”—the construction of who I am by the making of conscious choices—is a process that involves struggle, conflict, prayer, humility, and time. It is not something that can be reduced to a “checklist” approach.
Finally, it is imperative to remember that acquiescing to our environment does not make us less accountable for who we are. Feelings and acts of bigotry, sexism, or materialism that are the result of the “traditions of our fathers” rather than the result of some conscious choice to be that way does not make the wrongness of such behavior less egregious, nor the command to become like Christ less compelling.
Thus, we cannot avoid our maelstroms. Doing nothing about them is as much a choice as beginning the process—a process of “purification,” a process of confronting individual challenges and proportions, and ultimately, if pursued persistently, a process that will enable each of us to become masters of our own maelstroms.
I thought this piece was appropriate for a new year as we resolve to change things in our lives. What “traditions” are you resolving to change?–EmilyCC